December 9, 2012

Ah, the good old days of late 1979

Late 1979 was the scariest period since the Cuban Missile Crisis, with the well-remembered landmarks being the Iranian hostage seizure on November 4, 1979 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas. But the most bizarre and foreboding event came in between: on November 20, 1979 the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the absolute center of the Islamic religion, was seized and held for a bloody week against Saudi military assaults by ... a bunch of guys you had never ever heard of. 

Who were they? Wikipedia explains:
The seizure was led by Juhaiman ibn Muhammad ibn Saif al Otaibi, who belonged to a powerful family of Najd. He declared his brother-in-law Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani to be the Mahdi, or redeemer of Islam, whose coming at endtimes is foretold in many of the hadiths of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. His followers took that the fact that Al-Qahtani's name and his father's name are identical to Muhammad's name and that of his father, and the saying ("His and his father's names were the same as Muhammad's and his father's, and he had come to Mecca from the north") to justify their belief. Furthermore, the date of the attack, 20 November 1979, was the first day of the year 1400 according to the Islamic calendar, which was stated by another hadith as the day that the Mahdi would reveal himself.

Well, that clears that up. 

Unsurprisingly, Muslims in a half-dozen countries responded with anti-American riots, burning American embassies in Pakistan and Libya.

Oddly enough, a third of a century later, the Saudi royal family is still going strong. In fact that's turned out to be a pretty good rule of thumb over my lifetime: whatever craziness happens, no matter how many predictions you read of imminent overthrow of the Saudi rulers, the Saudi royal family comes out okay. Of course, some day that will presumably stop being true, but in the meantime, it almost seems like the royals benefit from stuff like this happening.

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how that whole incident has gone down the memory hole, because it was hugely significant as well as straight from the movies in its resolution, with French commandoes from GIGN being declared "honorary Muslims" so they could flood the entire site and then run cables into the mosque so they could electrocute the terrorists.

Education Realist said...

I grew up there, and left in 1977, a couple years before Bad Day at Black Rock, as we refer to that event in my family.

Hard to throw out a family that's 400 members strong.

Back in the early 70s, Sheik Yamani and other talented non-royals had significant roles in setting Saudi policy. But by the mid-80s, Fahd had kicked them all out to give family members jobs. These days, it's hard to find someone who's not a Saud holding a government leadership job.

Anonymous said...

Historically Middle Eastern royal dynasties have been far less stable than European ones. Most modern European royal families can trace their roots back to the Dark Ages, specifically to the 6th century AD. The Carolingians and the Capetians can be traced back to aristocrats of the 6th century. I think that's true of the British royal line as well. Stuff like that doesn't really happen in the Middle East, and never did. Egypt had 30 unrelated dynasties in about 2,500 years. Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian, etc dynasties were not very stable. The Ottoman line was pretty stable, but it still didn't last nearly as long as European royal dynasties. And it was East Asian in origin, though because of intermarriage with the locals later sultans did look Caucasoid.

Anyway, extreme dynastic stability (roughly 1,500 documented years) has only been observed in two places: Europe and Japan. Even though Middle Eastern recorded history goes back much further than that, dynastic stability in the Middle East has always been much lower. The long-term ratio of political order and chaos has been different.

From the Wikipedia: "The First Saudi State was founded in 1744."

That's nothing. From the page on the royal dynasty of Morocco:

"The organization of the sultanate developed under Ismail Ibn Sharif (1672–1727), who, against the opposition of local tribes began to create a unified state."

Again, a blip. I think the same can be said about the family of the last shah of Iran.

Saddam, Khaddafy and Mubarak wanted to pass their power to their sons. That didn't work. The elder Assad succeeded, but that could well be undone in the coming months. This instability has very deep historical roots.

Whiskey said...

Saudis Steve, are pretty weak. They've been lucky, and had the US at their back as far back as ... FDR. Because the Saudis are the nation that can set world oil prices by pumping or not oil.

The Saudis are weak because they lack patronage, widespread internal support, and have lots of various tribes that would like to be king, and external enemies looking longly at that oil.

Education Realist said...

Historically Middle Eastern royal dynasties have been far less stable than European ones.

All your examples of "instability" are from the modern era. Saddam Hussein had two monstrous sons ready to step in and torture the population. It wasn't instability, but the Bush family that put a kink in his plans.

In addition to the Morrocan family and the Sauds, you have the Hashemites, which controlled much of what is now Jordan, Iraq, and Syria. The clan wanted one big country, Transjordan, but the Brits wouldn't allow it--which might possibly explain some of the istability.

The Iranians were more unstable, but the Qajar dynasty ran the empire for over a century.

Luke Lea said...

For a hilarious account of the founding of Saudi Arabia see The Kingdom: Arabia & The House of Sa'ud by Robert Lacey.

Though the book was banned in Saudi Arabia (for showing a lack of respect) it was surprisingly sympathetic -- one of the last sympathetic accounts of that part of the world.

Anonymous said...

"All your examples of "instability" are from the modern era."

I mentioned the 30 ancient Egyptian dynasties. The Achaemenids only lasted a couple of centuries, the Sassanids only about four centuries, the Byzantine Empire, which was Middle Eastern in character, had great dynastic instability. And on and on.

Chicago said...

It doesn't seem as if anyone has much insight into how stable the SA regime really is. People thought the Shah and the USSR were rock-steady yet they both crumbled very quickly. The leaders don't appear to trust their own subjects very much and perhaps that's for a reason.

Anonymous said...

Historically Middle Eastern royal dynasties have been far less stable than European ones

What's your point? Japs and Whites are more obedient? Jap and White rulers were tougher tyrants and better organizational skills? They each had less external pressures? More food?

Jason Sylvester said...

"Unsurprisingly, Muslims in a half-dozen countries responded with anti-American riots, burning American embassies in Pakistan and Libya."

That's been the default-reaction of the Islamic/Third World in my living memory, though in 1979 the biggest thing shaking in my world was that I got a 4-10 shotgun for my birthday and a Yamaha dirt-bike for Christmas. Ahhh, Okie firsts.

My theory on the Saudi royal family is that they are a teflon monarchy of the luckiest sort, one that just happened to be in the right place at the right time, historically, and with a manageable population, i.e, one both ethnically and religiously homogenous: a kind of Massachusetts emptied of anything but Kennedy's and Kennedy relatives to the nth degree the week before Trekkian Warp Drive was invented and it was simultaneously discovered that the Bay State was the world's - nay, the entire Solar System's - largest repository of Dilithium Crystals: a whole lotta luck going on, with an extended family both politically talented and ruthless enough to maintain a balance between the harsh necessities of Chop Chop Square on the Boston Common and a smooth spreading around of the vast wealth to interests both domestic and foreign to maintain internal tranquility and raw power.

Just before the world's dominant military Superpower dashed into Kuwait to relieve the House of Saud of the uncomfortable proximity of Saddam Hussein's tanks in Gulf War I, the ranking foreign policy officer of that military superpower famously faux-pauxed: "if you want to sum it up in one word, it's about jobs."

James Baker was right - oil is that valuable of a commodity to every single economy of the world, right to this very second. Thus the teflon monarchy, and the enduring rule, of the House of Saud.

Anonymous said...

"Saddam Hussein had two monstrous sons ready to step in and torture the population. It wasn't instability, but the Bush family that put a kink in his plans."

The people who removed Saddam from power have said that his sons were monstrous. Surprise, surprise. Were they actually monstrous? That I don't know. I'm not an Arabic speaker, I don't know enough about Iraq to have an informed opinion about such things. I know that only utter morons are capable of sincerely believing the propaganda of one of the combatants in a war, but that knowledge doesn't actually tell me anything factual about Saddam or his sons.

Would you say that the Bush family has tortured Iraqi people? If so, do you think that they've done more of it than Saddam and his sons or less?

As for the issue of dynastic stability, the Japanese royal family has survived an American occupation. Why? Most likely because an attempt to remove them would have encountered resistance from the Japanese people. I don't think that Middle Eastern dynasties have ever had those kinds of roots in Middle Eastern psyches.

Lugash said...

The Siege of Mecca by Yaroslav Trofimov recounts the event very well. The siege is in my top five events that I would really like to know what happened. While it's possible that some Saudi hillbillies took over the shrine, I can't imagine them holding it for as long as they did under such brutal conditions. I would think tear gas, nerve gas, hunger, fires,smoke, darkness and dehydration for two weeks would have broken even the toughest religious zealots much sooner.

Lugash said...

The Saudis are weak because they lack patronage, widespread internal support, and have lots of various tribes that would like to be king, and external enemies looking longly at that oil.

I think the House of Saud has been rather shrewd...

-No entanglement in foreign wars unless it absolutely benefited the Sauds. They used Iraq as a pawn to keep Iran in check, with US support. Once Hussein outlived his usefulness they used the US to de-fang him in Gulf War I.

-Kept insurgencies in Yemen and Bahrain from spreading.

-Kept the madness of east Africa from crossing the Red Sea.

-Not granting citizenship to the huge number of immigrants who keep the country running.

-Getting and keeping the US as a protector on the cheap for decades.

-Co-opting the religious establishment, generally avoiding blow back from religious zealots, managing royal succession(which could be a giant clusterfuck) and keeping all the different tribes in check.

-Not getting nuked after 9/11.

KSA definitely has problems, but the Sauds operate at a higher level than the US when it comes to strategy.

Lugash said...

The elder Assad succeeded, but that could well be undone in the coming months.

Assad the Younger should have been put on HGH as soon as he hit puberty and it became clear that he was going to look like Beaker from the Muppets.

Anonymous said...

Very little news or comment seems to leak out of Saudi.
No doubt journalists are simply denied visas and permission reside, but curiuously, the western powers acquiesce with this news black out and never challenge the Saudis for 'authoritarianism' in the same way that that Belarus, for example, is regularly slagged off.
My own feeling is that a tight police/state apparatus combined with good informants and intelligence stifles dissent before it happens. Also, blood-Saudis are well catered for with all types of privilege and freebies, whilst imported coolies do all the work.

Anonymous said...

Assad the Younger should have been put on HGH as soon as he hit puberty and it became clear that he was going to look like Beaker from the Muppets.

He was an ophthalmologist. He only became president because his older brother, who was supposed to be the next president, died in a car accident.

Anonymous said...

Assad the Younger should have been put on HGH as soon as he hit puberty and it became clear that he was going to look like Beaker from the Muppets.

He looks very French to me.

Anonymous said...

"saudis Steve, are pretty weak. They've been lucky"

yeah, lucky luciano-type lucky...

Joe Six-Pack said...

-Not getting nuked after 9/11.

Sometimes I ask myself if I'm the only person who noticed that 15 of the 19 9/11 high-jackers are Saudis.

Why nothing happened to KSA? espcially after Afghanistan, Iraq, Lybia and Pakistan.

georgesdelatour said...

"Sometimes I ask myself if I'm the only person who noticed that 15 of the 19 9/11 high-jackers are Saudis.

Why nothing happened to KSA? espcially after Afghanistan, Iraq, Lybia and Pakistan."

I think the invasion of Iraq was all about Saudi Arabia; that is, about reducing US dependence on Saudi Arabia. The US would only risk throwing the Saudis overboard if they had a replacement; that is, a strategically-placed pro-US state with comparable oil reserves. The war was fought to try and turn Iraq into that replacement.

It hasn't worked. Iraqi oil is now flowing, but the country is too weak, divided and unstable to play anything like a replacement role to the KSA.

One thing Wikileaks has revealed is the curious identity of interest between Saudi Arabia and Israel. It seems the Saudis have been pushing the US to attack Iran even harder than Israel has, for instance. Both countries are also wary of greater Arab democracy.

For the US, the most rational mideast policy would be to befriend Iran. Do a Nixon-goes-to-China turnaround. Iran is strategically well-placed, and its people are probably the brightest and best-educated in the region. But it can't happen without Israeli permission. So the US is stuck with the KSA.

SFG said...

“During the rectification of the Vuldronaii the Traveller came as a very large and moving Torb. Then of course in the third reconciliation of the last of the Meketrex supplicants they chose a new form for him, that of a Sloar. Many Shubs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Sloar that day I can tell you.”

Ibn Saud said...

The Saudi regime's ability to survive is a testament to the power of money to pacify a population.

Anonymous said...

http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/335181/end-wave-michael-barone#

Robert in Arabioa said...

There are 8000 princes in the Hous of Saud. You cannot tell if the Sadui next to you in coffee shop is a member of the family or not. The family meets and shares information. They do not need the secret police to know what the people are thinking. They spread the wealth to the other Saudis. The current king is called Father Abdulla by the Saudi in the streets. Disruptive expats are quickly expelled. Any random Saudi gets more benefits from his government than the vast majority of Americans. Saudi citizenship is a bebefit. What native American can say that about USA citixenship anymore?

Anonymous said...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-news-blog/2012/dec/09/newt-gingrich-republicans-hillary-clinton

Time to end GOP. Sooner the better.

Opportunism wins in politics, and Dems are more opportunistic. It has both big business and the new demographics.

peterike said...

The world may have been on the edge of destruction in 1979, but it was one of the greatest years in the history of rock music. The number of essential albums released that year is amazing. Most years see two or three "must have" records. There were easily 20 in 1979.

I know, it's only rock and roll, but I liked it.

Anonymous said...

http://www.americanthinker.com/2012/12/why_we_lost_the_big_picture.html

Anonymous said...

http://www.city-journal.org/2012/22_4_urb-tom-wolfes-california.html

Anonymous said...

http://www.city-journal.org/2012/bc1023hs.html

Mr. Anon said...

"Joe Six-Pack said...

-Not getting nuked after 9/11.

Sometimes I ask myself if I'm the only person who noticed that 15 of the 19 9/11 high-jackers are Saudis.

Why nothing happened to KSA? espcially after Afghanistan, Iraq, Lybia and Pakistan."

To at least get some idea of why this is, one need only google "George W. Bush holding hands". Remember how Bush would practically spoon Saudi princes when they came to the US to visit.

The Bush family is in tight with the Saudis. Whether that it because they just prefer the company of other oligarchs, or because the Saudis have pictures of G.W. in 1978, laying in bed with a dead hooker in Tijauna, is anyone's guess.

el supremo said...

OT: Villages of Chinese peasant children who are US citizens courtesy of birthright citizenship after their illegal immigrant parents gave birth in the US, and then sent them back to China to be raised

http://offbeatchina.com/left-behind-american-children-in-china

Anonymous said...

Joe Six-Pack said...
Sometimes I ask myself if I'm the only person who noticed that 15 of the 19 9/11 high-jackers are Saudis.

Why nothing happened to KSA? espcially after Afghanistan, Iraq, Lybia and Pakistan.



I was wondering back then as well. Since I have been doing some reading... interesting results. Let's say if only half of the so-called conspiracy theories are true, it make sense that the Bush-admin did not nuke KSA. In fact it’s another clue that the real perps were someone else...

Anonymous said...

What if family structure had something to do with western European stability? Nuclear marriage, no divorce, the ineligibility of bastards to inherit a throne - all these greatly limited the number of legitimate heirs a reigning prince (and his barons) could have.

The scramble for power that used to take place in places like Mughal India after the death of a monarch was unknown in the Christian West.The practice of allowing the ruling class of men to have multiple wives, all eager for their own offspring to rule, with (potentially) many sons of the same age, so that there was no single, obvious firstborn-heir, did not make for stability, even if the mass of ordinary men did not take more than one wife, or none at all.

Japan did allow polygamy to men of noble rank, but perhaps its isolation as an island state made up for this; after all, Britain was in general more stable than continental Europe throughout its history. It helps if you the neighboring prince can't easily charge in and overthrow your government - or help your rebellious barons to do so. I imagine this kept Japan more stable too.

Alias Clio

Matthew said...

Off topic:

The GOP members of the Vast Open Borders Conspiracy keep telling us we need to pander to Hispanics to win their votes. Here's the first thing we can do: ABC News: "Latinos Favor Tax Increases for Wealthy to Solve Fiscal Cliff":

"Latino voters overwhelmingly support tax increases on the wealthiest Americans as a way to reduce the deficit and deal with the looming fiscal cliff. According to a new impreMedia/Latino Decisions survey of more than 5,600 Latino voters, a whopping 77 percent favor increasing taxes on the wealthy. While the vast majority of Democratic Latino voters -- 86 percent -- fall into that category, so do 51 percent of Republican Latino voters. Only 12 percent say they favor a spending cuts-only approach, according to the survey."

I'm sure that George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, George P. Bush, Mch McConnell, John McCain, John Boehner, Grover Norquist, Newt Gingrich, Phil Gramm, Dick Armey, the Wall Street Urinal and Co. will all immediately jump on this one as a way to win that "Growing Latino Vote".

Really this poll is a priceless Christmas gift. Everytime neofeudalist open borders Republicans implore us with the need to win the Latino vote, we can remind them that we can do that by raising taxes.

Matthew said...

"The Achaemenids only lasted a couple of centuries, the Sassanids only about four centuries..."

What I wouldn't give to belong to a dynasty that "only" lasted about four centuries.

Anthony said...

Anonymous @8:05pm, European dynasties aren't that stable, either. But whenever a usurper overthrew the king, he'd marry a female relative of the king to establish some hereditary legitimacy. Look at the background of Henry VII, Charles I, William III, and George I - those aren't really dynastic successions. In France, both the founders of the Carolignian and Capetian dynasties were usurpers, as were Louis XII, Francis I, and Henry IV. The Spanish monarchs had similarly tangled lineages.

Steve Sailer said...

My 1979 Christmas presents included "London Calling" by The Clash and the debut album by The Pretenders.

el supremo said...

re: dynastic stability in Europe

Dynastic stability is Europe was really remarkable in the the German lands, where the Holy Roman Empire provided a super-national consitutional framework that propped up various local dynasites, so they remained in power for very long (The Hapsburgs, Wittlesbachs, Hohenzollerns and Wettin dynasties were in power for over 800 years each, and would still be in power in WWI had gone the other way)

Other than that, European dynasties in the early modern period were pretty unstable - Early modern Russia had dozens of coups and palace revolts, the French royal family was unstable more often than not, the English throne had plenty of coups, and the rulers of Italian minor states changed hands on a very frequent basis.

There is an illusion of dynastic longevity because many of the new ruling families that took over after palace coups or sucessions had long history as feudal rulers of smaller regions (ie Henry IV of France, William II of England)

Average Joe said...

the date of the attack, 20 November 1979, was the first day of the year 1400 according to the Islamic calendar

Unfortunately, Muslims tend to act like it is 1400 AD and seem to have no intention of joining the rest of us in the 21st century anytime soon. Which, of course, to liberals makes them ideal immigrants.

ironrailsironweights said...

To most people, a fight to the death between Muslim radicals and the Shitty Arabian military for control of the Grand Mosque is like two bums fighting on the sidewalk over a bottle of Thunderbird.

Peter

Anonymous said...

With 8,000 princes alone (plus their respective possies) the House of Suad is like a super-huge mafia family. But ruling a whole country, not just the Jersey docks.

Also, contrary to popular opinion, the USA gets little of its oil from the mideast.

Anonymous said...

Hey, el Supremo and Anthony - it's quite true that European monarchies weren't really stable by today's standards, or even by Victorian ones. But if you compare them to their equivalents in India or Africa, they were. I don't know about China. Just try reading a page or two of a synthesis of 17th-century Indian history in one of the princely states, and then a couple of pages discussing the French Fronde rebellions or the English during their Civil War. They will seem like periods of relative peace in comparison.

Alias Clio

Harry Baldwin said...

1979 was a strange year. I remember the price of gold rocketing up and hitting nearly $700 oz in January 1980. Silver rose to a record high of $48.70 per troy ounce, thanks to the machinations of the Hunt brothers. Then, like now, there was a feeling in the air of imminent financial collapse, with "The Crash of '79" being a bestseller. It was the heyday of survivalist movement, which is again in full swing. And, of course, on July 15, 1979 Jimmy Carter delivered his depressing Malaise Speech.

Anonymous said...

Then, like now, there was a feeling in the air of imminent financial collapse

Is there really a feeling in the air?

Perhaps over here on the fringe right wing, and perhaps even creeping into the regular right wing, but liberals seem to genuinely believe the bs, to hear them tell it, everything is wonderful if only those bigots would crawl off and die we would all be prosperous to infinity

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said... Is there really a feeling in the air?

I agree that the liberals don't feel it. They still preface their spending schemes with "How is it that the richest country on earth can't afford to . . . "

Still, for anyone looking at the fundamentals, it appears we're in for something major. It seems funny to me now that many of us thought the same thing in the 1970s.

Anonymous said...

'm sure that George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, George P. Bush, Mch McConnell, John McCain, John Boehner, Grover Norquist, Newt Gingrich, Phil Gramm, Dick Armey, the Wall Street Urinal and Co. will all immediately jump on this one as a way to win that "Growing Latino Vote".

Great sarcasm on this Matthew. I think hispanics also want more social services and welfare spending too. So the GOP needs to raise taxes and increase bennies or they won't get the hispanic vote.

Five Daarstens said...

1979 was also the year of the prophetic book "Alongside Night" by
J. Neil Schulman which predicts the financial crisis we are in now.

http://www.pulpless.com/alongsidenight/release.html

Five Daarstens said...

In 1979, during the height of the Iranian Hostage Crisis, there was a pro-American demonstration at my High School (Massapequa, NY). There was about 30-40 kids involved and these were the alternative kids who were very liberal and partied alot - how times have changed.

Five Daarstens said...

Anonymous said... Is there really a feeling in the air?

There were alot of problems back then, but the middle class was much bigger and more stable than now. There are alot more social and financial problems in today's world. I think some of the good economies we have had since then were financed on debt, government, personal, and corporate. Are we at an inflection point? Only history can see that, but I think our future is not as bright as 1979.