Examination of Witness (Questions 138-159)|
TUESDAY 26 FEBRUARY 2002
138. Order, order. Dr Hollis, we welcome you
as Head of the Middle East Programme of Chatham House. May I first
apologise to you? The Committee had a private matter which had
to be concluded first; our apologies for the delay. We look forward
to your help in dealing with our inquiry into the causes and extent
of the terrorist threat and to your own expertise on the causes
of the appeal of radical Islam in the Middle East. According to
a recent survey quoted by Dr Mai Yamani, your colleague at Chatham
House, 95 per cent of Saudis between the ages of 25 and 41 support
the objectives articulated by Osama bin Laden. She said that while
the survey may not be entirely reliable, it does indicate broadly
the level of appeal of bin Laden's anti-American political message.
What in your judgement is the extent of this appeal among the
populations in the Middle East? Clearly bin Laden has a message
which is pretty destabilising not only for Saudi Arabia but for
the Gulf area as a whole. What is the extent of that appeal? Do
you accept the findings of that survey?
(Dr Hollis) There are gradations of support for Osama
bin Laden's agenda. The agenda which he articulated had several
items on it. One was trying to get the US forces out of the Arabian
peninsula and that has more resonance in Saudi Arabia than anywhere
else. Another is justice for the Palestinians.
139. Was the Palestinian issue an explicit part
of his appeal?
(Dr Hollis) My colleagues tell me that if you look
at his interviews going back to the late 1990s you will find that
he was always mentioning Palestine and injustice to Palestinians.
He talks about security for Palestinians and security for the
Iraqi people. These happen to be two very raw nerves across the
Arab world and to a large extent across the wider Muslim community.
He also talks about cheap oil and how oil was kept cheap by the
connivance of corrupt governments who served the interests of
the West and the United States in particular. There is certainly
resonance for the claim that governments are greedy and corrupt
and that the poor are getting poorer and that these governments
are unable in most Arab countries to do anything about that, to
do anything about employment problems and would still appear to
live in opulence themselves. On purely political grounds, as opposed
to theological or religious in any way, the key items articulated
by Osama bin Laden are sources of unrest and irritation and anger.
140. Does that include the Gulf sheikdoms?
(Dr Hollis) Very definitely in the general populace.
What has got worse, it would seem, in the last year or so is that
thanks to the Al Jazeera factor, the satellite television broadcasts,
with the current Palestinian intifada the Gulf populations are
watching and this is a new generation of Gulfies. The vast majority
of them is under 25 and they therefore will not have a collective
memory of the first Palestinian intifada which had an impact worldwide
I believe. In this one they are identifying with their Palestinian
brothers as they would see it.
141. What is the agenda of Al Jazeera? Is it
a fairly objective news coverage or does it have an agenda of
(Dr Hollis) I do not believe it has an agenda of destabilisation
at all. On the other hand, the kind of footage that Al Jazeera
is prepared to show from the West Bank and Gaza, from the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, is probably not censored in terms of blood and guts
in the same way that British television would be, so some of the
pictures are more horrific. The key here is that the pictures
are coming straight from the battle front.
142. And is that remarkable photograph of the
Palestinian boy, and his father, being killed being run again
(Dr Hollis) It was indeed being run again and again.
143. With what motive?
(Dr Hollis) When we are talking about objectivity
here another remarkable thing about Al Jazeera is that they will
144. Across the board?
(Dr Hollis) Certainly; Israeli Government spokesmen.
145. Can you separate the political and religious
appeal of bin Laden?
(Dr Hollis) Important question. There are two schools
of thought on this. What I have been talking about is the political
agenda that he has articulated. I think that is what has the most
146. The political?
(Dr Hollis) Yes. The events of 11 September and the
aftermath have led to new debate within the Muslim world about
Islam and what is permitted under Islam, what the role of suicide
attacks is within Islam and so on. Within that you will find Muslims
who wish to separate themselves from an extreme interpretation
of the faith that they associate with Osama bin Laden. You will
find Muslims talking in shorthand about Wahabism, which is misleading
because Wahabism is pretty much the faith of the Saudis and there
is a longstanding alliance between the al Sauds and the al Wahab.
However Wahabi has become shorthand for a particularly puritanical
form of Sunni Islam and you can say with a fair amount of certainty
that the Iranian Shia have no love for Osama bin Laden personally
or for his theology. They identify it, correctly to my best understanding,
as anti-Shia. He is so sectarian and so narrow in his theology
that he is anti other Muslim sects.
Sir Patrick Cormack
147. If there is this great feeling of anger
towards him, yet at the same time this very large numberwhether
it is 95 per cent or not is another matter, but this very large
numberof young Saudis in particular who subscribe to his
general message, who are the principal disciples who are getting
that message across? Is it the imams? Who are they heeding, because
he himself is far away and something of a shadowy figure? Who
is interpreting his message to the young people who are embracing
(Dr Hollis) As far as I know audiotapes are still
being distributed with sermons from members of the religious community,
the imamate, religious scholars and preachers inside Saudi Arabia
and some of those would not go down well with the mainstream establishment
imams. You have gradations and I think I am right in saying that
they have tried to suppress the distribution of tapes featuring
Osama bin Laden.
148. But they have not been very effective.
(Dr Hollis) No, they are not totally effective.
149. Does it surprise you that they are not
more effective? One would have thought that in a regime which
is not exactly a democratic one, they would probably be more effective
at suppressing the distribution of these, as they would see it,
(Dr Hollis) I have done my best to understand how
this works, but I would not wish to be taken as an authority on
Saudi Arabia per se. As I understand it, Islam and defence
of the faith and in particular a Wahabi brand of faith is part
and parcel of the legitimacy of the al Saud. This combination
has worked very well in the history of the kingdom, but it has
meant that the clerics have a great deal more power within the
kingdom than perhaps we on the outside realise and that their
opinions about what should be taught in the schools and what is
appropriate in defence of Islam carries a great deal of weight.
My impression is that as a result of the current crisis, the al
Saud are considering very seriously what the state of play is
in the kingdom, whether there were some trends which they previously
thought were a domestic matter which they could handle which have
turned out to have a foreign agenda against the United States
and they are now faced with the crisis that they need to address.
My impression is also though that in responding to approaches
from Western governments the al Saud will have messages to send
at a number of levels. They will have one eye on their own relationship
with their people and the relationship between the ruling family
and the religious establishment. What they hope to see happen
externally and in relations with the United States of America
will be influenced by their desire to maintain stability at home.
This is leading me to say that I do not see much mileage in Western
governments getting into the business of telling the Saudis what
curricula they should have in the schools. I think it will only
alienate them. They realise they have a problem, but those on
the outside of the Kingdom probably do not have enough information
to know how best to approach that particular issue.
150. Do you think that there is an Al Khomeini
lurking in Saudi Arabia?
(Dr Hollis) It is difficult to portray a revolution.
I do not see the al Sauds as the casualty of the current crisis:
I see the Saudi/American relationship as the casualty of the current
crisis. I would maybe even put to you that when you hear that
the Arab street has been remarkably quiescent when all predictions
said that the street would revolt, there is a misunderstanding.
Two things. One is that all forms of assembly in almost every
Arab country are forbidden, so to assemble and demonstrate and
remonstrate is very difficult to do. Recently in Saudi Arabia
it happened as a spontaneous riot but this could not be called
a deliberate political move. The second thing is that we should
probably interpret al-Qaeda activism and terrorism as an expression
that ultimately emanates from the Arab street. This is what we
should be looking out for: the creation of new al-Qaeda type,
anti-United States, anti-Western in general activists, militants,
as opposed to looking for revolution in the streets.
151. Does the appeal of radical Islam in the
Middle East stem from the fact that all forms of political dissent
(Dr Hollis) The mosque has been a place to go in the
absence of many forms of recreation. Also, a revival of various
trends in Islam, as a sort of political agenda, has to do with
disillusion with other recipes for reform and progress. In other
words, it was one thing to throw out Western imperialism, French
and British principally, and to experience liberation from that,
but then forms of socialism and Arab nationalism were the dominant
creeds and they did not deliver. There is also an identity issue
152. How much would you say is really anti-American
and how much is that they want to see the "d" word being
used more in these Arabian states?
(Dr Hollis) I am lost on that last bit.
153. The "democratic" word.
(Dr Hollis) There is a genuine groundswell of demand
for a greater say in public life, a greater say in the running
of state affairs. I also think it is difficult to disentangle
the-anti-Western component from this popular desire, for a variety
of reasons. It would be wrong to think that once the British and
French withdrew from the region, the region was somehow then left
alone to get on with its own affairs and therefore the local governments
should be to blame for anything that did not work out. The Western
players have remained in a symbiotic relationship with the region
in large part because of the energy resources and a sense that
control of that energy should not be left to all comers in the
region for fear of that having adverse effects on Western consumers.
There has also been an attempt to capitalise on the markets which
were there during the oil boom period. There has been a trade-off
for the defence sales to a number of these governments in that
the suppliers of the defence equipment have then become identified
with the propping up of these regimes, whether rightly or wrongly.
In so far as there is frustration amongst young people reaching
the job market, having no employment, they cannot help but look
for explanations for this business of cheap oil to please Westerners
and to deprive their economies of money they should have got from
oil. They sense that, were it not for Western support for Israel
and US support for Israel in particular, the Palestinians would
not be being beaten up like they are, which is a collective humiliation
and injustice, a sense of double standards. All of these things
have a lot to do with the West and I have not even mentioned globalisation,
which they see as probably contrary to their interests.
154. May I ask a question on sympathy in the
area for US actions immediately post 11 September? In this country
we witnessed, especially from Karachi, in Pakistan varying mood
swings from total opposition to what America and the airlines
were doing, but we heard in the background that that was only
a few people and the solid bulk of people in Pakistan supported
their government and supported what the Americans were doing against
terrorism. Do you have any views on that at all?
(Dr Hollis) I should not like to comment on Pakistan
in particular. I would simply say that when we are talking about
the Arab world, the likelihood is that you will get a different
message from any single government than you would from the general
populace in that country.
Sir John Stanley
155. Against the background of the rabid anti-Americanism,
anti-Westernism that you have described in a limited number of
quarters in the Middle East and elsewhere, what do you consider
should be the priorities for British foreign policy in trying
to deal with this?
(Dr Hollis) My sense is that it is useful to extrapolate
from well-honed British principles of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism
strategy and British experience has developed the thesis that
as far as possible you have to limit the use of forcedo
not use any more force than you absolutely have to; certainly
you will have to use sometry to maintain the rule of law
in everything you do, because you are engaged in the business
of winning over hearts and minds and you have to win them away
from recruitment to the terrorists. These kinds of principles
require us to look at some of the causes of unrest and to say
that the state or an alliance of Western states, in alliance,
let us hope, with Middle Eastern governments, can deliver better
through the rule of law and through normal procedures the justice
that is being sought by the dispossessed. That does require attending
to the key problems in the region. Something has to be done to
break the impasse on Iraq. Something has to be done to heal the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To say that both of these issues
are too difficult to do and we will try doing everything else
but those is probably to doom the strategy to limited success
or possibly failure.
156. You referred to breaking the impasse on
Iraq. Are you suggesting that breaking the impasse should be by
making concessions to Saddam Hussein's regime or intensifying
the pressure on Saddam Hussein's regime?
(Dr Hollis) It is a problem that has been tussled
with for more than ten years. In a sense we have all got ourselves
into a corner here from which it would be desirable to get out.
I think there is a problem if you conflate the issue of weapons
of mass destruction and heinous regimes with the activities of
al-Qaeda against the United States on 11 September and say they
are all part and parcel of the same problem and therefore it is
legitimate to declare war on the Iraqi Government. It would be
wise to pay heed to international law as far as is possible in
dealings with Iraq and therefore that requires going back to the
UN resolutions. It does require revisiting the idea of getting
the weapons' inspectors in. The problem now is that the Americans
believe that you cannot trust Saddam Hussein at all, so even persuading
him to receive back the weapons' inspectors and to proceed according
to the steps laid out in the UN resolutions which can be reinforced,
that you lift the sanctions dependent upon progress of the inspections,
is not seen by the Americans as a way forward any more. That presents
a very serious dilemma for the British and other European governments.
157. On your two imperatives for British foreign
policy, minimum force and upholding the rule of law, what is your
verdict on how well or badly the international coalition have
done in adhering to those two principles since 11 September, both
during the war in Afghanistan and in the subsequent treatments
of those who are prisoners?
(Dr Hollis) I would have thought that in the campaign
in Afghanistan certainly minimum use of force was pretty much
the guideline which was adhered to. On upholding the rule of law,
that has really only come to a head over how prisoners of war
should be treated, whether they should indeed be treated as prisoners
of war under the Geneva conventions. The debate and the uproar
which have broken out indicate the consciousness, that once you
abandon attention to the means, you influence the ends.
Chairman: You have been extremely helpful in
defining the platform. I should now like to turn to various individual
countries and problems.
158. Moving to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
which you mentioned, and I know you have written quite a lot about,
are there any perceived or actual connections between al-Qaeda
and the Palestinian suicide bombers?
(Dr Hollis) My position on this war on terrorism is
as follows. I think almost every government involved in fighting
the war has a different definition of what it is. I would also
say that the US, who declared it as a war straight after 11 September,
have been moving their definition of it. Originally Palestinian
suicide bombers were not identified as part of the problem which
was to be fought in the war on terrorism. There was unity in the
understanding that this is a transnational terrorist organisation
of al-Qaeda and related networks. Some of those people may have
met Palestinians. There may be one or two Palestinians within
the network, but there is a distinction between that and the current
campaign of the Palestinians limited to ending the Israeli occupation.
159. Is that a yes or a no?
(Dr Hollis) You could find individual connections.
If you were in the business of buying arms you will get them wherever
you can, so that is a connection, but I do not think the intifida
is masterminded by the same transnational terrorist organisation
that attacked the twin towers on 11 September.