There are several conferences on the Washington calendar where top decision makers and thought leaders gather to discuss developments in the Middle East and America’s role there. One of the best is the annual conference of the Middle East Institute (MEI) which meets this week in Washington. Among the distinguished speakers at the conference this year is newly posted Ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al Faisal.
Prince Turki, the last son of King Faisal, was educated at Georgetown University, Class of 1968 and went on to serve Saudi Arabia as the Director General of the General Intelligence Directorate from 1977 through 2001. He most recently completed a posting as Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 2003-2005 before replacing Prince Bandar bin Sultan in Washington in September of this year as the Kingdom’s top diplomat in the United States.
Today we are pleased to share with you Prince Turki’s presentation to the MEI conference where he provides an overview of the nature of the terrorism threat and Saudi Arabia’s commitment to fight alongside the United States and the international community against it.
Prince Turki Al-Faisal address to the 59th Annual Conference of the Middle East Institute
Prepared statement of Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States to the 59th Annual Conference of the Middle East Institute,
November 8, 2005
Ladies and Gentlemen: When Ambassador Walker invited me to speak to you today, I remembered what my boss told me when I was appointed ambassador.
He said: “A diplomat will say yes when he means maybe; he will say maybe when he means no; but if he says no, then he is no diplomat.” So here I am not saying no to Ambassador Walker.
Forty years ago, when I was a student at Georgetown University, the Middle East Institute was the only organization dedicated to promoting understanding of the Middle East. The fact that the institute is still going strong is a tribute to its leadership and the relevance of its mission.
It is a privilege to be with you today at this important conference, and to address you on one of the greatest challenges facing our world: terrorism and the misunderstanding it has created about Islam and the Islamic World.
The scourge of terrorism has defiled our world. Nothing makes it right. Nothing justifies it. It has ripped communities apart. It has eaten away at international and cultural understanding. It has tried to turn friends into enemies.
Terrorism has become the biggest single threat to international peace and stability.
Al-Qaeda, and other groups like it, ladies and gentlemen, are evil cults with a political terrorist agenda. They thrive on spreading fear and destroying bonds between people and nations.
The actions of these cults are condemned by all rational individuals and governments; by people of every color, creed and persuasion; from north to south and from east to west.
There are those that would have you believe that the current wave of terrorism springs from and is, or has been, supported by Saudi Arabia.
That is absolutely not true. We have suffered as a result of terrorism. We do not support them. We do not fund them. These terrorists are as much against us as they are against you.
Yes, 15 of the 19 terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks were Saudi citizens. This fact is a scar on our history. It is a burden that my countrymen will have to live with for the rest of our lives. It is a fact about which we are frequently reminded. But these deviants do not represent Saudis or the Islamic faith.
We no more supported the criminal act committed on September 11 than the people of Italy or the Italian government supported the terrorist activities of the Red Brigade, or the Germans supported the violence of the Bader-Meinhof gang. As the 9/11 Commission stated: “We have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization.”
Terrorism is not the exclusive domain of one people. It does not belong to one time or to one place.
The challenge posed by Al-Qaeda is that unlike other terrorist organizations, it has no one declared enemy, and no one focus. Al-Qaeda has pitted itself against the whole of humanity.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Extremism is the mantra of a few, of a tiny group whose minds have been twisted and turned to serve an evil agenda. They have left logic, reason and compassion behind. They do not belong to any nationality or any faith. They have disconnected themselves from nations and peoples, from any true faith, and from humanity as a whole. Bali, Madrid, London, Riyadh, New York, Sharm Al-Sheikh, and Casablanca have all become compass points on the global map of terror. There is no logic to these evil attacks, no obvious target. The victims are old and young; Muslim, Christian, Jew and Hindu; English, American and Saudi.
The question we ask ourselves is why?
What makes a man end his life and, in the process, take the lives of innocent people?
Let me be absolutely clear: It has nothing to do with any faith.
Much as Al-Qaeda tries to connect its acts with Islam, it cannot, any more than the Waco suicide pact of David Koresh and his Branch Davidians, which killed 74 people, can claim to be Christian, or Baruch Goldstein who massacred more than 20 Palestinians in a mosque in Hebron can claim to be Jewish, or the suicide pact of the Order of the Salar Temple which killed 56 people can claim to truly have anything to do with Hinduism.
Al-Qaeda is not, and never has been representative of Islam. Well before 9-11, religious scholars in Saudi Arabia had consistently and unequivocally condemned terrorism in general and suicide bombings in particular.
It is true that our senior ulama – our religious scholars – follow a fundamental school of Islam. It is true that they lead a morally conservative life. But it is also true that they condemn all suicide bombings and the taking of any innocent life.
It is to our despair that terrorists claim to be faithful to Islam and faithful to God. They are not.
They wrongly attempt to use Islam to bolster and proselytize their extremism. They wrongly pervert Islamic texts in order to support their political agendas. They wrongly issue politically motivated fatwas permitting suicide bombings and the taking of innocent lives.
They are totally and utterly wrong and they are absolutely in violation of the basic teachings of Islam. This is not Islam and these acts are absolutely not the work of God.
Ladies and Gentlemen: There is no faith that condones the taking of innocent life or celebrates suicide.
“Thou shalt not kill” is one of the Ten Commandments passed down to us all by the Prophet Moses.
“Whoever kills a person has killed the whole of humanity,” states one of the best-known Qur’anic verses.
I believe suicide reflects an individual’s alienation from God and from the human family which binds us all together. This human bond transcends all other divisions among us. It is at the heart of our survival as human beings. It is a bond revealed at its best in moments of tragedy – think of the heroes and heroines who came to the rescue of the victims of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, or Hurricane Katrina, or the terrible earthquake in Pakistan, or the Asian Tsunami. Think of the people who put their lives at risk to help others, who when hungry and cold share what little they have with their neighbors.
This is the best of humanity.
Let me share with you something that was said recently by one of the victims of the July 7 bombing in London this year. I was in London at the time of the bombings, which occurred less than a mile from our London embassy. The city came to a standstill. Dozens of people were killed and hundreds cruelly and dreadfully injured and maimed.
Ian, a young man traveling on the subway at the time of the attack was one of those maimed for life. He was blasted out of his seat and thrown out of the exploding carriage and against the electric cables of the subway tunnel. His survival in itself was a miracle. In a report broadcast three months after the attack, he remembered that terrible day.
Recalling the smoke, the fear, the shouting, he said – and I quote: “You saw the best of humanity and the worst of humanity. What springs to mind is not the worst of humanity. Anyone who straps explosives to themselves to make a point, whatever point they are making is a murderer and you cannot get into the mind of a murderer as a rational person. So you focus on the best of humanity. What people did to save other people, tearing off their clothes to use as blankets and bandages, running for water, phoning the relatives of people who were hurt.”
Ian recalled a man reaching out and grabbing his leg and, despite his own injuries, trying to pull this man from the pile of bodies amassed around him. And he remembers trying to shake into consciousness another man frozen with terror.
Despite his own injuries, his instinct was to help others. He didn’t ask who they were – whether they were white, black or Asian, whether they were Christian, Jew or Muslim, whether they were old or young, men or women. All he knew was that he must help them.
Allow me to share with you another eyewitness account, this time about the terrorist attacks in Riyadh in May of 2003. Talal, a young Saudi and a resident of the Al-Hamra compound, had this to say:
“As a resident of the Al-Hamra compound targeted by the terrorists in the devastating attacks in Riyadh last week, I saw it happening before my eyes. For the first time in my life I realized what the word ‘terrorism’ really means. It wasn’t anything like what we hear in theories and hypotheses floating around or on television programs and comments. It was something beyond human comprehension. On that day I lost a number of good friends and neighbors, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, with whom I had shared moments of joy and sorrow.
“On that day I saw the flesh of innocent people who had been killed as they slept. I saw bullets flying indiscriminately killing Muslims and non-Muslims. I heard the cries and moaning of the injured whose only fault was that they happened to be there at that particular moment. I saw the door and windows of my own house being blown away and glass flying everywhere. I was injured, but I must thank and praise God for whatever comes from Him.
“I saw the burned bodies of two small children still hugging each other. I saw buildings collapse, fires raging and people dying.
“On that night I realized our need to wake up from a long sleep and confront the causes and conditions that allowed such a terrible thing to happen. This is vitally necessary in order for neither people nor government to become hostage to one group or a set of ideas that wants to confine an entire population to the narrowest kind of thought.”
There are so many human stories like these from New York, Washington, Riyadh and London. It is clear from these accounts that the pain inflicted by terror transcends nationalities and religions. It affects all of us as human beings.
This natural humanity is our human bond.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Like Ian and Talal, I do not believe we can rationalize or understand those who carry out these evil crimes.
Terrorism presents us with a stark vision of the terrible abyss in which mankind can find itself. But as we stare into this abyss, we must cling more tightly to our faith and to our belief in life and the inherent goodness of man.
But who are these terrorists? Why do they follow the twisted and evil path of Al-Qaeda? They violate the principle of humanity, and the teachings of their faith. They are criminals. Their twisted vision is a cancer in the body of Islam that must and will be excised and cast out.
It is alien to the healthy body of the faith that holds the world’s one billion Muslims together.
Muslims are people of the book, along with Christians and Jews. Muslims revere Abraham and Isaac and all the prophets of the Old and New Testaments from Noah to Jesus. Together, we hold in common a belief in one just and loving God, and in the sanctity of the life we have been given. As it says in Deuteronomy (chapter 30 verse 19): “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses: choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him and hold fast to him.” This is an important message for us all.
The challenge is to find a way to root out this evil from our midst without tearing apart communities and tearing to shreds friendships built over 100 years or more.
It is imperative that we find a way of destroying this evil cult which is trying to contaminate the Islamic faith and drive a wedge of destruction between East and West; between Muslim and Christian and Jew.
How do we meet this challenge?
First, we must face the fact that these terrorists receive financial and physical support, otherwise they could not survive.
We must cut off this network of support. One country cannot do this alone. This is an international organization that has spread its evil tentacles across our precious world. And so the communities of the world must stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight against these terrorist organizations, against those who support them and against those who condone their actions.
We in Saudi Arabia are committed to this fight. As the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has declared, we will show no mercy to those who kill the innocent. We will fight them for as long as it takes to destroy them. We will fight them for 10 or 20 or 30 years. And in the end, God willing, we will rid our nation of this scourge.
In Saudi Arabia we are fighting terrorism on every level.
First, our security forces are actively tracking and chasing down any terrorist groups or individuals found to be operating within the Kingdom.
We have questioned thousands of people. We have detained over 800 suspects. We have killed or captured more than 100 known terrorists, and in the process stifled over 50 terrorist attacks.
And we have paid a steep price. More than 90 of our security forces have lost their lives, and more than 150 have been injured in the line of duty. For the sacrifices they have made to ensure the safety of our citizens and residents, these brave men will forever have our respect and gratitude and appreciation.
Second, we are actively cutting off any possible financial support from within the Kingdom. We have frozen the assets of those suspected of supporting terrorism.
We have introduced stringent new laws to prevent funds from reaching unknown destinations and terrorist groups directly or indirectly. According to one official from the G-8’s Financial Action Task Force, our new regulations “probably go further than any country in the world.”
We have regulated our charities nationally and internationally and are in the process of setting up a National Commission for Charitable Works Abroad to monitor charitable activity outside the Kingdom. We are taking no chances. Until it is up and running, all Saudi charities are prohibited from sending funds abroad.
We believe that the scourge of terrorism and drug dealing are intertwined. Terrorists are using drug dealing to fund their operations, and drug dealers are using terrorism to protect their turf. Take out one, and you diminish the other.
Third, we are seeking to further strengthen international cooperation and coordination against the international threat of terror. Al-Qaeda is more dangerous than previous terrorist organizations because it is not against one society, but against all societies. It is not national but supranational.
To this end, we have established cooperative relationships with many countries, including the United States. In fact, we currently operate two Joint Task Forces with the US to combat terrorism and terror financing. These task forces have been effective in achieving their missions, and have become a model for how nations can work together to defeat terror.
To seek ways to enhance international cooperation, Saudi Arabia last February hosted an international conference in Riyadh that brought together, for the first time, security experts from over 50 nations, including US Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend, who remarked: “We stand with the Saudis in [the war on terrorism] and this conference is a testament to their commitment – to their dedication to combating terrorism.”
They came together to discuss the global threat and to seek ways to enhance effective international cooperation against the terrorism.
One of the key recommendations endorsed by delegates at this conference was the Riyadh Declaration to set up an international counterterrorism centre.
Fourth, and finally and most importantly, we are addressing any misunderstanding about the true meaning and faith of Islam. We are doing everything we can to educate people about the true tenets of our faith, a faith of peace and compassion, not of war and terror.
Shaikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-AsShaikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia and Chairman of the Council of Senior Ulema, recently stated: “Muslims should .. inform all people that Islam is a religion of righteousness, betterment and progress.. ..The unjust killing of a human being in Islam is forbidden.”
We have launched an unprecedented public awareness campaign to educate our citizens about the dangers of terrorism and extremism.
We are updating our educational curriculums and removing any material that can be possibly interpreted as advocating intolerance or extremism.
Our senior religious scholars speak out actively against any evil interpretations of Islam, any mixing of politics with religion. Our Ministry of Islamic Affairs is implementing a long-term program to monitor the messages emanating from our mosques and religious schools and to ensure that those messages reflect the true spirit of Islam.
And action has been taken against anyone found to be preaching intolerance. So far, more than 2,000 imams have been dealt with as a result of this new policy.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Islam acknowledges and celebrates the differences between us – it does not condemn them. As revealed in the Quran: “Oh mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other.”
We must strengthen our mutual respect for one another and look for greater understanding as nations and tribes. Our differences should not divide us, but be a source of enrichment in our lives and relationships with one another.
We must address one other important issue, one further challenge. What are the politics, the philosophy behind these terrorist attacks? There is a well-known saying in Arabic: “Your true friend is one who is honest with you, not one who agrees with you.”
So I will be honest with you. I believe there are issues, important political issues that we have to address to reduce the ability of Al-Qaeda to recruit from among the youth in the Muslim world.
Al-Qaeda feeds its global pool of supporters, with a diet of discontent and perceived injustice.
Images of destruction, people without homes, soldiers standing at roadblocks, the broken landscape of countries plagued by discontent are beamed across our world. The explosion in communications technology and the advent of the Internet has brought this despair into our homes, onto our computer and television screens. And these images are used by Al-Qaeda to recruit foot soldiers in its global war on humanity.
Nothing has done more to damage Western and Islamic relations than the uneven handling of affairs between Israel and the Palestinian people. The unguarded confusions and vulnerability of the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan as they search for stability have proven to be more ugly breeding grounds for terrorism.
Al-Qaeda has used this unsettled and ongoing turmoil to support its mantra of discontent and in the process invoked the name of Islam, the idea of jihad.
Let’s briefly look at each of these issues.
The Arab-Israeli conflict has been an open wound in the Middle East for over five decades. According to figures published last month by the highly respected International Institute of Strategic Studies in London 30,000 people have died as a result of that conflict since 1978. In the past five years, 4,000 people have died. The tens of thousands injured, made homeless and destitute by this conflict is incalculable.
It is this cause above all others that has given lifeblood to this evil cult of hate, that has fed the followers of Al-Qaeda.
It is a cause which can no longer be ignored or set aside. At no time in history has the resolution of this problem been more urgent. And at no time in history has the solution been clearer.
The Arab Summit in Beirut in 2002 adopted the peace initiative put forth by then-Crown Prince, now King Abdullah for resolving the Arab-Israeli dispute.
This initiative is straightforward: In exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and the establishment of a Palestinian state, all Arab countries would sign peace agreements with Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict would formally end. Normal relations between Israel and all the Arab countries would follow.
What became known as the “Arab Peace Initiative” was supported by the United States and the vast majority of nations. But Israel has yet to respond to this genuine offer of peace.
Ladies and Gentlemen: The world must now act – with resolution, with urgency, with commitment and with justice. We must do everything to support these two countries as they struggle to find a peaceful and fair resolution of this conflict. The US is the only country that can play a vital and important role in this.
President George Bush’s commitment to a two-state solution and his declared desire to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians during this term of his office is extremely important and welcome. But in committing itself to work for peace in this region, America must be even-handed. They must look for a just solution, not only for the sake of the Palestinians and Israelis but for the sake of the world community.
Let us look briefly at Iraq. The confusion, despair and vulnerability of the Iraqi people as they search for stability in their country after decades of oppression and political abuse have provided another breeding ground for the evil philosophy of terror.
Here, suicide bombers have become the insurgents’ weapons of choice.
These terrorists are followers of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and Al-Qaeda who claim to be fighting the American forces. But they are killing Iraqis and, more dangerously, fighting the emergence of a secure, stable and united Iraq.
To counter this, we have provided financial and material aid to the Iraqi people, and we are doing what we can to support all efforts to bring about stability between the different factions. Three weeks ago, and at the Kingdom’s initiative, a meeting was convened in Jeddah to seek ways to bring all Iraqi factions together.
The Secretary-General of the Arab League, Mr. Amr Moussa, was tasked at that meeting to travel to Iraq and consult with our Iraqi brethren about convening a meeting of all Iraqi factions in Egypt in order to explore the means for arriving at national reconciliation.
These efforts have been supported by the United Nations and by the Bush administration. And we pray that our Iraqi brothers will be able to reach agreement on a common future in which Iraq’s unity and territorial integrity is preserved, and in which every Iraqi faction is treated justly.
Finally, allow me to turn to Afghanistan, a nation which has suffered greatly during the past 25 years and more. It has been subjected to invasion, civil war and cruel and extreme dictatorship. It has been a boiling pot of discontent and so nurtured the birth of Al-Qaeda and became its first training ground.
There is hope for Afghanistan. Today the first glimmers of positive development can be seen in Afghanistan. We must support the emergence of their national government, new programs to disarm illegal groups and the development of the country. It is a fragile stability. We must support it in every way we can.
Ladies and Gentlemen: There are those who believe that the war against Al-Qaeda is a war between East and West; between Christianity and Islam. Some see it as a “clash of civilizations.” We are not engaged in a clash of civilizations; we are engaged in a war “for civilization.” It is a war that pits all peace-loving people, regardless of their culture or faith, against the forces of darkness.
Differences are real and need to be acknowledged, but the bonds of common humanity, of common values, of being citizens together of one world are stronger.
The challenge is to speak up, to speak out and drown the voices of extremism and intolerance, regardless from where they emanate. And we must build bridges of understanding between our cultures and faiths.
We cannot meet this challenge alone. We need to act together as one strong world community, one force for good.
Let us all remember that we are but guests passing through and staying a while in this small and precious world in which we live.
We have an obligation to our children and grandchildren, like our ancestors before us, to leave our world in a better state than we found it.
Thank you, and God’s peace and blessings are upon you.
About Prince Turki al Faisal
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
Saudi ambassador’s credentials accepted by United States
Transcript of interview with Prince Turki Al-Faisal in the New York Times Magazine
Prince Turki Al-Faisal interviewed on CNN’s ‘Wolf Blitzer reports’