SAUDI ARABIA: Holier Than Thou
Most recent Saudi efforts to crack down on homegrown terror have involved tough talk and even tougher action. So what explains the statement read by Crown Prince Abdullah last week, in which the Saudi monarchy effectively offered terrorists amnesty and called on them to repent and return to the true (government-approved) path of righteousness?
There is method to the offer, which many critics condemned as madness. Saudi authorities think one of their most potent weapons against Al Qaeda could be the Qur'an. Sheik Safar al-Hawali, once one of the monarchy's most radical religious critics, says the amnesty "gladdens the hearts of believers" and cited verses of Islamic Scripture to support the regime's position.
The hope is that fundamentalists can be defeated with fundamentalism. Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former Saudi intelligence chief and current ambassador to London, calls this strategy "the philosophical counterpunch." Al-Faisal cites the success of Egypt, which crushed Islamic militants in the 1990s and hasn't had a terrorist attack for almost seven years. "There were actually philosophical discussions in Egypt between the terrorists and various sheiks and religious scholars who were brought to the jails and managed to convince them," Al-Faisal told NEWSWEEK earlier this year. "We are taking the same approach."
Nobody expects the Qaeda leadership in Saudi Arabia to turn themselves in. But the Saudi government hopes its recent success in killing some of the group's top figures will help persuade Qaeda sympathizers to give up the fight. "We're trying to bring in the young guys," says Saudi security consultant Nawaf Obaid. "They're kind of leaderless right now. So it's a well-thought-out moment to take this position."
Still, it's a risky strategy. Past efforts to co-opt Saudi extremists in the 1980s and 1990s helped create public sympathy for Al Qaeda. And in a survey last year, Obaid found that almost 50 percent of the Saudi public agrees with the philosophical teachings of Osama bin Laden.
SOUTH KOREA: Seoul Tries to Play Both Sides
The June 22 execution of South Korean interpreter Kim Sun Il in Iraq has prompted a flood of grief and anger back home. Protesters in Seoul have been voicing their fury at Washington--which they blame for the tragedy--and President Roh Moo Hyun's decision to deploy 3,000 South Korean troops to Iraq in August. Roh has made it clear that he intends to go ahead with the deployment. But analysts expect him to try to win some wiggle room at home, perhaps by distancing himself yet further from Washington's traditionally hard line on North Korea.
Roh will have to tread carefully, however. The United States has begun to show some flexibility toward North Korea, offering to drop its demand for the "complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling" of the Hermit Kingdom's nuclear program. Although Seoul was pleased with the offer, it may agitate for more concessions. (It views North Korean energy as the key to resolving the conflict, and has embraced Pyongyang's request for 2 million kilowatts of electricity each year.) But pushing Washington to bend more than it has already could be risky. South Korean troops are not crucial to security in Iraq, and a frustrated Bush administration could easily turn its back on Roh and revert to tough talk on North Korea. Which would leave the South Korean leader without any support at all.
--B. J. Lee
RUSSIA: Is Might Not Right?
Russian president Vladimir Putin has based his strategy for bringing stability to the volatile Caucasus region on installing hard-line, pro-Kremlin leaders in local government. But after about 200 rebel fighters from Chechnya went on a rampage last week in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia, more observers now suggest that Putin's policy is in fact the root of the problem.
More than 70,000 Russian troops are stationed in the region, and pro-Kremlin security and military officials fill the ranks of the civilian administration. Community leaders are excluded where they are needed most, which leaves uniformed types who lack the diplomatic skills necessary to end the near-decadelong conflict. "There is no flexible thinking," says analyst Shamil Benno of the Moscow-based Fund for the Support of Democracy and Social Progress. "These men were trained to follow orders from Moscow and that's it." Amnesty International has been even harsher in its condemnation, blaming the FSB--the KGB's successor--in which Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov once served as a general--for 34 political disappearances in Ingushetia over the past six months. The FSB's tactics are spreading "a wave of fear and terror" in the region, says Amnesty's Mariana Katzarova.
Putin has shown little inclination to change course. The Kremlin has anointed Chechnya's colorless top cop, Alu Alukhanov, as its candidate to replace the ravaged republic's recently assassinated president. If Alukhanov is elected in August, few expect him to show either the sort of political savvy that might win over the locals or the subtle skills necessary to deal with Chechen rebels. Far more likely is escalating violence--and no sign of the stability that Putin has long promised.
TERROR: Swapping Stories
A captured Qaeda commander who was a principal source for Bush administration claims that Osama bin Laden collaborated with Saddam Hussein's regime has changed his story. U.S. intelligence officials say that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a onetime member of bin Laden's inner circle, was a crucial source for one of the more dramatic assertions made by President George W. Bush and his top aides: that Iraq had provided training in "poisons and deadly gases" for Al Qaeda. Recently, sources say, U.S. interrogators went back to al-Libi with new evidence that cast doubt on his claims. Al-Libi "subsequently recounted a different story," said one U.S. official. Some officials now suspect that al-Libi, facing aggressive interrogation techniques, had previously said what U.S. officials wanted to hear. In any case, the cloud over his story explains why administration officials have made no mention of the "poisons and gases" claim for some time and did not more forcefully challenge the recent findings of the 9-11 Commission that Al Qaeda and Iraq had not forged a "collaborative relationship."
The debate, however, is far from over. Pentagon officials are culling through captured Iraqi documents they say will provide hard evidence of multiple contacts between Iraqi officials and Qaeda members over a decade. Current plans call for a massive "document dump" before the November election. But officials acknowledge ultimate proof may prove elusive. "It all depends on what your definition of a relationship is," said one.
GOOGLE: Read the Footnotes
If you're lucky enough to be a current shareholder of Google, the company estimates that its initial public stock offering will produce a 5.5-for-1 windfall. That estimate--which the company wouldn't discuss--is in a footnote buried in a fat filing that Google made with regulators last week. Google estimates that its value as a private company was $16.27 a share during the first three months of this year, compared with a "deemed value" of $88.13 a share if Google were a publicly traded company. Which it will be after the IPO is completed. Google's existing shares would be worth an estimated $23.3 billion, rather than the $4.3 billion at which Google valued itself as a private company. Google's two big venture-capital investors would see their holdings valued at $2.1 billion each, a $1.7 billion increase.
These numbers explain why some shareholders (especially the VCs) are so hot to take the company public. This isn't about Google setting off a new boom in tech IPOs. The game here is for people to create windfall gains for themselves before the IPO market tanks again. Is going public in the company's long-term interest? Google's two founders (indicated gain: $2.8 billion each) seem dubious--and rightly so. But as the numbers show, going public is in current shareholders' short-term interest. And on Wall Street, short term is what it's all about.
WI-FI: How to Stay Safer
The world's going Wi-Fi, but there's a downside to adopting this wireless networking technology willy-nilly--security can be a headache. According to a new report from RSA Security, more than one third of businesses in four major European cities--London, Paris, Frankfurt and Milan--aren't putting in place basic security measures to protect their Wi-Fi networks. As a result, some networks are currently sitting ducks for hackers--who can snatch everything from passwords to company data from a firm's parking lot.
Wi-Fi networks do come equipped with a basic security protocol called wired equivalent privacy, which encrypts data. The problem, however, is that it provides only minimal protection. Fortunately, more help may be on the way: a next-generation Wi-Fi security standard--802.11i in geekspeak--boasts harder-to-crack encryption that's already being used by the U.S. government. The new standard is expected to appear in wireless products later this year, and not a moment too soon: according to RSA Security, wireless networks in London have grown by 770 percent since 2001.
Under the Hot Lights
A play about terrorist suspects in detention is hardly the usual crowd-pleasing fare in London's theaters. But this month two new productions about the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay have been packing them in. "Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom" takes a documentary approach, telling the story of four real-life British men who were detained at the camp in Cuba. (Two of these detainees are still there; their stories are based on letters and interviews with their families and lawyers.) The script highlights the injustices faced by "enemy combatants" held without legal protection, and attacks the camp's very existence. But U.S. and British policies aren't the play's only target: it also condemns the complacency of ordinary citizens.
In "The Private Room," American playwright Mark Lee focuses on a female U.S. Army reservist who goes from the trading floors of Wall Street to an interrogation room in Cuba. Lee draws a connection between moral pitfalls in New York City--where the reservist is forced into unethical trading--and Guantanamo, where she not only uses her sexuality to more effectively interrogate prisoners, but also becomes emotionally attached to one detainee. Lee's play is perhaps best suited for an American audience, but he'll have to settle for a British one for now. Given the American theater's tendency to focus more on issues like race and gender, he says, "we realized no American theater was going to take this on." Still, U.S. cable giant HBO has requested a copy of the script--which means Lee's play could make it into American living rooms soon.
GAMES: A New Board
Monopoly has spawned yet another spinoff, this time with a political agenda. Posted on the Web site of the Center for American Progress (CAP), a Washington, D.C.-based progressive think tank, Contractopoly riffs on allegations of shady connections between U.S. business and politics in postwar Iraq. While visitors to americanprogress.org can't actually deal in play money, they can take a virtual tour of a game board on which properties have been replaced by U.S. companies.
Contractopoly makes cronyism the object of the game. Its scenarios are both fun and informative: for instance, when game pieces--among them a cowboy hat (for President George W. Bush), a weapon of mass destruction and a mushroom cloud--land on "General Electric," the company chosen to receive an undisclosed amount to supply the U.S. Army in Iraq with electric generators, the player learns that former CEO Jack Welch is a close friend of Bush's. Instead of going to jail, players go to corporate-ethics school, and rather than collect railroads, they accumulate key pieces of Iraqi infrastructure.
Since launching the spoof on June 15, the CAP has received a high volume of requests to create a real Contractopoly board game. Unfortunately, it has no immediate plans to do so. Apparently--unlike the parties on its Contractopoly board--the CAP isn't in it just for the money.
BOOKS: Intro to Gangsta Lit
Like the music that inspired them, American hip-hop novels are finding passionate fans both on the mean streets and among those who just visit them in their daydreams. In the past year and a half Triple Crown Publications, founded by drug dealer turned publisher Vickie Stringer, has put out 14 titles and sold 300,000 trade paperbacks. New York editors who once rejected Stringer are rushing out hip-hop novels of their own. "Hip-hop fiction is doing for 15- to 25-year-old African-Americans what 'Harry Potter' did for kids," says Matt Campbell, a buyer for Waldenbooks, "getting a new audience excited about books."
Stringer's journey to publishing mini-mogul may have been fast, but it wasn't easy. Five years ago Stringer, then 30, emerged from a five-year stint in prison with the manuscript of her first novel, called "Let That Be the Reason." Mainstream publishers wouldn't touch it. So Stringer printed 1,500 copies and took to the road, hawking her novel in beauty parlors and barbershops, as well as to street book vendors.
The book became an underground hit, and bookstores began to stock it. Soon other would-be authors were sending Stringer manuscripts, and Triple Crown was born. Although some booksellers complain that Triple Crown titles like "Gangsta" glorify drugs and violence, mainstream publishers now say hip-hop fiction is just the kind of hot new genre they've been looking for. St. Martin's Press has snapped up three Triple Crown authors, and Atria Books has signed Stringer to a two-book deal.
--Peg Tyre and Karen Springen
Q&A: Mena Suvari
Mena Suvari is the thinking man's sex kitten. After steaming up multiplexes in "American Beauty" and "American Pie," she's now bringing her sweet sultriness to HBO's "Six Feet Under." She talked to NEWSWEEK's Marc Peyser.
Where are you?
I'm at the salon, getting my hair done. I have an audition later, so I'm working this call in between my color and toner. That is so bad. I'm so Hollywood.
Wait, you still have to audition?
It's horrible. I can't stand it. But one thing I've learned is to not take things personally. One time I lost a role because the other girl had a lisp. That just appealed to the director.
You didn't have to audition for "Six Feet," did you?
No. I was actually out of town when I got a call that [executive producer] Alan Ball was interested. Two weeks later I was working.
You're playing a performance artist?
Yeah. She's very challenging. I'd never experienced anyone like that before.
Why? Does she smear chocolate all over herself or something?
No, she's just very strong-willed and wild, but she's also very sexy. She becomes friends with Claire and dot, dot, dot.
Those sound like very frisky dots.
I can't say too much about what happens.
Now that you've been married for four years, have people gotten over the fact that your husband is 17 years older than you?
I would think so. I'm 25. I'm middle-aged.