Tethered bones on a Saudi Mountain

I am in the throes of another _Analysis,_ this time on the government’s plans to deal with Islamist terrorism. Thats why there have been so few posts. But I would like to quote a passage from “Gilles Kepel’s latest book,”:http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0674015754/andrewbrownssite saddening, illuminating, and strange.


bq.. During my trip to the province of Asir in January 2004,1 stopped on Highway 15, not far from Safar al-Hawali’s native village, to have lunch with a member of the Ghamdi tribe, to which many of the September 2001 attackers belonged. I was afforded a small glimpse of the Saudi dilemma: in this magnificent region of sedentary mountain-dwelling farmers, where Bengali or Egyptian immigrants now till the fields, I saw few young people, because there are no jobs for them. They have all gone to Jeddah, where they scratch out an existence on the city’s fringes, along with poor foreigners. As my host and I toured the region in a jeep, we passed Bedouin camps at the desert’s edge, their inhabitants recognizable by their long hair. The young women, heads covered by scarves, left the camps to watch over the herds. Men from the village drove to the
pastures in four-wheel-drive vehicles to stare at the women from afar. The wives of these men were forbidden to leave their homes. The Wahhabization imposed on the region in the 1920s made non-Bedouin women all but invisible. In Jeddah, rumor has it that Muhammad bin Laden, Osama’s father, who died when his plane crashed in this area, loved the Bedouin women of Asir. When the billionaire’s arrival was announced, these women would dress in their finest, in the hope of a request for marriage that would bring wealth to the tribe.

From atop a promontory one views a vast panorama, thick with history: such and such a 9/11 attacker was from that village, over there in the distance; farther down, toward the south, is Hawala, where Safar al-Hawali was born. The inhabitants now live in functional, charmless concrete buildings on the outskirts of abandoned town centers. There, one can find beautiful old houses of painted stone, with doors of carved wood topped by sculpted lintels. But these dwellings, which bear witness to the Asirs’ sedentary civilization, have been abandoned to troops of baboons, which howl from behind the barred windows at nostalgic visitors breathing in the grandeur of the past. The males, with their fan-shaped beards, stand guard as the females scurry to safety, their young clinging to backs and breasts. On one terrace the wrist bone of a baboon is fastened to a wall by a skein of hemp—all that remains after birds of prey swooped down to attack the defenseless monkey, providing morbid amusement for a few youngsters with nothing better to do.

In Jeddah, among wealthy families, the name Ghamdi always provokes sly smiles. Long ago, the Ghamdis were gardeners, cooks, or drivers. They disappeared once Filipinos and Pakistanis took over those jobs. A few people from the tribe managed to have illustrious careers, but as a whole the tribe made its name in the world through the events of September 11, 2001.

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