A book that’s a fast paced read of an event that is hard to research up on, given the secrecy Saudi Arabia has towards security matters. The research of this work rests largely on the basis of interviews of key individuals, and the author does a good job in writing this work as if it’s a fictional drama. This book is about the 1979 siege on Mecca (Islam’s holiest site) by an obscure cult centered on a man claiming to be the Mahdi. While these events took place in 1979, in light of the last decade’s military involvement of the US in Iraq, no doubt some Americans and Iraqis would have discovered the same theme of cults that claim to be following the true Mahdi, that ends up being violent as a result of their apocalyptic visions. The book is fascinating, with accounts of the Saudis’ bumbling response, the bravery and less than brave moments of military men, Islamic religious leaders, the Carter administration, Saudi princes, US States Department embassy officials and French commandos. The French commandos’ account is the most amazing part of the story, and their perspective is illuminating of the events that unfolded. I thought this book’s historical account is helpful in making us think about our times (2012-2013). Here I want to say something about this book’s historical lesson for us in terms of national security and spirituality. No doubt most Americans probably would not remember how the US embassy was attacked back then in Islamabad, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East as the result of misunderstanding of what happened in Mecca (some thought it was the US that attacked it). Fast forward more than thirty years later, the US consulate’s attack in Bengazi reveal that those in higher command at times can be negligent in making our embassies and consulate secure as it was back then. The story of the Marines trying to protect the embassy with their discipline not to open fire in Islamabad while the higher ups failed to understand the danger involved which led to the death of a Marine is saddening (being a former Marine who have known people in Embassy duty makes it rather emotional). It’s even more saddening to think that those in leadership can still learn the lesson that “higher ups” must not presume to know more than those down on the ground of what is going on, or the threats those below face. The other fascinating connection this book drew was the fact that the US needs to be careful of not attributing a terrorist attack to the wrong source (Carter’s administration blamed Iran initially, while in actuality the Mecca siege was done by home grown Saudi Wahabi extremists). It can backfire as the story of the embassies attack indicate. The connection the book noted with how the Meccan siege to Osama Bin Laden indicates that what we do have future unintended consequnces. In the same vein, spiritually, bad ideas have serious consequences–even on this side of eternity; the eschatology of those who believed the Mahdi has come coupled with a theology that there will be violence when he is revealed led to the terrible 1979 siege. In this instance, muslims will agree the effect is demonic. Furthermore, seeing that this event was over thirty years ago, the lesson one can draw for today is that compromises with religious extremists does not work. The Saudi government tolerated this ilk and did not rein them in–until it was too late. It’s also sad to read how the government after the affair decided to move their policy direction to a more Wahabi and more extreme position. Thirty years later, after so many deaths and a worldwide entanglement of importing terrorism, one must question the wisdom of these policy after seeing it’s fruit for the Saudis and the rest of the world.
Available on AMAZON