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Who's Running America?

Daniel Silva

     ... international intrigue novelist. With The Messenger, Mr. Silva adds another best-seller to his long list of widely admired suspense novels. In it, he exposes the powerful connections between Saudi Arabia's rulers and the U.S. government; Israel, terror and puritanical fundamentalists; oil and money. Often favorably compared with John le Carré and Graham Green, Mr. Silva's carefully researched stories have been translated into more than two dozen languages and published around the world. Mr. Silva is a former reporter trained and experienced in international relations and is strongly connected to the power elite in Washington, D.C., where he lives.


America will not win its war against terrorism until it does something about ideological hatred pouring out of the Middle East, particularly out of Saudi Arabia and Wahabbism, says Daniel Silva, best-selling author of The Messenger.

Saudi Arabia's relationship to terrorism and America's deeply important relationship with Saudi Arabia are subjects that have been pulling at Mr. Silva for years, he says. His conclusion? A large chunk of the Washington establishment is bought-and-paid-for by Saudi money. And the Saudis are not innocent. Instead, they are complicitous with terrorism despite their protests to the contrary, he says. Using a litany of research findings from which he created his fictional world, Mr. Silva believes that it is only a matter of time before other Osamas and other networks of terrorists rise up.

Difficult questions about the morality of going out and fighting terrorists are a core issue of our time, Mr. Silva believes.

Setting his novel in the midst of what he believes is a conflict of Biblical proportions (no irony intended) came at a heavy cost. (He distances himself from extremists preaching a potential "End of Days" scenario.)

Personally and through his main character, Mr. Silva had wrestled with fundamental human ethical questions:  Can a problem somehow be solved by killing or eliminating terrorists as a group or even more pointedly, by killing individual terrorists? What happens to the killer or killers or to the country itself that feels compelled to climb into the gutter and fight with people who murder innocents. Can one justify an eye-for-an-eye?

We're not going to get out of this kind of present day moral dilemma, he affirms, until we acknowledge the reality of the Saudi role in the Middle East and in the rest of the world, their complicity in terrorist activities and recognize the consequences of their actions.

Mr. Silva came to his troubling conclusions as he does in preparation for all of his novels -- by doing his homework. He read more than 50 books of history about Saudi Arabia and Islam. And he used his considerable access to people in his hometown of Washington, DC, where he is deeply plugged into government from the very highest levels to those in the news business to people who work in intelligence.

His first responsibility to his readers and his publishers, Mr. Silva says, is to spin a good story, write a good thriller. That said, he doesn't have much fun doing that unless he's dealing with serious ideas and issues.

Yes, he has the luxury of manipulating reality, but Mr. Silva concludes that by creating a set of characters and placing them in compelling situations he can serve a broader message with his fiction. And he has come to believe, there are larger truths in the world that fiction like his novels sometimes can get at better than nonfiction we call "The News."



[This Program was recorded July 31, 2006, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.]

Conversation 1

Daniel Silva summarizes his approach to international espionage novels -- holding up a mirror to the real world -- for Paula Gordon and Bill Russell. Fiction can sometimes get to larger truths better than nonfiction, he agrees, and expands.

Conversation 1 RealAudio7:11

Conversation 2

Distinguishing Islam from Wahabbist extremists, Mr. Silva contends that Saudi Arabia has underwritten the spread worldwide of violent jihaddist Wahabbi ideology, which he describes as puritanical and backward-looking. American fundamentalism is compared to rigid Middle Eastern religious extremists, theocracy and nationalism considered.

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:26

Conversation 3

Mr. Silva believes America's involvement in the Middle East has focused on economic security and stability and oil, but sees the conflicts there turning decidedly more religious in nature. The work that Mia Bloom has done on suicide bombing enlarges the conversation. Mr. Silva defines his scope as a commercial thriller writer. He explains why he sees the Vatican as a target of jihadis.

Conversation 4

Doing his homework is fundamental to how Mr. Silva approaches writing his suspense novels, he says. He describes the Washington, DC, environment in which he lives and many of the ways that he accesses information from which to draw characters, plots and conclusions, all of which he highlights. The Washington Establishment is described as bought-and-paid-for.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:35

Conversation 5

Kleptocracies are discussed, both those described by Jared Diamond and the House of Saud. The United States was protecting them from Iraq in 1991, and it was the subsequent presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia that triggered Osama bin Laden to "go postal," Mr. Silva reminds listeners. Factoring in geopolitical realities -- Iran is not Arab, there is an extreme divide between Sunni and Shia Islamists -- Mr. Silva describes the Middle Easter, mid-2006.  Remembering how deeply he was affected by "9/11," Mr. Silva says America's post-9/11 black-and-white thinking probably was a great failing.

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:15

Conversation 6

Rejecting "End of Days" preachers, Mr. Silva considers the ultimate moral dilemma -- killing in an attempt to stop killing.  He considers options. If terrorism is to be addressed, he concludes, the reality of the Saudis' role must be acknowledged.

Conversation 1 RealAudio5:12


The People's right to govern is undermined when "the news" fails in its duty to provide reliable and relevant information. It's a sad and dangerous irony when entertainment becomes a substitute for facts. Thank you, Daniel Silva, for presenting the facts about the Saudis and the U.S. government, and for reminding us that whatever the rationalization d'jour, killing always violates the ultimate human prohibition.

Related Links:

The Messenger is published by Penguin.

Former President Jimmy Carter clearly distinguishes evangelicals from fundamentalists in Our Endanged Values and describes the defining attributes of "a more intense form of fundamentalism," whatever the professed faith:

• Almost invariably, fundamentalist movements are led by authoritarian males who consider themselves to be superior to others and, within religious groups, have an overwhelming commitment to subjugate women and to dominate their fellow believers.

• Although fundamentalists usually believe that the past is better than the present, they retain
certain self-beneficial aspects of both their historic religious beliefs and of the modern world.

• Fundamentalists draw clear distinctions between themselves, as true believers, and others, convinced that they are right and that anyone who contradicts them is ignorant and possibly evil.

• Fundamentalists are militant in fighting against any challenge to their beliefs. They are often angry and sometimes resort to verbal or even physical abuse against those who interfere with the implementation of their agenda.

• Fundamentalists tend to make their self-definition increasingly narrow and restricted, to isolate themselves, to demagogue emotional issues, and to view change, cooperation, negotiation, and other efforts to resolve differences as signs of weakness.

To summarize, there are three words that characterize this brand of fundamentalism: rigidity, domination, and exclusion.

(Emphasis added, this description is taken from pages 34 - 35 of Our Endanged Values.)


In God's Politics, evangelical minister Jim Wallis argues that religion must be "disciplined by democracy."

In No god but God, Reza Aslan provides a concise history of Islam and of the origins of the ongoing struggles between Sunni and Shia.

Mia Bloom's thoughtful exploration of the history and evolution of terrorism is presented in her book Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror.

Richard Ben Cramer examines what he views as the damage done to Israel by its continuing occupation of the West Bank in How Israel Lost.

Jared Diamond introduced us to the notion of the unholy alliance which sometimes arises between priests and kleptocrats.

... and, information about the founding of Saudi Arabia from a Saudi website.


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