I chose these words to open my new book Inside the Kingdom, because I needed to understand the tragedy of 9/11 and the nation that produced no less than fifteen of the nineteen hijackers on those planes. Saudi Arabia has never been a spot that wins much favor in the west. How can you love a country that charges you $70 or more for a product that costs less than $10 to get out of the ground – and then gives you terrorists as well?
But I wanted to go beyond that – to find out how the culture and religion of a society could go so wrong as to produce such a poisonous boiling-over of intolerance and hatred. In theory Saudi Arabia should not exist – its survival defies the laws of logic and history. Look at its princely rulers, dressed in funny clothes, trusting in God rather than man, and running their government on principles that most of the world has abandoned with relief. Shops closed for prayer five times a day, executions in the street – and let us not even get started on the status of women. For many the Kingdom remains one of the planet’s enduring – and, for some, quite offensive – enigmas.
But in these notorious distinctions lies an answer that I would urge you to consider – for when you look harder, the differences are not quite as great as they seem. It was not so long ago in the west, certainly in the memory of our parents and grandparents, that women were second class citizens denied the right to vote; most respectable people were devout and rather intolerant believers, scared and suspicious of other races and faiths: capital punishment was considered a necessity – with public lynchings of non-whites in the south; books and plays were censored (our movies still are); people dressed in stiff and formal clothes – a sort of uniform; father knew best, and ‘nice’ girls remained virgins until marriage. For centuries western life was lived within the comfort of those structures and strictures, and it is only in the last 90 years (one modern lifetime) that we have started to look for new values – which we sometimes seek to define by criticizing those who are reluctant to abandon the security of what went before.
For Larry King Live Blog
Editor's Note: Celebrity chef Kai Chase was Michael Jackson’s personal chef at the time of his death. She was working in his home the day he died. Below are her chilling memories of the events that day. Kai will be Larry’s guest Thursday night.
The Jackson home was a very loving environment. I worked there on and off since March as Mr. Jackson’s personal chef. In that time, I got to know the kids well. We bonded immediately. They are wonderful children — loving, giving, caring and very close as siblings go. You would never know their dad was one of the most famous people on Earth.
Mr. Jackson was a great father. He was lenient in the evenings. He loved to let them stay up late, watch movies, and eat popcorn at night; but the days were fairly regimented.
Editor's note: Below is an excerpt from Larry King's autobiography, "My Remarkable Journey," published by Weinstein books. Watch him talk to Anderson tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/SHOWBIZ/books/05/13/larry.king.dad/art.larry.brother.kida.jpg caption="Larry, left, at age 10 with his younger brother, Marty, shortly after their father died."]
I was walking home from the library carrying nine books. That's the way my memory sees it. I can't know for sure if it was exactly nine books. Maybe I picture nine books because I was nine years old. I'm certain that I was nine years old, because I'm sure of the date - June 9, 1943. There were a lot of books under my arm on that summer day because I loved books. I wonder what happened to those nine books ...
There were three squad cars in front of my apartment building. Flivvers, we called them. I don't remember exactly when I started to hear my mother's screams. But as I hurried up the steps, a cop quickly came down, straight for me. He picked me up and the books went flying.
I'm not sure if I knew the cop. But I may have. For years, before the war started and my father went to work in the defense plant, he'd owned a little neighborhood bar and grill. He was friendly with all the cops. The cops loved my father the way they loved any bar owner who had a great sense of humor. I remember having my own police costume when I was very young. A badge and a little nightstick came with it. I'd make like I was walking the beat.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/19/art.vert.larry.king.jpg width=292 height=320]
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/SHOWBIZ/05/05/larry.king.book.radio/art.radio.jpg caption="Larry is featured on a WKAT radio sales sheet from the 1960s."]
I remember the first time I saw Larry King in person. It was the summer of 2004 at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. “Mr. King!” I shouted as I chased him down the hallway and gently placed him in a headlock, “May I have a photo?” Ever the class act, he graciously agreed, though he drew the line when I asked to try on his suspenders.
It was a moment for which I had been waiting my whole life…or at least since my grandparents got cable. While other kids my age were busy developing social skills, I sat wrapped in a quilt watching Larry King interview Elizabeth Taylor and her jewelry.
Afterwards I’d go upstairs to rehearse what I’d say to Larry on the inevitable night when I’d be a guest on his show:
Hi Larry, it’s so good to be here. I love your glasses frames. What’s that? Is it true that I’m having an affair with Shannen Doherty? Now, Larry, you know better than to ask about my love life. How about we just take some calls?
During the commercial breaks Larry and I would relax because, of course, we were buddies off-camera. We’d smoke cigarettes and talk about our mutual friends like Jon Bon Jovi and Florence Henderson.
It was a golden age.
Fast forward to 2009 and I’m still in awe of Larry King. It’s cliché to say he’s an icon, but he is. The memorable moments are too many to count. Interviews with the biggest stars, debates among the most important politicians. And, of course, that time he made out with Marlon Brando.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/TECH/04/17/ashton.cnn.twitter.battle/art.twitter.aplusk.from.jpg caption="Ashton Kutcher's Twitter feed has surpassed CNN's breaking-news feed in the race to 1 million followers."]
AC360° Senior Producer
Which is bigger news: Kutcher beats CNN on Twitter, or President Obama goes to Mexico?
Ok, that sounds like a reductive and absurd question. But it's not, or not completely anyway, and here's why:
When a movie star and a news network persuade hundreds of thousands of people in less than a week to "follow" them on a hot, newish social networking site, as part of a charity competition – at the same time that the number of eyeballs on cable, network and print news outlets struggle even to hold steady despite millions of dollars in marketing – it says something.
Like what? Like a couple things:
Like a high-powered flashlight, it shows us very clearly where our society is – and is headed. It shows that young, mobile, digital people are THE driving force in business, technology, media and – as the election of President Obama and the size of the anti-tax tea parties on Wednesday showed – politics. No surprise, I know, but what a fast and glaring confirmation. We'd better pay attention.
Another thing: Kutcher's entertaining and bravado-fueled victory over @CNNbrk last night in signing up more than million Twitter "followers" – complete with low-grade, Youtube-distributed camera phone video of Kutcher ranting and goading Larry King while driving (so much for anti-cellphone driving laws) – also gets 11,000 mosquito nets to April 25th's 2nd annual World Malaria Day. Kutcher promised to send 10k mosquito nets if he won, and 1k if he lost. CNN promised the same.
That means thousands of real people will actually be better protected against a disease that infects and weakens more than 500 million people a year, and kills more than a million people. Despite all our advances in medicine, malaria still threatens 40% of the world's population, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Those are stunning numbers, aren't they?