2006 Speech

Prince Turki Al-Faisal address at Harvard’s Kennedy School
Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Turki Al-Faisal on “Facing Global Challenges Together” At the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, February 15, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen: Thank you for inviting me to speak before you today. My distinction derives from being invited to talk at the Kennedy School of Government. I would never have made it to this school on my scholastic record. Thank God for diplomatic privilege. 

Ladies and Gentlemen: Thank you for inviting me to speak before you today. I would like to thank my good friend John Deutch for inviting me here today.  While he is often described as a man with a background in intelligence, I would also describe him as a man of intelligence and of great integrity.  Thank you, Dr Deutch.

It is a pleasure to be in Boston, one of the oldest and most historic cities in the US.  And it is an honor for me to be here at the Kennedy School.

In September 1962, a revolution backed by President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt erupted in the Yemen. A military socialist regime replaced the traditionalist monarchy, and President Kennedy contemplated recognizing the new regime, because American officials believed that the Yemeni monarch had been killed in the revolution.

The late King Faisal was in New York at the time attending the United Nations session, and President Kennedy invited him to Washington to tell him of his decision to recognize the new regime. Over lunch at the White House, the king convinced the president to defer any precipitous action until the dust settles. The president insisted, and the King said:
“We shall see what we shall see.” The very next day, the supposedly dead monarch appeared at the Saudi border, alive and well. President Kennedy delayed recognition of the Republican regime, and entered an agreement with King Faisal to provide assistance to Saudi Arabia should Nasser threaten the kingdom.

That meeting in Washington successfully built on the groundwork laid by King Abdulaziz and President Roosevelt in 1945 between the United States and Saudi Arabia in the Cold War period and beyond.  The meeting between King Abdullah and President Bush in April of last year has further cemented our relationship, giving it strategic momentum that is taking us into the 21st century. 

Our countries have had a long and mutually successful partnership for more than 60 years.  This relationship has weathered many storms and continues to grow and deepen as we work together to meet the many challenges facing the world today. 

I would like to address one of most important of these challenges, that is, the threat of terrorism.

As we are all aware, terrorism threatens all governments, nations, peoples, and families.  We are all targets.

In the case of al-Qaeda, the terrorists seek to destroy the longstanding relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia.  Through acts of violence and horrific crimes, Osama bin Laden aims to destabilize our country, overthrow the established order, and take over Saudi Arabia, the home of the Two Holy Mosques.

Al-Qaeda claims to be faithful to Islam and faithful to God, but they are not. They are an evil cult.  Their twisted vision is alien to the healthy body of the faith that holds the world’s Muslim community together.

Al-Qaeda further opposes us because we are trying to move our country forward, to modernize, and become part of the world economy.  Saudi Arabia recently became an official member of the World Trade Organization.  This is a significant step as we continue to modernize, but it does not make us popular among those elements who aim to darken our lives with their twisted vision.

But these evildoers will never, ever succeed.  That, I can assure you.  The Saudi government and our people are galvanized in an effort to uproot the terrorists and eradicate them from wherever in the world they may attempt to hide.

Ladies and Gentlemen: The threat of terrorism is great, and we must continue to stand together in our fight against it.

One of the best known verses in the Qur’an tells us: “Whoever kills a person without justification or commits sacrilege on earth, it would be as if he killed all mankind.” No greater statement can sum up the effect of terrorism on the world today.

In Saudi Arabia, we have been fighting terrorism long before September 11. But during the last three years alone, Saudi Arabia has witnessed more than 25 terrorist attacks – including explosions, murders, and kidnappings – causing the death of more than 140 innocent human beings, while injuring more than 500 innocent people.

Saudi Arabia has enacted a three-pronged approach to combat this evil: we are going after the men, the money, and the mindset that support terrorism. 

First, we are relentlessly pursuing the terrorists themselves. During the last three years more than 800 suspects have been arrested, 120 terrorists have been killed and 17 wounded, and over 50 terrorist operations were foiled.

These accomplishments, however, have not come without a cost. More than 90 Saudi security officers have been killed and over 200 have been wounded in the line of duty.  Our country will be forever grateful for the sacrifices they have made to enhance the safety of our nation.

To help us in the pursuit of the terrorists, we established a joint task force with US officials to share information, resources and technology.  Today, the work of this task force, where Saudis and US officials work side by side, is a model of international cooperation that is being emulated in other countries.

Second, we are going after the finances of terror. Saudi Arabia has instituted some of the toughest financial and banking regulations in the world to insure that money cannot be diverted or passed into the wrong hands. 

We have also established a financial intelligence unit, which is cooperating with the US and other governments to go after global financial support for terrorists and their money-laundering operations.

The Saudi government is also working with agents from the United States Internal Revenue Service and the FBI. They sit side by side with their Saudi counterparts to analyze important streams of data at the joint terrorist financing task force in Riyadh.  This second task force has also been a great success.

And third, we are going after the mindset that foments and justifies acts of terrorism. As the birthplace of Islam and the site of the two holy mosques, Saudi Arabia has a moral responsibility to defend our religion against those who would subvert and usurp it. 

Last February, we initiated a public awareness campaign to reinforce the true values of the Islamic faith and to educate Saudi citizens about the dangers of extremism and terrorism, including the effects of providing support to terrorist and extremist organizations. The campaign is featured in advertisements on television, radio and billboards, as well as programs on television, in schools and mosques, and even at sporting events. 

One of the centerpieces of the campaign is a series of public service announcements that has aired up to 25 times a day on a number of Arabic satellite networks, including Al-Arabiya, MBC and Future Television, as well as on Saudi TV channels.  The size and scope of the campaign is unprecedented, with six government ministries coordinating the development and execution of the programs. 

In school, our children attend lectures sponsored by the ministry of education promoting moderation and peace.  They are educated about the dangers of extremism.

Our message is clear: Intolerance, violence and extremism are not a part of our Islamic faith or Saudi culture and traditions.

I know that in Boston the first public school in the US, Boston Latin Grammar School, was founded in 1635, and the first college in the US, here at Harvard, founded in 1636.  That was more than three hundred years ago.

By contrast, just 60 years ago Saudi Arabia had less than ten schools.  Forty years ago, we only had one university.  Now the kingdom has 11 universities, some 25,000 schools, and a large number of colleges and technical institutions. Our system provides every Saudi with free education, books and health services.  We have come very far in a short time.

But despite the speed of our progress, we know that we must continue to improve and modernize our education system.  To achieve that goal, we undertook a strategic plan that is making changes through the removal of intolerant material from textbooks, the introduction of new texts and teaching methods, and the retraining of educators. This program is consistent with the need to prepare our citizens for life and work in a modern, global economy, as well as the necessity to prevent our children from being influenced by extremism and intolerance. 

Ladies and Gentlemen: Saudi Arabia will not allow Islam to be perverted or twisted to condone criminal acts that are unjustifiable. King Abdullah has affirmed: “We must put our Islamic house in order.”  

This is why last December, leaders and heads of state from 57 Arab and Islamic nations came together in Makkah, to answer a call by King Abdullah at the third extraordinary summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to address the future of the Islamic community. An open and honest dialogue ensued, and real steps to reform were agreed upon, covering the areas of intellectual thought, politics, the economy and society. 

The Islamic community is insuring the integrity of its faith through strategic planning intended to safeguard the interests of the Muslim world against extremist threats.  The conference concluded with the approval of a ten-year strategic plan of reforms, which are marked by moderation, modernization, and tolerance. 

A year ago the kingdom also hosted an international counterterrorism conference in Riyadh, which brought together some 60 nations, including the US.  They worked together to draft common and practical recommendations to fight terrorism and its causes.

The conference also expressed approval for King Abdullah’s initiative to create an international terrorism center to act as a hub for counterterrorism data. The sharing and exchanging of information is necessary to deter and prevent terrorist acts, and to stay ahead of our mutual enemy at all times.

Ladies and Gentlemen: The international community must come together to a far greater extent.  We are a global community and our neighbors’ peace, stability, and prosperity is as important as our own.

Thus in the Middle East we must work together to create stability and foster peace where instability and violence serve to exacerbate the terrorist threat. 

We must find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Until the Palestinians are finally given justice and their own homeland where they can live in peace, this situation will remain not just a tragedy but will provide terrorists with an excuse for their horrific actions. 

We must also work to ensure that the Iraqi people achieve stability and security.  Saudi Arabia remains fully committed to this effort.  The Kingdom has also convened meetings among Iraqi factions to help them reach an agreement on a common future in which Iraq’s unity and territorial integrity are preserved, and in which all Iraqis are treated justly.

The steps Saudi Arabia has taken also include efforts to seal our border with Iraq.  It is a vast expanse of desert to cross, and we have spent billions of dollars to ensure our borders are secure with new fencing, barbed wire and motion detectors, and thermal imaging systems that can see miles into the desert.

Ladies and Gentleman: The war on terrorism has a great impact on the average Saudi citizen.  First, there are the many changes to our daily lives and routines, such as the roadblocks and checkpoints set up in many of our cities. 
Barbed wire and blockades now spoil public areas, and machinegun nests are placed near government buildings, residential compounds, hotels and high traffic areas. The kingdom is in a constant state of alert.

But in addition to these daily sacrifices, Saudis must face something deeper. Our national character has been marred in the eyes of the world.  As a result of the actions of a few deranged criminals, Saudi Arabia, its people and culture, have been called into question.   As a result, there exists much misunderstanding about Saudi society and culture.   Many myths have emerged in recent years that are misleading about how we live and who we are. 

One myth is that we export a “brand” of extremism known as Wahhabism.  The West largely misunderstands what Wahhabism is.  The term refers to the reformist views of the 18th century Arabian scholar Shaikh Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab. He did not advocate the killing of the innocent or condone acts of suicide. Individuals like Osama bin Laden may claim their origins in wahhabism, but their faith is perverted – just like David Koresh or Jim Jones perverted Christianity to justify their evil acts.

Are the Saudi people conservative? Yes. Are we traditional?  Yes. Are we extremists? Absolutely not.

Another myth concerns the falsehoods that were disseminated about the flights that carried some Saudis after 9/11, when American airports and airspace were closed. This myth was at best a figment of the imagination, and at worst an attempt to incriminate.  The 9/11 Commission found that no planes departed before American airspace was opened up, that these flights were properly cleared, and that quote, “They concluded that none of the passengers were connected to the 9/11 attacks and have since found no evidence to change that conclusion.”

Yet another myth is that the Saudi government funded acts of terrorism.  Again, the 9/11 Commission report stated, quote: “…we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded [al-Qaeda].” 

Such myths reinforce misunderstanding, hasten judgment and cause rifts between people.

Terrorism and extremism occur in every faith, every culture, and every civilization.  No one is immune.  We must remain aware of this fact.  And if we succeed in eradicating the terrorist groups of today – of which al-Qaeda is merely one – we need to ensure that we also make it so that there simply is no place for a terrorist threat in the future.  Our cultures must be united in our rejection of such savagery.

We should have one other goal as well.  Long after the threat of terrorism is gone, and God willing it will be some day, our nations will still be in this world together.  We should look at the time in between as an opportunity to further strengthen our relations and as a time to build greater understanding between our peoples, so at the end we will be stronger for it. 

The Massachusetts naturalist Henry David Thoreau advised: “Be true to your work, your word, and your friend.”

In this world, with the threats that we face, no sager advice can be given. 

As longstanding partners, let us move forth in continued friendship and expanding cooperation to handle the important work before us, so that someday we will be able to achieve both peace and prosperity for our people.

As we say in Arabic – ashkurukum shukran jazeelan – thank you all very much – and  barak Allah feekum – and God bless you all.