What Now?

Developments, encouraging and otherwise

It was recently reported that Jack B. Grubman, once a great star of the great bubble in his role as chief telecommunications analyst at Salomon Smith Barney, had, in an attempt to get his twins into Manhattan's insanely exclusive 92nd Street Y nursery school, vigorously pulled strings connected to his boss, Sanford I. Weill, the chairman of Salomon's parent company, Citigroup. After Grubman asked Weill for help, four things happened: Weill asked Grubman to take a "fresh look" at his longtime "hold" rating for AT&T, of which Weill was a director; Grubman changed his AT&T rating to "buy"; Citigroup pledged to give the 92nd Street Y $1 million; and the junior Grubmans got into the 92nd Street Y. Summing it all up, The New York Times reported, accurately, that the whole thing was "a normal if somewhat distasteful part of life in New York."

Public relations-wise, it was a distasteful (although perfectly normal) few months for Islam, Religion of Peace™. Islamic terrorists in Indonesia blew up a nightclub frequented by warmongering-through-pleasure-tripping Australians, apparently thinking it was frequented by warmongering-through-pleasure-tripping Americans, and murdered 180 mostly young and wholly innocent people. In Nigeria, which was hosting the Miss World contest, Islamic people of peace rioted after a (Christian) newspaper columnist suggested that the prophet Muhammad himself would have been happy to choose a bride from among the Miss World contestants. Some 200 people were murdered.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that many thousands of dollars in "charitable contributions" had passed from the bank accounts of Princess Haifa al-Faisal—daughter of the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, and wife of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States—to the wife of a Saudi man in San Diego, and from her husband and his friend to, it appeared, two of the hijackers of September 11, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi.

This was particularly embarrassing in light of the previous embarrassing revelations that fifteen of the nineteen al Qaeda hijackers were Saudi citizens; that, as the Council on Foreign Relations reported in October, Saudi Arabians are the largest source of money in the world for al Qaeda; and that, as Matthew Levitt, a former terrorism expert for the FBI and a fellow at the Institute for Near East Policy, told The New York Times, "more than a year into the war against terrorism, Saudi officials continue to actively support organizations that finance international terrorism," as they have despite repeated American entreaties for many years. This was reported in a story headlined in the increasingly prevalent, inadvertently self-parodying Times way: "SAUDI ARABIA IS CALLED SLOW IN HELPING STEM THE FLOW OF CASH TO MILITANTS."

And yet, in a normal if somewhat distasteful part of modern life, the Saudis were not embarrassed. Rather the contrary. Prince Bandar and Princess Haifa gave an exclusive interview to a New York Times reporter who was an old and friendly acquaintance (inadvertently self-parodying headline: "EXPLAINING GIFT, SAUDI ENVOY VOICES DISMAY OVER STRAINS"), in which the princess pronounced herself "outraged when people think I can be connected to terrorists when all I wanted to do was to give some help to someone in need." Adel al-Jubeir, a senior foreign-policy adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto Saudi ruler, and a man so smartly put together that one suspects his boxers are bespoke, held a press conference in which he complained that Saudi Arabia "has been unfairly maligned" and lectured reporters on what he called a "severe and outrageous criticism, which borders on hate."

A previous attempt at public relations by Jubeir—a personally guided tour of the desert kingdom for the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd—produced mixed results when, as Jubeir and Dowd were walking in Riyadh, members of the Islamic religious police came upon them and ordered Dowd to more fully cover herself. Also, matters were not helped when the Saudi Interior Minister, who is in charge of the kingdom's investigation into the Saudi role in the events of September 11, told reporters that "the Jews" (in Arabic) or "the Zionists" (in the English translation) were "the protagonists of such attacks."

Presented by

Michael Kelly is editor at large of The Atlantic.

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