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
An incident in recent history that seems to have been blotted out of history, particularly by Muslims who simply cannot fathom the failure of their God to protect Mecca. The events, political dealing and and aftermath influenced and moulded Wahabist extremists such as ISIL.
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)
1. The Saudis appear to have been caught completely off guard by the nature, scale and magnitude of the attack. It is noteworthy that they had wanted to question one of the key figures prior but that senior clerical figures stepped in and made the relevant representations. A not dissimilar situation seems to have been encountered in the mid 2000s when the Saudis suddenly woke up to Al- Qaeda elements inside the Kingdom and then had to launch a severe crackdown to avoid losing control.
2. Notwithstanding the US being caught offguard in Iran a year before with the overthrow of the Shah and the Iranian Revolution, the intelligence services do not appear to have drawn any lessons for not being caught out similarly in the region. The Americans only found out from a "walk in" who told them what was going on. The US did not hear anything from the Saudis who obviously wanted to avoid any news breaking on this matter and also seem for some time to be under the impression that th seizure was somehow linked to the Iranians.
It is also interesting that the Saudis turned to the French rather than the US for the final assistance in rooting out the remaining fighters in the Holy Mosque. The French involvement is still somewhat shrouded in mystery and the author has made a good fist of digging out the facts.
Th author has done a very thorough investigation of events and interviewed some of the participants, including that from the insurgents` side, and has a delivered a very pacey and informative book.
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