"The media," says Marshall, "seem to equate Arab with Muslim and, along with some in the administration, think that al Qaeda's war is against Americans and Westerners per se, rather than against all 'infidels,' a group al Qaeda defines idiosyncratically and expansively as anyone who is not a strictly observant Muslim. Both mistakes are compounded by reliance on the Saudis' distorted account of the attack.
"The November 8 bombing took place in a Lebanese Christian neighborhood of Riyadh, and of the seven publicly identified Lebanese victims, six were Christian. Lebanon's newspapers are replete with photographs of Maronite Catholic and Greek Orthodox victims. Daleel al Mojahid, an al Qaeda-linked webpage, praised the killing of 'non-Muslims.' The Middle East Media Research Institute quotes Abu Salma al Hijazi, reputed to be an al Qaeda commander, as saying that Saudi characterizations of the victims as Muslims were 'merely media deceit.'"
After all, the Prophet Muhammad says, "War is deceit" (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 4, book 52, nos. 267-9).
"If so, the media fell for it. Reuters described the bombing as against 'fellow Muslims,' the Los Angeles Times as 'against Muslims,' the Washington Times called the victims 'innocent Muslims,' the San Francisco Chronicle 'Muslim civilians who happened to be in the wrong place,' and the New York Times 'expatriates from other Muslim countries.'" . . .
"The effect of this mischaracterization is to link Arab to Muslim, ignoring the large numbers of Christian Arabs from Egypt, Lebanon, and elsewhere who work in Saudi Arabia (and Israel) and have long been targeted by Islamic extremists, including by the Saudi government.
"(At the time of the bombing, two Egyptian Christians, Sabry Gayed and Guirguis Eskander, were in a Riyadh prison for holding a worship service, even though Prince Sultan had ordered them released.)"
Nor is this the first time this has happened. "Similarly, media coverage of the October 4 suicide attack on Maxim, a restaurant in Haifa, noted that one co-owner was Jewish, but described the other simply as 'Arab.' Commentators wondered why Palestinian terrorists were killing 'Arabs.' But the second co-owner was actually a Lebanese Catholic, as were many of those killed. The term 'Arab,' while playing into America's obsession with ethnicity, hides the religious dimension that is central to the worldview of al Qaeda, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad."
"However, every day in every way, al Qaeda reiterates that its target is 'infidels,' wherever they live, including Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and the vast majority of the world's Muslims, who reject the extremists' vision of a restored caliphate under a reactionary version of Islamic law." . . .
"The fact that the Saudi authorities did not reveal that this was largely a Lebanese Christian area, that they rapidly demolished the remains and stayed silent while the media misreported the identity of the victims, suggests a deliberate attempt to mask what is going on in the kingdom. (Meanwhile, a debate is taking place in the Saudi press over whether a woman named Saban Abu Lisam, who was herself injured in the blast but nevertheless drove seven other injured victims to the hospital, should be praised for her courage or punished for violating the ban on women driving.)
"In the Riyadh bombing, al Qaeda did what it has always done, and, as usual, it explained why its targets were chosen. Nevertheless, much of the U.S. administration seems to share the media's bafflement. U.S. deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, in Saudi Arabia at the time of the blast, opined that the bombers had attacked 'the government and people of Saudi Arabia.' The Los Angeles Times describes 'senior administration officials,' puzzled at this latest choice of targets, as 'grasping, saying this doesn't fit the box we expected.'
"If this is true, the administration, like the media, needs a new box. It would be a good place to dump Saudi prevarications, and also to store the al Qaeda videos, tapes, books, and fatwas that for the last ten years have been laying out the organization's goals in explicit detail. To repeat: Al Qaeda and its allies aim to kill or subdue all 'infidels,' Muslim or non-Muslim, who stand in the way of their goal of restoring a worldwide caliphate governed, Taliban-style, by the strictest, narrowest interpretation of Islamic law.
"Until this fact is finally assimilated, we will continue to have a military that fights superbly against an enemy whose strategic aims we refuse to understand." (Thanks to Habib Malik.)