Saudi Arabia : Prince Bandar
In the first weeks and months after 9/11, what discouraged many
of us in the West was the lack of remorse and condemnation
among those in the Arab world who wield the power, both in and
outside of government. And since then I have also been more than a
bit disgruntled with some of what I''ve heard from the Saudi
ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar bin Sultan (see "Week in
About two months ago PBS'' "Frontline" program featured the
kingdom of Saudi Arabia, containing interviews with Bandar and
other leading figures. Following are just a few of his often
twisted thoughts, as told to "Frontline" and documented in a
30-page transcript. Any comments in brackets ''[ ]'' are mine.
The interviews with Bandar and others were conducted late
Prince Bandar, on Osama bin Laden and his influence:
He wouldn''t impress me as somebody who would be a leader for
anything...But when people talk about the infidels coming, that
is sacrilegious in Islam, because Islam believes in the people of
the Book. You have to believe in Judaism, Christianity, Moses
and Jesus. I, as a Muslim, if I don''t recognize Christianity or
Judaism as God''s religion, and the prophets of God, I am
So here you see this is the belief of the majority of Muslims. We
should not be blamed for a cult, and that''s what those people are
- a cult.
On whether or not the current Saudi regime is corrupt:
No...I''m not cocky on this issue, because governing is no joke.
If you get too cocky or you lose touch with the majority of your
people, you are finished. I don''t care who you are, and I don''t
care what system. In a democracy, in a Western democracy, you
lose touch with your people, you lose elections. In a monarchy,
you lose your head probably, or have a revolution or have a
So...governing is not magic....If you maintain the majority, the
support of (the) majority of your people who feel what you do
serves their interest, you are safe. That doesn''t mean you cannot
find 10, 100, 1,000 or maybe 100,000 people who don''t like it.
But there is a stereotype in the Western mind. You have a
romantic weakness for all the dissidents: Oh, they''re against us,
the underdog, poor people. Trust me - and if 11 September did
not convince you, I cannot do anything to convince the American
people, the Western mind - we are proud Arab Muslims. We
have thousands of years of history and culture, and we like to
modernize, but not necessarily Westernize, and we are different.
If we can agree that being different is not necessarily bad, that
you can be different and still be friends, then I think you can go a
But the stereotyping of my culture, my people, my country
makes what happens in your country, which is similar, kosher,
(while) what happens in our country is not. To have a militia in
America, it''s OK. They are "discontent." Well, they kill people.
One guy blew up a whole building, killed 190 people. We never
had a terrorist attack in our country by a Saudi that killed same
number as you did in Oklahoma.
Q: Are you afraid what the results might be of cooperating with
the United States?
Bandar: No...we always keep an eye on our constituency. And
how many times have we been attacked in your press or by your
politicians or...You know why we''re attacked? Not because
we''re bad to our people, but because we will not do what they
think is good, from their view. Hey, I don''t have to please
people (in) downtown Washington, but I must always take into
account Saudi people.
Q: In the United States we talk about this as an intelligence
failure greater than Pearl Harbor. But it''s also apparently an
intelligence failure on the part of your government, as well, to
assess the danger here.
Bandar: I think it''s underestimation. Yes, I''m willing to say that.
I think all of us underestimated where this was leading, and I
think there is enough blame to go around for everybody.
But, you see, I always believed you can achieve a strategic
surprise any time you choose if you do two things; one, do
something that''s thoroughly stupid and, two, that it is clearly
against your interests. For example, Saddam Hussein did
nothing that we didn''t know before he invaded Kuwait, but when
it came to the question, will he actually go and take over Kuwait,
we said, come on, that''s so stupid. And then we looked at what''s
in it for him. It doesn''t make sense. He achieve strategic
surprise, not tactical surprise.
Q: With all due respect, when the Taliban massacred the Shiites
in Afghanistan, massacred women and children, did Saudi
Arabia withdraw support of the Taliban?
Bandar: The Taliban, when they did that, by the time we realized
what they did, we already were in conflict with them, and they
were already in control of most of the country, and we were
trying to put that system back together. But did America - all
the West, all of it - break diplomatic relations with Saddam
Hussein when they knew he bombed his people with chemicals
If you are trying to tell me that we are not consistent, you
succeeded. We are not consistent. But in politics, it''s hard to be
consistent all the time, and we are not alone. As you say, you
Americans, consistency is the (mark of a) small mind.
Q: [Paraphrasing: Why didn''t the U.S. receive better cooperation
in the Khobar Towers bombing?]
Bandar: ...We actually had the FBI here and they were telling us
what to do, and the Americans came to our country to arrest our
I never found the complaints from our allies in the West as
damaging politically to Saudi Arabia. I always thought that is an
asset. The more Americans complain, or the Europeans, that we
are not cooperating on internal matters, the more you give me
strength with those - with my people, and with the dissidents -
that we are not in the pocket of anybody. We are your friends.
We respect you. We like you to respect us. But there are lines
after which we are not gonna compromise.
...It was a National Security matter for us. There are things that
you know you don''t tell us. There are things we know we may
not tell you, unless we know what is the extent of them. If we
wanted to see the big picture before we shared it with you. And
when it was all done, we shared what is necessary with you.
[They didn''t share squat.]
Q: [On the issue of the influence of Wahhabism in Saudi
Bandar: ...Number one, there is no such thing as Wahhabi
sect...He was a preacher...And in 1730s or so, people within the
heart of Arabia were almost becoming pagans. You know, they
worshipped trees, caves, and so on. And all what the man said is,
"Please, brothers, go back to basics. What the prophet did or
said, let''s do it." And my - the founder of my family joined up
with him, and the two of them, quote, unquote, "unified" the
[Yeah, this is basically true, which is the problem. The alliance
Bandar is referring to is the one between the founder of
Wahhabism, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, and Muhammad
ibn Saud (''House of Saud''); an alliance between teacher and
soldier, thus they created a new militant form of Islam.]
...We are proud of our religion, we are proud of our culture, and
we are open-minded. We are open-minded as long as people
don''t try to jam on us things that we cannot accept.
[Of course this is a crock. Wahhabism does not allow any other
ideas or opinions.]
Q: [On being a monarchy.]
Bandar: Maybe you regret...that you are not a monarchy. Maybe
if you were a monarchy, you would have more common sense to
do the right thing. And not get too carried away with quote-
unquote "freedom." You are not free to go to the movie and
scream, "Fire." Why? You are not free to go to a football match
and take off all your clothes. Why? So there is no absolute
freedom... [Boy, this is troubling.]
In a separate interview for the same program, Frontline
interviewed Islamic scholars, familiar with Saudi Arabia. One of
them was asked to give an example of religious teachings in
Ahmed Ali, a Shi''a Muslim from Saudi Arabia: The religious
curriculum in Saudi Arabia teaches you that people are basically
two sides: Salafis (Wahhabis), who are the winners, the chosen
ones, who will go to heaven, and the rest. The rest are Muslims
and Christians and Jews and others.
Q: Can you show me an example of what the (religious teaching
is in the schools)?
Ahmed Ali: Well, here, this is a book, hadif, for ninth grade.
Hadif is a statement of Prophet Mohammed. This is a book that
...is talking about the victory of Muslims over Jews. This is a
hadif that I truly believe it''s not true, as a Muslim:
"The day of judgment will not arrive until Muslims fight Jews,
and Muslim will kill Jews until the Jew hides behind a tree or a
stone. Then the tree and the stone will say, ''Oh Muslim, oh,
servant of God, this is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him.''
Except one type of a tree, which is a Jew tree. That will not say
that." This is taught for 14-year-old boys in Saudi Arabia.
Q: In middle schools...
Ahmed Ali: In middle schools, yes. Official middle schools.
This is a book printed by Saudi government Ministry of
Q: [In a separate interview with a student of Islam.] So the state
religion in Saudi Arabia is this pure, stricter form of Islam?
Q: And we''re told by people we''ve interviewed that it''s the
nature of this thought, its fundamentalist nature, that can be
easily manipulated, so that people would, for example, become
violent or extremist.
A: I think that the new mood, the new trend, especially after the
Gulf War, has become for all these neo-Wahhabis...(to use)
Islam...as a platform for political ideas and activities, using
Islam to legitimize political, economic, social behavior. These
people have been brought up in a country where Islam
And that, boys and girls, creates a problem.