1993 Speech

Prince Bandar's speech to International Road Federation in California

HRH Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz
Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States of America
Address to the International Road Federation Conference
Laguna Niguel, California
August 19, 1993

Building Bridges for Better Understanding
Mr. Chairman, Dr. Salloum:
Members of the International Road Federation and Guests:
I want to thank you for inviting me to your summer gathering.  An ex-fighter pilot talking to a road group somehow suggests the possibility of a hard landing.  But as I am prone to anyway, full throttle ahead; and damn the potholes!

I appreciate this opportunity to meet with you, especially in this wonderful setting overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  I would guess that for the Federation's frequent meeting all over the world, all roads lead to places like this.

I can see good reason to be an active participant in this organization.

The topic of my talk this evening is "building bridges for better understanding".  You may ask what a fighter-pilot has to say about building bridges.  Well, if you think about bridges of steel and concrete, not much.  But if you think about philosophical bridges which span the world and lead to better understanding and cooperation among nations and people, then what I have to offer may be of interest.

Before I proceed, I would like to commend your organization for the splendid job it has done in bringing together the best minds in the field of road-building and in sharing the fruits of its knowledge with others around the world.  We in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are proud of our association with you, and look forward to many more productive years.

We in the Kingdom, like you, believe that the economic strength of a nation is directly related to its transportation and communications system.  We have long recognized that roads which move people and goods safely and efficiently are one of the keys to competitiveness and prosperity.

The principle of dealing with others on the basis of mutual respect and interests has guided the Kingdom's relations with other nations around the world, whether in the developed or developing world.  As a nation which has never experienced colonialism, we have no colonial complex.  As a result we are  able to deal with the industrialized world with an open mind.

We "modernized" but did not necessarily "westernize".

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the champions of the new world order proclaimed after the death of communism.  This new order made its first stand in the Arabian Peninsula, when a vast international coalition came together under a UN umbrella to reverse Iraq's brutal aggression and uphold international legality.

Soon after that, Saudi Arabia broke with old restraints and took part in the Madrid Conference with the other Arab States.

Today we are working closely with the co-sponsors and the other Arab countries to help move the peace process along.  Our objective is to transform the Middle East into an area where, in the words of the co-sponsors at the Madrid Conference, "normal men and women lead normal lives".

We feel that a settlement based on the principle of "land for peace" as envisioned in UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 is achievable; one which guarantees the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and assures peace and security for all states in the region.

The peace process seeks to break down the barriers of distrust and replace them with bridges of cooperation and peace.

When the U.S. led a UN sanctioned humanitarian intervention in Somalia, the Kingdom was one of the first nations to join by contributing forces as well as financial and humanitarian assistance.  Our soldiers have stood shoulder to shoulder with your soldiers and others from over thirty nations.

We feel that the new world order has to be preserved throughout the world.  Which brings me to the tragic situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

What we are witnessing in Bosnia is nothing less than the death of a nation -- really its strangulation.  Sarajevo, a city of pluralism, a child of Rome and Byzantium and Islam, a place where Muslim and Catholic and Orthodox lived and worked for centuries, is being laid waste.  If there was a good bridge between civilizations, this city was it, remember the 1988 winter Olympics in Sarajevo.

Yet on this fragile, civilized city, there has now been unleashed an ideology of "ethnic cleansing" and bigotry the world has been spared since the years of the Second World War.

But we should not acquiesce.  The lesson taught in the Gulf War -- that aggression does not pay -- will be put in jeopardy if the international community falters in Bosnia.

We want to uphold the idea of a civilized international order and affirm that international life is not a jungle.  That is why Bosnia matters.

Those of us who believe in getting things done, in building structures that work and sustain men and women, know better than to believe that the Balkans can be written off without cost to all of us elsewhere.  Sarajevo and Bosnia demand our attention and sympathy and solidarity.  What we do there is of enormous moral consequence for the kind of international order we build for the years to come.

People in the Muslim world ask why the United Nations cannot implement its own resolutions and the Bosnians allowed to arm and defend themselves - as King Fahd and President Clinton have called for.

Europe should have been Bosnia as an opportunity.  But alas, it was seen only as a problem.

Stop ethnic cleansing would have been the right thing to do morally and strategically -- for the Balkans, Europe and the world.  And certainly as seen by the planet's one billion Muslims.

Europe has failed.  But the International Community must not.

The world is entering a new historic phase whose challenges and promises are unfolding before us.  How we deal with the issue of cooperation among differing cultures, religions, and political environments will directly impact on our ability to maintain international order and security.  We have a vested interest in strengthening the bonds between the Muslim world and the West.  We seek to build bridges, not destroy them.

In that spirit, I would like to talk with you briefly about Islam from my perspective as a Muslim, and why there is need to build bridges for better understanding of it.

For over fourteen hundred years, the Western world and the Muslim world have been neighboring civilizations.

Relations between the two have had their ups and downs, as neighborhoods do.  Misperceptions and mutually damaging stereotypes have unfortunately accumulated among some on both sides.

It is long past time to recognize that the world is now rapidly shrinking in many ways.  We have all become interdependent as never before.

The strategic realities, for example, from Southeast Asia across the Middle East and North Africa, can hardly be adequately thought through without coming to terms with what is most basic across that broad sector of the globe - and indeed for nearly a billion Muslims worldwide.

It is worth keeping in mind that almost one in every five human beings in the world is a Muslim!

Unfortunately, there have been attempts in the last several years to replace the Cold War threat with a so-called Islamic threat.  That effort may tell something about a need to shake the cage of negativism here for the incentive of fear - so as to motivate or stampede people.  But that tells nothing of practical consequence about Islam.

Media coverage and serious public discussion here are out of focus when they use the label of "Islamic Fundamentalists" as to the various violence-prone groups currently causing trouble in parts of the Middle East.  They are not Fundamentalists--they are extremists.

With their blatant extremism, such groups are actually doing violence to basic Islamic teachings -- and certainly to Islam's good name.  What they are really concerned with most is not Islam, but economic and other grievances - or more often, dead-end power for themselves.

But please keep in perspective that these extremists are a very small fraction of the overall Islamic community.  They are not at all in the historical or present Muslim mainstream they are feeding on social and economic problems rooted in the colonial period in those countries.

Every great religion and the civilization which history builds up around and out of it, contain many different currents.  That is obviously true in the diverse Western world--and it is just as true of the widely scattered Muslim world.

The West has often charged Islam with being too conservative, too traditional.  Yet at the same time - and especially recently, the Western media splashes its headlines with catch-phrases like "Islamic Extremism" and "Islamic Radicalism," as though that is mostly what is to be seen and communicated.

But Islam cannot be viewed as both too traditional and too radical.  I respectfully urge what is happening here is an inability to see what the mainstream of Islam is all about.

As a Muslim, I want to emphasize that the overwhelming preponderance of Muslims are deeply and peacefully committed in their faith.

Islam means peace and the giving - the surrendering - of one's self to the Almighty, the same One God believed in by Christians, Jews and Muslims.

The everyday greeting used by Muslims when they meet others is "peace be upon you."

To try to sum up the essence of any great religion to those of a different faith is to tempt controversy and hair-splitting - or much worse.

But as a Muslim, I say to you and others far beyond, that the heart of Islam and the Holy Qur'an is in "adl" and "ahsan", balance and compassion; in "ilm" knowledge and "sabr", patience; in justice, generosity, community and love.

Yes, we hold that the shared interest in the family and in one's community and society is even more important than the claims of the individual.  But there, too, Islam urges balance, compassion, patience, and knowledge.

In a period when the world's cultures and religions are coming into greater and greater contact with each other, Islam can perhaps contribute most for this shared planet by providing a sense of caution and counter-balance to the rampant materialism in so much of Western culture--a counter balance which leads to renewed recognition of the belief which the Christian West, Islam and Judaism have long shared in one uniting, all-embracing Almighty.

For Islam, the spiritual and the material "here-and-now" are two sides of the same coin--two aspects of a unifying, deeper reality.

A more down-to-earth way to sum up all this is that the one God that Jews, Christians and Muslims look to, had to send three great religions to a comparatively small corner of the world simply to tell people to be good, to be loving, to obey some basic commandments and look to the Almighty for guidance and reflection.

CNN makes clear, however, every day that simple lesson has still not yet been taken to heart nearly well enough.  But we must all keep trying in our own way.

To close with my original point here, we must also work our way through the stereotypes and slanted simplifications of the news media and movies, to what are the values and interests which we all share.

Digging down to a "firm base" is essential when building roads--but also when trying to work out the really significant challenges which face our times and the destiny of this planet - and each of us individually.

Thank you very much.