Ladies and Gentlemen: I thank the Royal United Service Institute for organizing this timely and significant event. We have come here today because together we face a global threat. There is not only the physical threat of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, but, more importantly, their insidious aim of dividing us, and creating anger and hatred among our people, our religions, and our cultures. To overcome this threat, we must do more than simply defeat today's terrorists; we must remove the conditions that allow them to thrive. We must subdue and neutralize the voices of hatred and intolerance.
In this first decade of our new millennium, we are witnessing globalization and such rapid information dissemination heralding a new age of cooperation, economic interdependence, and increased cultural interaction. Yet optimistic expectations for a new era of global cooperation were shattered by the ugly specter of terrorism and the resulting acts of violence and mayhem. Instead of goodwill and understanding among the cultures of the world, violent extremism came close to destroying the bonds of harmony and tolerance that globalization had promised.
The gruesome crimes that were committed in Europe are no different from those perpetrated in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Extremism neither recognizes national borders, nor does it differentiate among people on the basis of their religion, creed, or color.
In Saudi Arabia, we strongly believe that international cooperation is crucial for fighting terrorism. It also goes without saying that the will and resolve to fight terrorism must begin at home; the national will then must be extended to a universal collective resolve, for no country can afford to stay on the sidelines. Bilateral and multilateral cooperation among security and intelligence services must be the backbone of efforts to combat terrorism. 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.
We all recognize that there is no single model or example that represents all acts of terrorism. Misguided people perform violent acts. Some do so in quest of glory and salvation based on religious fanaticism; others commit violent acts as a result of frustration and despair caused by circumstances and conditions beyond their control. There are also violent acts that are motivated by opportunistic politics – domestic and international.
During the past three years, Saudi Arabia has witnessed more than 25 incidents of terror – including explosions, murders, and kidnappings – causing the death of nearly 144 citizens, security personnel and foreign nationals, while injuring more than 500 people. 120 terrorists were killed and 17 wounded, and over 52 terrorist operations were foiled. And the fight goes on.
The government and people of Saudi Arabia are united in the fight against the terrorists, those who support them, and those who condone or incite their actions. Since September 11, 2001, Saudi Arabia has arrested more than 800 suspected terrorists of various nationalities. We have broken up numerous Al-Qaeda cells and seized their arms caches. We have introduced new regulations and mechanisms to ensure that our financial system and charities cannot be exploited by evildoers.
We have frozen the financial assets of suspected financiers of terror. Joint Saudi-American Task Forces were established to go after the terrorists, as well as suspected financiers of terror. We believe that the new Saudi regulations are among the most effective in the world: This has been confirmed by independent international bodies such as the Financial Action Task Force of the G-8 (FATF).
Due to the unique position of Saudi Arabia in the Islamic World as the cradle of Islam, we have a moral responsibility to defend our religion against those who would subvert and usurp it. We have accomplished a great deal. But, in spite of those gains, our national efforts alone are not enough. International cooperation is a must.
In February of last year, Saudi Arabia hosted an international counterterrorism conference in Riyadh. The conference brought together some 60 nations and international organizations from all over the world. Participating counterterrorism experts represented a wide range of cultures, religions, and political systems. They were immediately able to agree that terrorism has become the primary threat to international security in the 21st century. They worked together to draft common and practical recommendations to fight terrorism and its causes.
The resulting Riyadh Declaration called for fostering the values of tolerance, dialogue, coexistence, and understanding among cultures and rejecting the logic of the inevitability of conflict (the so-called clash of civilizations). It also called for
harmonization between cultures by bringing them together, and rejecting any form of ideology that promotes hatred, incites to violence, or condones terrorist acts.
In addition to challenging terrorism forcefully, and denying it the means for obtaining financial support, it is also important to prevent terrorists and their supporters from establishing safe havens in certain countries, or allowing them to use or abuse the asylum and immigration laws in others. The extremists who condone, support, incite, or legitimize terrorism should be held accountable for the criminal consequences of their message of hatred and intolerance. People who abuse the Internet and other means of communication for propaganda, recruitment, or incitement should be criminalized and punished.
We have been fighting terrorism in Saudi Arabia since the Olayya and Al-Khobar incidents in 1995 and 1996 respectively. As a result of the tragedy of 9/11, we discovered that terrorism was global in its intent, working towards fostering hate, intolerance, and anger that create misconceptions between East and West in order to cleave an unbridgeable chasm between them.
We are taking measures to uproot the source of this evil at home, but if we are to eradicate this threat totally – we find it necessary to engage the international community.
We must keep in mind that terrorists are cynically exploiting legitimate causes and desperate conditions to foster hatred and fill their ranks with recruits. We must prevent these exploitations by treating these conditions and resolving such legitimate causes.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict singularly stands out in its enormous potential for encouraging violence in the region and beyond. The illegal and unjust policy of Israel in the occupied territories, which has resulted in constant humiliation and suffering for the Palestinian people, is breeding anger and hatred in the Arab and Islamic world. This conflict must be addressed and resolved justly in the interest of a peaceful world. We must strive to dissipate the feelings of anger and frustration.
The quest for peace in the Middle East is imperative. In April of 2002, King Abdullah introduced his proposal for a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace at the Arab Summit in Beirut. This historic proposal, which offered Israel peace with all Arab countries and an end to the conflict in exchange for its withdrawal from all Arab territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, was unanimously adopted. Israel has yet to respond to this historic gesture.
Ladies and Gentlemen: The effort of preaching understanding and tolerance is required not only in the Arab and Islamic countries, it is also needed in the rest of the world. The whole world must do so without overlooking the sensitivity of the moral issues and with full respect for the diversities of values and traditions of all cultures.
Unfortunately, the conflicting nature of the issues contributes to the polarization of views. In this regard, media in all their forms and all educational institutions have a great responsibility to promote sound human values and to immunize societies against delinquent ideas. They must bring people together instead of separating them.
Finally, let me reiterate that we face a common threat that goes far beyond today's terrorist leaders and terrorist organizations. We can defeat that threat, but only if we unite, and create new bonds of understanding between our different religions and cultures. In my country we are doing our best to deal with a variety of issues: ideological, social and economic, but our efforts alone are not enough.
The fight must be global in order to succeed, because terrorists flee where they face strength and attack where they perceive weakness. The world is in the midst of a hard, tough, and long fight. In the process of conducting it, we should not allow fear to drive us into isolation, or close the door on the human-to-human contact that is so essential for understanding and interchange between cultures.
As your great poet once said in his Meditations, and I need not name him to this audience: “....No man is an island, entire of itself...any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”1 These words of wisdom apply to nations as well as to individuals. For no nation is an island unto itself.
Thank you for listening.
1 John Donne, Meditation XVII