Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud Al-Faisal addressed a reception in New York on April 26, 2004, held by the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council in cooperation with the American League of Foreign Policy.
Thank you Mr. DeCrane for your kind words.
Distinguished Members, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I thank the organizers for the opportunity to be here with you this evening. When I was kindly invited by my good friend Abdulaziz Al-Qureishi to address this forum, I had the impression that he wanted me to provide a change of pace or an entertaining finale, to what I must assume he thought, would be a very long day of solemn, even though I am sure, very informative series of talks.
I know how “entertaining” economics can be, for it was my major at university. But I never thought that my profession today, diplomacy, can in any way, means, or form be considered entertaining. I shall instead talk about a very serious issue, the relation between our two countries, for it affects all other issues that were under discussion during this session of the Business Council.
I trust that my colleagues, the Minister of Petroleum and the Minister of Finance have covered substantial grounds that would allow me to happily announce to you that I shall speak only for ten minutes. This not out of choice, but the organizers prefer that I concentrate on your questions and the issues of specific interest to you.
It is apt and logical to talk about the relations between our two countries in this business setting, for it was American business and Saudi citizens who must be credited with the establishment of this relationship and in contributing to its harmonious continuity for the last seventy years.
It is my hope therefore that the subject will not only be of interest to you, but you will also join in maintaining the health and vigor of this relationship during this period in which it is being severely tested.
Since the terrorist criminal act of 9/11, Saudi Arabia has been deluged by an onslaught of attacks by the media, some officials and political figures, and even so-called scholarly researchers: all conveying the same themes, that the country is suffering ailments that encompass all aspects of life in Saudi Arabia, from the national character of its society to its religious beliefs, its intellectual and educational standards, as well as its customs and traditions.
The Kingdom is portrayed as a country where everything is wrong, and that its people cannot recognize their problems, let alone solve them.
To give you a taste of these frenzied attacks, allow me to read you the titles of some books that are being presented as scholarly works of research by so-called “experts”.
• ‘Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Its Soul for Saudi Crude’
• ‘Inside The Opaque Kingdom’ - I don’t really know what is opaque about Saudi Arabia which is probably the sunniest place on earth.
• ‘Forbidden Truth: U.S.-Taliban Secret Oil Diplomacy, Saudi Arabia and the Failed Search for bin Laden’
• ‘101 Reasons NOT to Murder The Entire Saudi Royal Family’ - even in this they were too spiteful to allow for the usual thousand and one that is more apt when talking about Arabs.
• ‘Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism’.
and perhaps most absurd of all:
• ‘House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship between the World’s Two Most Powerful Dynasties’.
Instant experts sprang from nowhere and everywhere, most of whom have never even visited Saudi Arabia, claiming a gift of analysis denied to mere mortals.
I trust that the Minister of Finance has thoroughly covered the subject of the fiscal regulations and control of funds to terrorist organizations, and in case he has not I shall defer to him during the question and answer period to do so.
As to the question of Saudi Arabia and the war on terrorism, after last week’s events in Riyadh, I don’t think any reasonable person can cast doubt about our commitment to waging a relentless war on terrorism.
With your indulgence I shall concentrate on the two major allegations, and there have been many, that are at the core of these attacks.
Fifteen of the nineteen attackers came from Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s internal social and political make-up results in nurturing extremism, radicalism and breeding zealots and terrorists.
To respond to these allegations one must look into the phenomenon of Al-Qaeda and its figurehead, Bin Laden, who, though a Saudi by birth, had developed his ideology and methodology in Afghanistan under the tutelage of a radicalized cult of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization I assume everyone here knows. He was not taught his doctrines and creed in Saudi schools, or madrassas, or mosques.
If Saudi Arabia is guilty of blame for what he has become, the United States must surely share the blame. Both of us backed the Mujahideen to liberate Afghanistan from Soviet occupation and allowed such people as Bin Laden to the fray.
We all remember the days when the word “Mujahideen” as used in the media of the time signified the paradigm of the true freedom fighter, when those same Mujahideen were honored, praised, and even received in the White House. No less a super hero than Rambo himself adopted their cause and fought with them side by side.
The ideology that Bin Laden follows was ingrained in him - this radicalized cult of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is not the teaching of the Wahhabi reform movement or any other school indigenous to Saudi Arabia that was the cause of his metamorphosis.
The ideology espoused by Al Qaeda can be summarized in its belief in the negation of the legitimacy of all the governments of the Islamic countries, and especially Saudi Arabia, for the purpose of re-establishing the Islamic Caliphate with Al-Qaeda as its vanguard. The latest version of this plan calls for the destruction of the Saudi State, and from that point on, achieve the union of the Islamic World with Bin Laden presumably at the helm and the Al Qaeda forming the nucleus of his power.
To achieve that objective they had first to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and the United States, and what better tool to utilize than the spectacular criminal act of 9/11 with the major instrument for that act being the fifteen Saudis.
Saudi Arabia in fact has its own brand of extremists and zealots and even some hate mongers. It is not unique in this; many other countries have their own brand of extremists and hate mongers. The Saudi State, since the time of King Abdulaziz, has been at constant conflict with them.
However, this indigenous form of ultra-conservatism was and still is isolationist in nature. Their major concern is to keep Saudi Arabia outside the movement toward modernity, which they perceive as a threat to the moral purity of Islamic Society.
Their preaching is not the global expansionist ideology of Al Qaeda, but rather an insular isolationist anti modernity ideology.
If we merge the isolationism of the Amish in Pennsylvania and the beliefs of the puritans of the early Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we can perhaps get a flavor of the ideology of these extremist conservatives.
This is a crucial distinction that must be made: because the insular extremism of Saudi Arabia’s arch conservatives is being used as evidence for not only the sympathy, but also the collaboration of Saudi Arabia and its society with Al-Qaeda’s aims and objectives.
Nothing is further from the truth as evidenced by the war being waged relentlessly against Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, the support that the society is giving the Government’s efforts to rid the country of these evildoers. Even the extremist religious elements within the country that are against modernity, completely reject Al-Qaeda’s ideology and methodology.
Seen in this perspective, it is not hard to understand the reasons why Bin Laden and his cohorts chose Saudis to perpetrate their heinous act in the United States. What is not understood is why the detractors of Saudi Arabia keep hammering on the fact that fifteen of the perpetrators were Saudis, as if that fact alone makes a nation of sixteen million liable and accountable for that act.
It is ironic to note here that those who most vociferously attack Saudi Arabia are unwittingly serving the purposes of Al-Qaeda and the ideology it represents. More ominously, their attacks lead to undermining the country that is probably the most capable not only of waging the war against them, but also in preventing them from spreading their cultist ideology in the Islamic World. It is the religious establishment in Saudi Arabia that in fact is proving to be the body most capable of de-legitimizing Al Qaeda claims, the very religious community that is being attacked, and pressure is brought to bear to discredit it.
As a further adjunct to the damage that these attacks are inflicting, they inflame and provide cogent proof to the conservative elements of Saudi Arabia to entrench their opposition against reform. They see and interpret these attacks, not as the erroneous and misguided reactions to the tragedy of 9/11, but as a purposeful intent to undermine the social fabric of Saudi Society.
Regardless of these facts, the media and some opinion makers simply ignore them as if Saudi Arabia serves a persistent need for an Orwellian target to be constantly assailed.
As one example, when we approached a leading politician in this country on why he keeps attacking Saudi Arabia on these points of terrorism and the money trail after providing him with all the facts concerning the issues, his answer was “don’t pay any attention to what we say these days. This is the silly season, the season of election.” I wonder if the esteemed gentleman thought of the impact of his remarks on attitudes towards democracy.
As leading businessmen responsible to your corporations and shareholders, you will be concerned about security and stability when you contemplate investment ventures in Saudi Arabia. My colleagues, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Petroleum may have discussed this subject earlier this afternoon.
I can assure you that we have faced similar critical and challenging problems in the past, such as the time when the coffers of the Ministry of Finance had only $320, and when the hammers of radical nationalism and communism were pounding at the gates. We faced these and similar difficulties and we succeeded in surmounting them. I would say that our track record of dealing with challenges is pretty good, and in the present conflict, God willing, we shall prevail.
In the last three years, even while we were engaged in waging a war against terrorism, we have been experiencing increasing growth rate in our economy. Reforms are continuing unabated and we are hoping to join the World Trade Organization by the end of this year at the latest.
I raise these points about the relationship between our two countries with you today to sound the alert that the harmony of our long and fruitful relations is threatened.
This relationship which began with an oil well drilled in the desert of Saudi Arabia by an American company and developed into an intricate web of economic, political and strategic partnership, is in need now of clear-sightedness and tremendous efforts from both sides to reverse the trend towards alienation and suspicion and return to the mutual understanding and trust that existed before.
I can think of no other body more capable of shouldering a major part of this responsibility than this esteemed body. As the business community was the initiator of this relationship so it may prove to be the protector and guardian for its continuity and soundness.
I thank you for this opportunity to be with you tonight and may God’s peace be upon you.