His Royal Highness Prince Turki al-Faisal delivered these remarks at the 59th annual conference in November, 2005.
His Royal Highness Prince Turki Al-Faisal delivered the keynote address, "Terrorism and Radical Islam: Challenges and Misunderstandings," at the Middle East Institute's 59th Annual Conference in Washington, DC. Prince Turki was the newly appointed Saudi Ambassador to the United States in September 2005.
The Saudi Ambassador believed terrorism has "eaten away at international and cultural understanding." He saw combating the inaccurate belief that extremism is directly tied to Islam and the Islamic community as one of the greatest challenges facing our world. The Ambassador defended his country against allegations that it serves as a breeding ground and refuge for terrorists, but recognized that the Saudi citizenship of many of the 9/11 terrorists is a "scar on our history" and a "burden that my countrymen will live with for the rest of our lives."
The Ambassador listed several actions the Kingdom has taken to fight terrorism: a well-trained security force that has questioned and detained thousands of suspected terrorists, the enactment of new laws that reduce financial support to terrorist organizations, the creation of strategic alliances with other nations, including two US-Saudi joint counter-terrorism task forces, and a public awareness campaign to educate Saudis on the "dangers of terrorism and extremism."
The Arab-Israeli conflict, which the Ambassador called the "open wound of the Middle East," is according to him the "cause above all others that has given lifeblood to this evil cult of hate, that has fed the followers of Al-Qaeda." The Ambassador hoped there would be renewed international pressure on Israel to commit to the initiatives outlined during the Arab Summit in Beirut in 2002, specifically the call for a return to pre-1967 borders in exchange for a peace agreement with Israel signed by all Arab nations. During the question and answer session, he acknowledged the Gaza withdrawal was a step in the right direction but that it had to be a "first step," not the "final step."
On other regional issues, the Ambassador saw the possibility of a fractured Iraq as more fodder for Al-Qaeda. But he noted that the reform in Afghanistan is increasingly positive. He has complete confidence in the UN's ability to bring the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri to justice. He believed engaging Iran — current Saudi policy — will prove a more successful solution to mounting nuclear concerns than isolation.
The Ambassador said the war against Al-Qaeda is not a war between East and West or between Christianity and Islam, though he did note that many in the international community have promoted these misunderstandings. Rather, the Saudi Ambassador argued that the entire world is engaged in a fight for the preservation of civilization, a war in which everyone is a potential victim: Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, young and old, American and Saudi. "We have an obligation to our children and grandchildren, like our ancestors before us,” he said, “to leave our world in a better state than we found it."
J. Edward Conway is an intern at the Middle East Institute. He graduated from Davidson College in 2004.