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The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising Hardcover – 1 Nov 2007
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Advance Praise for "The Siege of Mecca" "Yaroslav Trofimov has written a spellbinding thriller. Packed with vivid, previously undisclosed details, it illuminates a little-known hostage crisis in the closed-off heart of the Muslim world that helped give rise to Al Qaeda. Once I started reading, I couldn't put the book down."--Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone" "As Yaroslav Trofimov amply and skillfully demonstrates, the most radioactive particle in the world today is not North Korea, Iran, or, for that matter, the United States. It is, rather, the terrifying bundle of contradictions otherwise known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The most formative event in the modern history of this secretive and at times morally disgusting petrocracy is vivisected by Trofimov to unsettling effect, and he reminds us of why anything that has happened or will happen there is a matter of great concern to the world." --Tom Bissell, author of "God Lives in St. Petersburg "and "The Father of All Things"
About the Author
Yaroslav Trofimov, a staff foreign correspondent of The Wall Street Journal since 1999, has extensively reported from the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia, and the Balkans. He is also the author of Faith at War: A Journey on the Frontlines of Islam, from Baghdad to Timbuktu.
Top customer reviews
Anyone considering whether to put their trust in a religious leader would do well to read this first. The best advice would be 'don't'.
As an example of religious psychopathology this book is well worth reading. The depressed should perhaps apply to their doctor for a dose of Prozac first.
By the way, not all religion is like this ... but my advice is be very careful and discerning.
Mr. Trofimov knows his subject well, amazingly well. He deftly describes the numerous disparate historical antecedents to the taking of the mosque by Islamic fanatics, and the reactions of the major actors. The Ikhwan, the religious brotherhood which was instrumental in Abdul Aziz's conquest and consolidation of what would be the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and his decision that they overstepped their limits, and so he had to mow them down with borrowed British machine guns in the early `30's, leading to a sense of martyrdom in the remnants of the defeated communities. America was tired of "foreign adventures," Vietnam being the prime reason, and therefore the CIA was severely constrained, with the coups it directed in Chile and Iran very much in mind. There was the Kingdom itself, being overwhelmed by the "future shock" of oil revenues, and the attendant rapid "modernization," with its own ills, inevitably leaving some people behind
As with many events of this magnitude, ironies abound; they are described but not overplayed. The Royal Family must obtain a ruling from the Ulema, the chief religious body, that force can be used to remove the rebels, yet philosophically, the Ulema is in large measure in agreement with the complaints of the rebels. For days virtually no one knows the exact identify of the people who seized the mosque, so the United States insists it was Iran, and the Shiites; meanwhile Iran is insisting it is the United States and the infidels. Perhaps the best trained Arab force that could assist the Saudis is the Hashemite Jordanians, but they can not be used since they were once rulers in the Hejaz, were defeated by Abdul Aziz, and if they returned, "may not leave." Eventually the Saudis turned to the French, "because they were discreet and could keep a secret," which also proved false.
I found the section of the French involvement particularly fascinating, since it dispelled the rumors that had dominated this topic, and described in an authoritative manner the exact nature of the fairly limited intervention (3 men, and supplies). Characteristically of Trofimov's account, he states the facts which he could ascertain, but does not speculate whether Barril, one of the three Frenchmen, actually entered Mecca.
Equally important was the depiction of the immediate ramifications throughout the Muslim world, who blamed the United States, in large part because of Khomeini. US Embassies in Libya and Pakistan were burned, with loss of American life.
John Burgess, on his CrossRoads Arabia website, pointed out some (relatively minor) flaws in Trofimov's book, citing the reason that the Bedouin were settled was not, as Trofimov contends, to better perform their ablutions, but rather to stop their raiding. I'd add a couple of my own: the Nejd would never be described as the "central Arabian highlands" (p14), and, of course, 1400 is not the first year of new century, 1401 is.
On a personal note, I traveled by road in the Asir, from Abha to Taif, one week prior to the taking of the mosque, and may very well have passed some of the participants. On that trip, at a police checkpoint, was the only time in my 20 years in the Kingdom, that a Muslim did not give the proper response to my "As-Salaam Alikum" greeting; the followers of Juhayman believe(d) that a Muslim should not respond to an infidel when he gave the traditional greeting.
In Trofimov's summing up, he correctly identifies Juhayman's deed as only one of the currents which lead to the formation of Al Qaeda. He also points out a second one, arriving from Egypt, in the person of Ayman Al Zawahir (who had been inspired by the execution of his hero, Sayyid Qutb). Of course, a third could easily be postulated: the unintended consequences, a/k/a "blowback" in CIA jargon, of America and Saudi Arabia funding and arming Islamic fundamentalist to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. And a fourth: the CIA coup against the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953.
Epilogues can be used to examine some of the "what ifs" of an event. One of the rumors concerning Juhayman's capture stated that he had asked: "But where are the armies of the north"? Trofimov does not cover this, and only alludes to the self-delusional nature of individuals who succumb to millennial dogmas; the alleged Mahdi believes that he is "bullet proof," with the attendant fatal consequences. How many of my fellow citizens believe in the "rapture," the postulated end of the world when Christ returns, and would actually like to hasten the date? And "what if" they took concrete actions to accomplish this goal? Our own Juhayman...
Trofimov account is almost certainly the best account we will ever have on the seizure of the mosque in Mecca in 1979, and is highly recommended.
(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on June 24, 2008)
The Saudi regime is orthodox Sunni muslim only too happy to oppress their Shi-ite coastal minority. From outside the kingdom seems to be the ultimate in orthodoxy and yet the occupation of the grand mosque and capture of the kaaba and other holiest of sites was done by those yet more more conservative than their rulers. The inspiration for the seizure of the mosque was the 'coming' of the Mahdi (as promised in the scriptures) in the form of a young Isalmic sholar. The agenda was the overthrow of the monarchy and the the installation of this Madhi as leader of Islam. So conservative were these Mahdists who seized the mosque on the turn of the 14th hundred century of Islam, that when they handled a Saudi bank note they would black out the image of the king from the note - the heresy of a graven image.
This book shows the ruling family to be weak. Its survival in 1979 was more due to the misjudgement of the islamist rebels rather than the strength of the royal family. The regime is one of contradictions. On one hand it is subject to the rigid sunni islamic interpretation of the clerics of the 'Ulema', whose support the monarchy needs. On the other it relies on the commercial and technical expertise and military support of western nations to extract its wealth and keep Iran at bay. Relying upon the very 'infidel' against which their orthodox religion cries out and attacks.
One of the conclusions of this book is that the Royal family bought the support of the Ulema, so essential for their survival, by taking on and exporting the agenda of the rebels. Ejecting the rebels from the mosque was done with great cost of life and defilement of the mosque and its environs. We will never know just how many died in the process, that's a matter of speculation.
It is no surprise however to learn the nearly 70 of the armed rebels who were captured by the end of the seige paid for their crime by having their heads lopped off.
This is a hard book to put down and I recommend it.
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