Mark April 21 on your calendar as a turning point in the history of Islam and, arguably, world politics. It is the day that a suicide bomber let loose an explosion in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that killed at least five and wounded 148.
It was unexpected. Saudi Arabia has been touted as the most Islamic nation in the world. Why would anyone in the Muslim world want to unleash such a terrorist assault? The answer may lie in the past — and still persistent — hostilities between the Saudi ruling family and the bin Ladens.
Osama bin Laden was born to a family with great wealth and influence. His father was a building contractor who had what amounted to a monopoly of contracts issued by the Saudi government. Osama could have followed in the footsteps of his father, Muhammad. Instead, he decided to follow in the footsteps of another Muhammad, the founder of Islam. But bin Laden followed a path to extremism, believing it his duty to be part of a worldwide jihad against the “infidels.”
Bin Laden paid more than lip service to these beliefs. In 1979 he left Saudi Arabia to become a frontline fighter for Afghanistan in its war against a Soviet takeover. While fighting alongside others, he set up his own contingent with their own specialized training camps that would work and fight on a global scale for a world at peace under Islamic rule.
When bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia, he was immensely popular — mainly for his personal heroism. The house of Saud was deeply disturbed. One reason may have been the Saudis’ dependence on Western nations, including the United States, as prime customers for their oil. A war against the West was bad business. And so they told bin Laden to lay off, to temper his tongue and moderate his missionary manners. He didn’t. They threatened him and his family. Finally, he had to flee. He went to Sudan, where an Arab government based in the north was holding the black population of the south in a state of slavery — actually selling bodies to those who would buy. Several Scandinavian countries bought slaves just to set them free.
As we know, it was the same bin Laden who was the brains behind the September 11, 2001, assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Did he think that such attacks would bring the U.S. government to its knees? Hardly! But, the ever-brilliant and super-scheming bin Laden might well have foreseen that the attacks would provoke the U.S. government into sending troops into the Islamic world, where they would be more convenient targets and would rouse the Islamic peoples who feared a return to the French and British imperialism they had suffered through before.
Whether bin Laden had such a scenario in mind, we do not know. But we do know that is what happened. And so the moment was ripe for bin Laden to settle an ancient score with the House of Saud. His Islamists carried out a suicide bombing in the capital of Saudi Arabia.
Did bin Laden personally supervise the act? Probably not. He certainly was not there in person. In fact, he may not even have had advance notice that the event would take place. But his spirit returned to the land of his birth to haunt the Saudis for playing footsie with the “white devil of the West.” Indeed, bin Laden may not even be alive. No matter. Movements have a life of their own. And right now, the Islamists within the Muslim world are taking advantage of the chaos in the east to pursue their own extremist purpose.