Saudi Arabia may have recently arrested hundred of activists to mollify the West over the relatively small increase in oil production granted by the royal family. But these arrests are significant for a different reason: the explanation given for the militant activity was discontent over the failure of the Saudi rulers to share the oil wealth with their citizens.
I have been saying for a long time that all social conflicts are, at bottom, about equity. Even those of Islamic fundamentalists, and now it’s happening in a country known for the emphatically religious nature of its regime: Wahabbi fundamentalism. Apparently, Al Qaeda differs with the clerics. As I wrote in “A Taoist Politics: The Case for Sacredness”: “All the territorial wars, all the movements for liberation or succession, emanate from the same basic requirement of equity, as humanity evolves from animal, to primitive human, to a scientifically aware polity.”
Why is personal behavior so important to Islam? it’s because Islam is not about miracles, but, like Judaism, it’s about how men should live. When Muhammad decided his people needed to become as civilized as the Jews and the Christians, he was not thinking in esoteric terms, but about individual behavior and a just society. These require an effort by the community - or umma - to achieve equality and solidarity among its members, because that is what God wants. If Christ was the original Marxist, than the Prophet was the original Maoist, and solidarity was meant to take the Jews' Ten Commandments and Christ's love-thy-neighbor a step further. As Karen Armstrong writes, 8th century Arabs conquered half the known world at the time, merely to avoid plundering fellow Muslims!
In light of Islam's basic message, it's not surprising that twentieth century leaders in many Muslim countries were clients of the Soviet Union. Although most of the world's poor now suspect that Communism is not the answer to their problems, the developed world is only just beginning to realize the urgency of helping them catch up. Meanwhile, unscrupulous secular leaders such as Saddam Hussein or Muhamar Quaddafi have at one point or another professed their Islamic faith to further aims which have nothing to do with equality and solidarity. Bin Laden is merely the latest avatar.
Even if Bin Laden’s aim is to weaken the United States for reasons of faith, experts agree that Al Qaeda has morphed into a broad movement, in which each local group does their thing. And they are more likely to be motivated by equity than purity. Until Americans are allowed to know that equity, whose first definition is “fairness, principles of justice supplementing law” - as opposed to equality before the law - is a valid political principle, they will not comprehend the nature of the wars they are being asked to fight.