Ladies and Gentlemen: This is a bittersweet occasion for me. The very first function I attended in the United Kingdom as Ambassador was at Oxford during the inauguration of the Prince of Wales International Centre for research into schizophrenia.
And now it seems that my last public engagement as Ambassador to the United Kingdom is also at Oxford where you have invited me to speak on terrorism its threats and challenges. I am not making the connection between schizophrenia and PPE.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Terrorism is currently the biggest single threat to international peace and stability. It has ripped communities apart. It has eaten away at international and cultural understanding. It has tried to turn friends into enemies.
It has, above all, made us all suspicious of one another – even of those with whom we have had longstanding relationships across the world.
There are those that would have you believe that the current wave of terrorism and dissent springs from and is or has been supported by Saudi Arabia.
This is wrong. We are the victims, not the supporters of terrorism. The fact that they have sprung up within our midst is as horrifying to us as it is to you.
Extremism is the mantra of the very few, a tiny group whose minds have been twisted and turned to an evil agenda, who have left logic and compassion behind. A tiny minority empowered by modern technology.
Bali, Madrid, London, Riyadh, New York, Sharm al-Sheikh, Casablanca: all have become compass points on the global map of terror. There is no logic to the attacks, no obvious target. The victims are old and young, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu; English, American, Saudi Arabian – from every culture and every country – the innocent heroes of our everyday lives.
The question we all ask ourselves is why? How can we explain the inexplicable?
All I can tell you is that I have followed the festering growth of this cult over the past decade and more. Al-Qaeda as we now know it was putting down roots long before the horrific events of 9/11.
Let’s first look at the history of the current terrorist threat. Let’s look at the man behind Al-Qaeda.
Ladies and Gentlemen: I first met Osama bin Laden about 20 years ago. I was head of intelligence for the Saudi Arabian government, and he was in Afghanistan, supporting the Afghan mujahideen in their struggle against Soviet occupation.
He was soft spoken, shy, retiring and reticent. He had a certain charisma and standing amongst his fellows but there was nothing frightening or noticeably fanatical about him. He appeared an unlikely terrorist cult leader.
But he gave himself to the Afghan mujahideen. He was living in an isolated world outside of this world – and when that battle in the mountains of Afghanistan ended in 1989 he was not mentally ready to go home, to give up the fight.
Osama had become addicted to the idea and the process of the “cause” so he established Al-Qaeda as an Arab Islamic guerrilla force which would come to join him in a fight when he called. He was intoxicated by his experiences in Afghanistan and wanted more, those who followed him were intoxicated by his passion and were searching for a cause.
I met him again in 1989 as he offered to take his disparate mujahideen forces into South Yemen. His offer was rejected. We are a nation of peace and the situation in Yemen was being dealt with diplomatically. He made similar offers to other Saudi officials when Kuwait was invaded by Iraq. He was turned down again.
It quickly became apparent, early in the 1990s that he and his followers had become a dangerous and quixotic force for evil. A cult, believing with a passion in a dangerous philosophy of terror and looking for its supporters amongst the discontented and disillusioned. By the late1990s it had found the perfect vehicle for spreading its message of anger, venom and violence – the World Wide Web. The Internet provided the means by which this group could proselytize its unacceptable beliefs. Osama bin Laden and others like him could recruit their forces from every corner of the globe, from East and West.
And everyone was a target. Sporadic attacks across the Middle East by Al-Qaeda horrified those of us who tracked them.
Al-Qaeda, ladies and gentlemen, is a terrorist cult, not a classic terrorist organization like the IRA or the Red Brigade or ETA. Terrorist groups in the past have been usually defined by a regional political agenda – the IRA came from Ireland, Bader Meinhoff from Germany, ETA from Spain.
But Al-Qaeda and groups that have sprung up around it recruit their members from across the world: Europe, America, the Middle East and the Far East. They recruit from a global pool of disaffected and despairing youth looking for a cause, for a raison d’être, who are easily sucked into this evil whirlpool of terror.
They do not belong to any one society and they are not supported by any government. Governments from across our precious world have condemned the acts of this handful of men. And that includes the government of Saudi Arabia and of other Arab states.
We abhor and condemn them as any ordinary law abiding, life-loving German family would have done with Bader Meinhoff or a good Catholic Irishman would have done with the IRA in the 1970s and 80s.
Terrorism in all its horrific forms throughout history has been the creation of a handful of twisted minds.
Let us discuss the threat.
Al-Qaeda – and similar groups spawned by Al-Qaeda – are dangerous: More dangerous than previous terrorist organizations, because they are not rooted within one society and because they are against all societies. Al-Qaeda is not national but supranational – attacking people indiscriminately in Madrid, Bali, New York, Riyadh, London, Jeddah, Sharm al-Sheikh.... where next?
The Al-Qaeda force is equally disparate. It attracts the angry who feel that the Islamic world has been unfairly treated by the Western world and afraid of the imposition of Western ways on Islamic culture.
What are the politics, the philosophy behind these attacks? The philosophy is power through fear. The politics – a confused muddle of misunderstanding, misinterpretation, misrepresentation – fed on an international diet of uneven-handed dealing by the West of the Middle East.
The argument is simple. Why does the West enforce UN resolutions with untold power and might in the Arab world? Why doesn’t it enforce UN resolutions calling on Israel to move back to boundaries set more than 30 years ago?
It is this cause above all others that has given life-blood to this evil cult of hate. Nothing has done more to damage Western and Islamic relations than the unjust handling of affairs between Israel and the Palestinian people.
Despite the terrible troubles in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, the deepest wound is the festering sore of Palestine.
The problem of peace and stability for the Palestinian people is wound into the consciousness of every Arab, every Muslim, every recent government of both the Middle East and the West.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, alongside other Arab countries, has clearly expressed its interest in reaching a peaceful solution to the Arab Israeli conflict based on the resolution of international legitimacy and the principle of peace for land. The Abdullah peace plan has been adopted by all Arab countries, welcomed by all other countries and rejected by Israel.
The reality is that the political and human geography of this area has been illegally, unjustly and deliberately altered by Israeli actions since June 6th 1967. This is contrary to UN resolutions, international law, protocols and treaties. This is the danger. This is the threat.
According to Security Council Resolution 242, Jerusalem is an occupied territory along with the rest of the West Bank and Gaza. The Israeli government denies that.
Let me remind you of the words of the Balfour Declaration.
In November 1917 Arthur Balfour, the then British Foreign Secretary, wrote a letter to Lord Rothschild, President of the British Zionist Federation. He wrote, and I quote: “Her Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
Let me repeat the last part of the statement because it is a much broken promise that rankles with many in the Middle East and remains at the heart of many of the problems between the Arab world and the West. In putting forward this policy, encouraging the establishment of a Jewish state – nothing was to be done which would, I quote: “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
And yet Israel has opposed the repatriation of millions of Palestinian refugees to the land where they were born, where their fathers planted olive and orange groves and where their ancestors lived and died. Israel continues to steal Arab land and build and expand colonies on it.
This stubborn uncaring intransigence is a political minefield that has caused irreparable damage on the much troubled road to peace in that area.
The victimization of the Palestinian people has resulted in their finding some strange and unacceptable champions – in recent years Saddam Hussein, and now Al-Qaeda.
Although there is no cause that justifies the actions of terrorists, these situations are being used to successfully inflame the passions of these disillusioned misfits and to turn a passion into hate and hate into indiscriminate, evil acts of terrorism.
And so in a twist of fate the Palestinians also become victims of these terrible groups.
I believe that until Palestinians are finally given justice and their own homeland, where they can live in peace, this will remain not just a tragedy but provide terrorists with an excuse for their terrible actions.
The double tragedy is that these terrorist groups are doing inestimable damage to any and all prospects for peace and stability, just as the situation in Iraq is doing now.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Let us look briefly at Iraq. The unguarded confusion, despair and vulnerability of the people of Iraq as they search for stability has provided another ugly breeding ground for the evil twisted philosophy of terrorism.
These terrorists are followers of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and Al-Qaeda who claim to be fighting the occupying American forces but who are also, and ultimately more dangerously, fighting the development of Iraq into a pluralistic society.
This is a dangerous and long-term fight that will not necessarily end with the departure of Western and other forces. There are parallels with the fight by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against the terrorist enemy. We see this fight against terrorism in Iraq as an extension of the fight against terrorism in the Kingdom. Iraq is after all a country that borders onto ours.
We have offered to, and need to cooperate in, dealing with this terror. King Abdullah proposed the establishment of an international center to pool information and know how. We are still awaiting the support of the international community.
There is an absolute necessity to cooperate at all levels and between all nations in dealing with this threat. United we can succeed.
John Reid, the British defense secretary, two days ago told your parliament that British forces would not, I quote, “cut and run from the terrorists because things are getting tough.”
This is an admirable sentiment. But all who are dealing with this threat must realize not only the importance of international cooperation in dealing with it, but the sensitive as well as the firm way with which it must be dealt. The mishandling of events in Iraq has inflamed these terrorist groups.
So how have we dealt with the situation in Saudi Arabia?
We have dealt firmly and consistently with the terrorist threat within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We have arrested more than 500 terrorists. We have brought in new laws to ensure they cannot tap into the charitable giving that is a part of every Muslim’s daily life. We have eliminated the leadership of Al-Qaeda in Arabia, one by one.
But we have also been careful not to accuse, condemn or punish the innocent members of their families and their communities who are as appalled at the evil acts of these groups as we are. Terrorism, like a cancer, has to be cut out completely from within society, but in cutting it out we must be careful not to damage the healthy body of that society. In our anger and fear of terrorism, it is tempting to use too much force and inadvertently inflame the situation.
And scores of imams found preaching extremism have been dismissed.
But we have learned the hard way that Al-Qaeda is like a computer virus out of control – infecting and corrupting any and all vulnerable unprotected groups.
Ladies and Gentlemen: We cannot stop there. This is an international problem not one just affecting the Arab world. The followers of these terrorists are found across the world – amongst the young and passionate from London to Madrid, from Riyadh to Rome, form New York to Delhi – even within Oxford perhaps.
Those attracted to the cry of Al-Qaeda are primarily young people, confused by the unfairness of the world, passionate for a cause, a raison d’être. The over-eager and the innocent are easy targets for groups like this whose passion and conviction, however twisted, is a potent drug.
The horror of Al-Qaeda is that its net, its evil message, is cast around the world.
Ladies and Gentlemen: There is only one way to challenge this evil and that is together.
It is much easier to cast blame, but it is much more important to put aside our differences, and to work together.
Terrorism is possibly the worst evil facing our small and precious world – its targets are the innocent, its destination unknown. The death and destruction it causes is incalculable as it drives the wedge of suspicion between communities and faiths, stirring up a poisonous diet of mistrust and hate.
The attacks ten days ago on Bali, six weeks ago on Sharm al-Sheikh and three months ago on London each add to the human horror.
For the Arab and Muslim world this shock is compounded by the terrorists’ claim to be Muslims and to be fighting an Arabist cause.
But are they Muslims? Should the world curl up in fear when faced by the other billion and a half Muslims walking on this planet?
No. One of the best known Qur’anic verses tells us: “Whoever kills a person has killed the whole of humanity.”
There is no faith – and that includes Islam – that condones the taking of innocent life and that celebrates suicide.
These terrorists claim to be faithful to Islam and faithful to God, but they are not. This is not Islam and these acts are absolutely not the will of God. Their twisted vision is alien to the healthy body of the faith that holds the world's Muslim community together. It is a wicked perversion of the common values of all faiths.
But however hard it is, we have to acknowledge that there are those among our human family who are committing these deeds of horror and devastation and who do not see how evil and terrible they are – and they call themselves Muslims.
The threat of terrorism is not just in the horrific killings. There is another threat, a deeper, longer lasting and potentially more devastating threat. That is the threat to cultural or international understanding.
We live in a society which supports a culture of blame. We want to know whose fault it is when things go wrong – who did it.
The fact that many of those taking part in the current tidal wave of terrorism purport to be Muslims and many originate from the Arab or Muslim world is driving a wedge between our societies, between East and West, Muslim and Christian, Arab and Jew.
Our fight is not just against terrorism; it is also to maintain links and understanding between us and to face up to the festering problems of justice that contaminate our relationship with one another.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Do I believe that if the problems of Palestine and Iraq were resolved, Al-Qaeda and other similar movements would disappear into the night never to be heard of again? Do I believe that? I don’t.
These cults claim that if the problems of Palestine and Iraq were resolved then they would be satisfied. But I do not believe that is true. It would have an impact on how they recruit their foot soldiers, but it would be naive to believe that it would stop this terrorist cult.
I believe that as important as it is – and it is vitally important – to resolve these situations, it is equally important that we as an international community learn to understand one another.
We must learn that different cultures, different ways are acceptable. As communication technology has made the world smaller, we have become more protective of the cultures that are so much a part of our lives.
But I repeat: This terrorism is not based on Islam, but is a perverted cult ideology. Its followers have excluded themselves from normal society, from the human family, and placed themselves outside of reality to live out fantasies that have nothing to do with the real world.
We must cut off any intellectual, financial or political support that feeds these groups. We must ensure that noone twists the words of the Qu’ran, or indeed any holy book, to justify their political aims and ends. This is corruption at its worst.
We must as different world communities learn to trust one another a little more. We may not share the same faith or political structure, but we are all part of one human family.
We must ensure no government – and that includes many governments in the West – provides a political haven for those proselytizing extremist ideologies in the false belief that these groups are victims rather than aggressors.
There should be more control over extremists who are able to get on radio stations or into pulpits and spew out hatred and bigotry, calling for the killing of other people. They should be prosecuted.
We must bring under control all means used by these groups for spreading their twisted and evil messages which take root in the minds of the young, the confused, the disaffected. They have hijacked the hearts and minds of many young people with their twisted ideas. The media feeds their desire for notoriety and fame.
Ladies and Gentlemen: More conventional wars being fought around our world claim more lives as does famine in Africa and the natural disasters which have pummelled the communities of our globe from the tsunami in South East Asia less than ten months ago, to the maelstrom of destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina last month, and the horrific devastation caused by the earthquake in Pakistan at the weekend.
We pray for the innocent victims of these disasters, and as we do so it surely makes most of us wonder why man pits himself against his fellow man – the world itself is challenge enough.