America Abroad

God and Man in the Gulf

A few days before the gulf war began in January, I was driving outside Jidda with a Saudi official who was telling me about what he called "the limits to political modernization" in the kingdom. I caught sight of a road sign to Mecca, only 31 miles away. Knowing that non-Muslims were forbidden to visit the holy city, I asked my companion whether he thought someday, when Saudi Arabia is more open to the outside world, the ban might be lifted.

"Never," he replied.

"Why?" I asked, somewhat taken aback.

"Because God says so."

He wasn't being rude or even expressing...

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