Campus & Community

Saudi ambassador addresses Kennedy School forum

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Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, commended efforts by both countries to defeat international terrorists during a speech Feb. 15 at the Kennedy School of Government’s forum.

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“The terrorists seek to destroy the longstanding relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia,” he said. “Through acts of violence and horrific crimes, Osama bin Laden seeks to destabilize our country, overthrow the established order, and take over Saudi Arabia. But these evil-doers will never succeed.

“Intolerance, violence, and extremism are not part of our Islamic faith or Saudi culture and traditions,” he told the audience at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum. “Saudi Arabia has a moral responsibility to defend our religion against those who would subvert and usurp it.”

Al-Faisal said that a joint U.S.-Saudi task force has been very successful in thwarting several planned attacks in his country over the past three years, leading to the arrests of hundreds of terror suspects. The anti-terror efforts will only grow stronger in the future, he proclaimed.

“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 there simply is no place for a terrorist threat in the future,” he remarked.

When asked by a student how his nation is handling the tensions between tradition and modern culture, Al-Faisal said that change in Saudi Arabia will only “happen from within. … It’s what the people want that, in the end, will determine where we head.”

Positive change is occurring now in the nation’s educational system, he said, with thousands of new schools and dozens of new universities having opened in recent years. The national literacy rate has skyrocketed from 10 percent in 1950 to 82 percent today.

When asked about the recent republication of controversial caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed that have prompted international protests, Al-Faisal replied that the cartoons were “not just insulting, but absolutely unacceptable” and he claimed they had “nothing to do with free speech.”

On the war in Iraq, he said that it is up to the Iraqi people to determine when the American troops should depart. “It is when they feel that they can afford to [set a timetable for U.S. withdrawal] that they will ask you to leave,” he said.

And regarding mounting international concern over Iran’s nuclear program, Al-Faisal stated that “the Middle East should be free” of nuclear weapons, adding that he hopes for a peaceful solution to the crisis since a military option “affects us immediately.”

Al-Faisal’s appearance at the forum was co-sponsored by the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.