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...