This post, Abdullah Al-Saud's first time writing for a U.S. audience as Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the United States, is appearing on the Huffington Post's contributor platform in conjunction with a news story examining the Saudi Arabian government's effort to respond to growing criticism in the U.S. Read the accompanying story here. A response to this post, written by the surviving family members of three 9/11 victims, is published here.
Extremism, especially violent extremism, is a scourge on the planet. Those who promote extremist ideologies or sponsor acts of violence in the name of Islam cannot be condoned or supported by anyone of true faith. In Saudi Arabia, extremists have attempted to hijack our religion, have murdered many of our people and used terrorism to intimidate our nation. There are two things that Saudi Arabia and its people hold most dear, and will never allow to be threatened - our faith and our security.
Saudi Arabia has been falsely accused by some commentators of promoting extremism. Don't they realize that extremists are as much or more of a threat to Saudi Arabia than to any other part of the world? If critics took the time to look at the facts, they would see that Saudi Arabia has and will continue to lead all nations in combating the mindset that foments violent extremism. Because as the home of Islam's two holiest mosques, we have both the responsibility and the authority to prevent Islam from being perverted by evildoers.
Every part of Saudi society has united to confront extremism. Our religious scholars, including the Mufti and members of the Board of Senior Scholars, have loudly and repeatedly condemned extremism and terrorism and have worked to guide those who could be deluded by extremist ideologies away from that misguided path. Mosques are being protected from becoming platforms for inciting extremism or collecting money that could be diverted into the wrong hands. Our educational systems and curriculum continue to go through major reforms, including teacher training to ensure that our children receive the best religious education. Teachers who fail to meet strict guidelines are removed. The government has also invested in massive public education programs to educate people on the dangers of extremism. These programs have included, but are not limited to, advertising, social media, events, and television programs.
Saudi Arabia is waging a "war of ideas" to prevent the terrorist mindset from taking root among vulnerable populations in our country and around the world, such as the young and the potentially disenfranchised. These efforts include everything from direct outreach to the Islamic world at large to rehabilitation programs that instill the concepts of moderation and tolerance, and undermine any intellectual or religious rationalization for extremism and terrorism. Saudi Arabia has taken direct, focused steps to neutralize sources of extremism. The Ministry of Interior - drawing on the expertise of an array of social scientists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and others - has created strategies tailored to neutralizing radicalism. In addition, the Ministry has been working in conjunction with King Fahd Security College, and Naif Arab University for Security Sciences; as well as other universities and research centers to develop and refine training for public security professionals.
Some point to our faith, calling us "Wahhabis" (meaning Saudis), as a convenient group to blame for the global problem of extremism. But the fact is there is no group of people called "Wahhabis." You will not find a "Wahhabi" anywhere in Saudi Arabia. There is no book of "Wahhabism" or any meeting of "Wahhabists." It does not exist. "Wahhabism" is an invented term that has become a slur against the Saudi people. The historical reality comes from an 18th century Islamic scholar named Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab. He believed and preached that Muslims should adhere to the original sources of their religion, The Holy Qur'an and Sunnah (teachings and attributes of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him). Over the centuries, Abd al-Wahhab's approach became part of one of the major schools of Islamic thought called the Hanbali School. Hanbali is an orthodox and conservative philosophy. But violent or extremist? Absolutely not.
Today, we often hear claims that the "Wahhabis" are exporting extremism and fueling radicalism in religious schools and "madrasahs." Setting aside the prejudicial overtones of such statements, the very idea is absurd. Saudi Arabia has never had expansionist ambitions. And it is illogical for the Kingdom to promote the very mindset that has threatened Saudi Arabia with deadly attacks against our homes and mosques.
We believe that spiritual leaders from every corner of the globe, no matter what religion, must be engaged in the "war of ideas" against terrorism, and Saudi Arabia has taken it upon itself to facilitate that.
In early 2008, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz launched the interfaith dialogue as a way to underscore the commonalities among the world's religions. To initiate this endeavor, King Abdullah convened a meeting on June 4, 2008 of more than 500 Muslim scholars from around the world. The conference highlighted the importance of dialogue and emphasized the need for the faiths and cultures of the world to combat extremism and intolerance. This was followed by the World Conference on Dialogue in Spain on July 16, 2008. The conference, hosted by King Abdullah and King Juan Carlos I of Spain, brought together 300 delegates from around the world representing Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Judaism and Shintoism. The culmination of this dialogue initiative was a special session of the United Nations General Assembly on November 12, 2008, attended by more than 25 world leaders. In 2011, The King Abdullah International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) was founded in Vienna to promote mutual understanding among followers of different religions and cultures around the world.
So rather than allow these baseless charges to continue, let's focus on the facts. First and foremost, it is contrary to our faith and the fundamental tenets of Islam to allow extremism to exist. True Islamic values are based on peace, the sanctity of life, concern for the needy, the improvement of self and the worship of God. Extremists violate all of these beliefs, and there is no place for them in our society or any other. Second, it is in our national security interests to eradicate extremist ideology which advocates for the destabilization of our region, the use of terrorism to create fear and chaos, and the violent overthrow of our society. Saudis are working together to modernize our society and create a better life for our children. Extremism has no place within that vision. Rather than point fingers, we hope the world will work with us to help achieve these goals.
Since its inception, Saudi Arabia has stood firmly against all violent extremist movements regardless of their religious or ideological excuses. Recently, the Kingdom announced the formation of an Islamic coalition to combat terrorism, which includes nearly 40 countries. In addition, the Kingdom intensified its participation in the military campaign against Daesh (ISIS) and we are ready to send ground troops to Syria to take the fight to Daesh. Saudi Arabia is also playing a leading role within the International coalition in the efforts to cut off funding to Daesh.
Saudi Arabia will win this battle against extremism no matter how long it may take. We will combat terrorist groups militarily and ideologically. We will work with regional and international partners to promote political stability to create the environment for a lasting and sustainable peace and security.
Ambassador Abdullah Al-Saud was born in 1951 in Saudi Arabia. He received his education in Saudi Arabia and studied engineering in the United Kingdom. He presented his credentials to U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on January 28, 2016.