12 Steps For Saudi Arabia
By Jim Hoagland
Sunday, June 27, 2004; Page B07
Note to Abdullah S.:
I'm not sure you have really thought through the 12-step recovery program that you and Saudi Arabia must develop to deal with the addicts of terrorism and utopian Wahhabist Islam in your midst. You still focus on their behavior. Concentrate first on the only thing you can truly control and immediately change your behavior.
In a speech from your virtual throne, you have offered an amnesty for al Qaeda "militants" who in effect do not yet have blood on their hands. This offer does have behavioral virtues: Your words put a decision in the addicts' hands and acknowledge that it is up to them to change. This has echoes of a concerned person's Step 1, of letting go emotionally.
But don't stop there, Your Royal Highness. To overcome the destruction and danger of both addictive and enabling behavior, you must be more explicit about how you are going to change as well. You should devote your next speech to detailing how you and the Saudi royal family will stop enabling extremists who demand, endorse and/or carry out the murder and maiming of "infidels" as a religious duty.
I realize that it may seem wildly inappropriate to cite the 12-step recovery program developed by Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and an authentic American revolutionary of the mind, to you, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz al Saud, the de facto ruler of a desert kingdom that bans alcohol and other instruments of Western depravity such as driver's licenses for women. Who needs him, you may ask.
But my reading of "My Name is Bill," Susan Cheever's recent and compelling biography of Bill Wilson, tells me that you and Bill would bond. And my reading of your speech, which is a sound political statement as far as it goes, tells me that you could use his help in identifying and understanding enabling behavior and learning how to stop it.
Wilson understood the addictive power of alcohol, other mind-bending chemicals and even utopianism all too well. As he lay dying after nearly 37 years of sobriety, Wilson repeatedly asked for a drink. He seems to have wanted one every day after he stopped, Cheever, a longtime friend of mine, tells me.
But Wilson built enough mental and physical barriers to keep himself from taking that drink, since he could not stop at one. Wilson would always be an alcoholic, always be recovering.
His comprehension of human nature, which should be evaluated on a par with that of Freud and Marx, has generated a wide variety of 12-step programs for recovering drinkers, narcotics users, gamblers, debtors and other victims of addictive disease. Also important to recovery are the parallel programs for relatives, friends and acquaintances, who must prevent their own behavior from mimicking and underwriting the addict's quest for the next high.
That's where you and the rest of the Saud family come in. Yes, I know that you have done more to stamp out corruption and other vices than your princely colleagues. And your authority has been handicapped by the debilitating illness of King Fahd, who for more than a decade has not been well enough to be an active ruler.
But only you can begin the national process of deeper recovery: of admitting that the alliance that the royal family struck with the misogynistic and anti-democratic high priests of the Wahhabi sect helped create the al Qaeda monster and has fed it ever since. That relationship must now be transformed if not abandoned.
Otherwise you will go on enabling the Wahhabis to send out of their "religious schools" new recruits eager to oppress women at home and to kill infidels in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and elsewhere -- all in God's name, mind you -- so as to delay the day when they come to kill you. That latter danger seems to have become clearer to the family recently.
Like all analogies, the terrorist-as-addict analogy breaks down at some point. Terrorists may be as deluded as drunks, but their intent is to inflict great harm on others as well as on themselves. Their sickness is joined to extreme criminality. You were right in your June 23 televised speech to promise "unflinching" justice and better security for Saudis and foreigners.
But the important parallels here involve the frequently unconscious enabling behavior that must also be recognized and halted for true change to begin -- in a family or, in your case, Abdullah S., in a country named after a family.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company