By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Laurent Murawiec, 58, a think-tank geostrategist who stirred an outcry in 2002 by contending that Saudi Arabia was the "kernel of evil" in the Muslim world and that its oil fields should be seized if it didn't do more to fight terrorism, died Oct. 7 of multiple myeloma at his home in Washington.
Mr. Murawiec told the Defense Policy Board in July 2002 that "Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader" and that "Saudi Arabia supports our enemies and attacks our allies." He recommended that the United States seize Saudi oil fields and target its financial assets if the Middle Eastern government did not take definitive actions against terrorists.
His 24-slide PowerPoint briefing to the Pentagon advisory panel was leaked to The Washington Post, and the subsequent front-page article caused an international stir. Pentagon and State Department officials distanced themselves from his comments to avert a major diplomatic crisis between the United States and its longtime ally less than a year after the terrorist attacks of 2001. Many of those who participated in the attacks were Saudi citizens, but the government had expelled the leader, Osama bin Laden, a decade earlier and fought al-Quaeda attacks on its soil as well.
The uproar from that 2002 briefing and later interviews caused Mr. Murawiec to resign from the Rand Corp., where he worked at the time. He joined the conservative Hudson Institute in early 2003 as a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy and worked there until his death. He also undertook numerous studies for the Office of Net Assessment at the Pentagon and was known as a fearless and original thinker by those who shared his world view.
"Laurent was someone of remarkable intellectual depth," said Robert Lieber, professor of government and international affairs at Georgetown University. "He was a very learned man capable of connecting philosophy and history to the most important contemporary issues of the day."
Laurent Murawiec was born in Paris in 1951, the son of Jewish Polish refugees. He was educated at the Sorbonne, served in the French army and advised the French Ministry of Defense. Mr. Murawiec taught the history of economic planning at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris.
He was also a foreign correspondent in Germany and Central Europe for La Vie Francaise, a French business weekly, and managing director of GeoPol, a Geneva-based consulting company whose clients included banks and multinational corporations. In the 1970s and 1980s, he was European economics editor of Executive Intelligence Review, a publication led by Lyndon LaRouche, a perennial presidential candidate who served five years in prison for mail fraud and tax evasion.
Specializing in research on Islamic radicalism, the future of Asia and cyber warfare, he moved to the Washington area in 1999 to work at Rand. He also taught military analysis and cultural anthropology at George Washington University's international affairs school. Multilingual and an appreciator of high culture, Mr. Murawiec became a U.S. citizen two years ago, Lieber said, "drawn to the United States by its openness, vibrancy, receptivity and stimulating nature of its intellectual life. He was really patriotic, as only newcomers who believe in America can be."
Mr. Murawiec wrote eight books, including a 1999 French translation of Carl von Clausewitz's "On War," "Princes of Darkness: The Saudi Assault on the West" (2005) and "The Mind of Jihad" (2008).
The last two books drew extraordinarily heated reviews. "Princes of Darkness," wrote political scientist F. Gregory Gause III in a 2005 review in The Washington Post's Book World, "raises serious issues here but does not treat them in a serious way. . . . In his zeal to indict the Saudis for everything that has gone wrong in the Muslim world (and beyond), Murawiec loses all sense of proportion. He twists facts, distorts history and ignores contrary evidence to hammer away at his target."
The next book, "The Mind of Jihad," called contemporary radical Islam an ideological heir to Gnosticism, Manichaeism, Nazism, Marxism and nihilism. "This, then, is the ultimate problem with 'The Mind of Jihad': It tries to explain jihad by largely ignoring or minimizing Muslim precedents and doctrines in favor of Western precedents and philosophies," wrote Raymond Ibrahim in the Weekly Standard.
Mr. Murawiec took issue with the latter review, and Ibrahim, the associate editor of the Middle East Forum, posted his rebuttal online.
Mr. Murawiec's first marriage, to Lana Murawiec, ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of five years, Claudia Kinkela of Washington; a daughter from his first marriage, Morgane Murawiec of Falls Church; and a daughter from his second marriage, Johanna Murawiec of Washington.