On July 10, 2002, the Qatari television channel Al-Jazeera interviewed Saudi sheikh Mohsin Al-'Awaji; a previous attempt by Al-Jazeera to interview him was prevented by Saudi authorities. Sheikh Al-'Awaji holds a PhD from the University of Wales in the U.K., and has served as the imam of the Great Mosque at King Saud University in Al-Riyadh. During the interview, two other Saudi sheikhs were also interviewed by telephone: Dr. Safar Al-Hawali, who leads the opposition to the U.S. military presence in the Arabian peninsula, and Dr. Muhammad Al-Khasif, from the city of Buraydah, which is known as a conservative Wahhabi center. All three served extensive prison terms for criticizing the Saudi regime and calling for "reform" (which for them means more adherence to Wahhabi teachings) following the Gulf War. The following are excerpts from the discussion:
Saudi-U.S. Relations and the U.S. War on Terror
Sheikh Al-'Awaji: "The Saudi people were not surprised by what the U.S. did, for several reasons. First, Islamic history proves that the conflict between truth and falsehood has been going on since the Divine Inspiration descended [upon the Prophet Muhammad], and it will continue until Judgment Day. As a government, Saudi Arabia provided the U.S. with superb services, which no other country has given."
"Americans are in three American bases…that are there because of a decision by the Gulf rulers, and the [Islamic] nation knows that they violate the words of the Prophet, who ordered the banishment of the Jews and Christians from the Arabian peninsula…"
Sheikh Dr. Safar Al-Hawali: "…The relations between America and us differ from the relations between us and all the other peoples or nations. These are relations between two [very] different nations: One is a nation that was chosen by Allah, who tested it and purified it with disasters so that it will atone for its sins. Allah is using that nation in order to wave the banner of truth and justice on the face of the earth. This is our nation. There is also a tyrannous and evil nation that Allah is manipulating, unbeknownst to it, until it reaches the end to which it is sentenced – the same end that was the lot of all the nations of heresy, tyranny, and aggression such as the peoples of Noah, 'Aad, Thamud, and Pharaoh."
"Since World War II, America has not been a democratic republic; it has become a military empire after the Roman model. It is even more abhorrent because its administration is ruled by the pressure groups that are the most dangerous to the human race – the companies that create destruction and sell arms. Therefore, the American way can be discerned and defined in one word: war. America unhesitatingly enters into war anywhere in the world – unless it assesses that the benefit of such a war will not satisfy its insatiable appetite. Then it calls for a kind of peace that will permit American companies to sign profitable contracts, with the aim of usurping resources under the slogan of cooperation in development. Thus, we notice that America is always seeking an enemy – and if it does not find one… it creates one and inflates it using its terrible media to persuade its people's conscience that the war it has declared is necessary [and] for a just cause. It is known that the struggle against Communism served as a pretext for starting wars in more than 40 countries across the world… These wars have cost the lives of tens of millions and made hundreds of millions live in backwardness, struggle, poverty, and the humiliation familiar to the entire world…"
Bin Laden, America, and the Saudi People
Sheikh Al-'Awaji: "In the past, when he was fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, bin Laden was the greatest of Jihad warriors, in the eyes of the Saudi people and in the eyes of the Saudi government. He and the others went to Afghanistan with official [Saudi] support, and the support of the clerics. Now, the Saudi people have three complaints to bin Laden."
"First, bin Laden accuses clerics and rulers of heresy, when he has no proof of this. Second, he is making the Muslim countries an arena for Jihad operations. Third, he and those with him target innocent people, and I refer to the innocents on the face of the entire earth, of every religion and color, and in every region."
"Besides these three things, bin Laden is perceived to be a man of honor, a man who abstains [from the pleasures] of this world, a brave man, and a man who believes in his principles and makes sacrifices [for them]…"
"What the Saudis like best about bin Laden is his asceticism. When the Saudi compares bin Laden to any child of wealthy parents, he sees that bin Laden left behind the pleasures of the hotels for the foxholes of Jihad, while others compete amongst themselves for the wealth and palaces of this world."
"... [I]f all the world repressed by America likes bin Laden, is the Islamic nation not entitled to love one of its sons as a human being? However, the truth must be told: the Saudi people love every Jihad warrior, every fighter, and every man of honor, whether in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, or southern Sudan…"
"The Saudi people loved Khattab [the leader of the Islamic struggle in Chechnya, of Saudi origin]. The government even permitted the people to express condolences in the media [when he was killed by Russian forces]. The reason for this – and this is an important point that the brothers in the Jihad organizations should note – is that Khattab, whose real name was Samer Suweilim, refrained from entering into disagreements [with brother Arabs/Muslims], and refrained from accusing [Arab and Muslim leaders] of heresy. It was unheard of for him to target anyone in Saudi Arabia or another Islamic land. Thus, the people are disregarding America's statements about them. The terror against America that they [Americans] talk about does not interest us at all …"
Jihad is Our Strategic Weapon Against the U.S.
"We are proud that they define us as someone who strikes terror into the heart of the enemies of Allah and our enemies [a paraphrase of a Koranic verse], but not according to the definition they [the Americans] want. America wants us to define terror according to its criteria. The American definition of terror is that anyone who resists America's colonialist and religious interests is a terrorist…"
"The Saudis maintain that the Arabian peninsula is the resting place of the lions from which the leaders emerged. Those who confront America in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Kashmir are the cubs of those lions. [The Saudis] who lead the Jihad in the world left without asking the permission of the rulers or the world. They broke through the barriers to leave. They run in pursuit of death, while George Bush and his administration fled the White House, at a certain point, when they were targeted."
"The Saudis believe that the glory of the [Islamic] nation appeared when our Prophet taught us the industry of death – when he taught us how to create death. Then life became cheap in our eyes… When one of the sons of our nation is killed, he says: 'I won,' and the master of the Ka'aba swears that he had won. This we see as the industry of death. We in Saudi society and in other Islamic societies have finally realized that this is the right path to tread in order to deal with today's deadly strategic weapons. If America has intercontinental missiles and bombs, then our bombs are the Jihad fighters, whom America has called 'suicide attackers' and we call 'martyrs.' We will develop them because we see them as a strategic weapon…"
Millions of Muslims Look at Bin Laden as a Savior
Dr. Muhammad Al-Khasif: "…There are dozens, even millions, who lift up their eyes to Osama bin Laden as a savior. If Che Guevara was a model for the fighters in the world, and a beautiful symbol of the struggle against American imperialism in South America, then Osama bin Laden is the same symbol for the Muslims… Some Koreans and Filipinos have named their sons Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden is just an ordinary Saudi citizen who gave up his tremendous wealth for his principles. He has principles and deeds with which I disagree. I agree with my brother and friend Dr. Mohsin about the three issues that he mentioned: heresy, bringing the battle into Saudi Arabia, mostly, but also to the rest of the Islamic world, and harming innocents. However, if bin Laden and his men are fighting America in other arenas, we will have no problem with what he does… Even [regarding] the events of September 11, it was not conclusively proven that Osama bin Laden and Al-Qa'ida were involved…"
Sheikh Al-Hawali: "[The U.S. arms manufacturers] exploited the events of September 11… The generals of destruction and annihilation snatched the initiative from the great global usurers, and Bush, who entered the White House limping – and who apparently will never seek to enter it again – declared a long-term and extensive war against a dimensionless and borderless enemy – that is, against the artificial illusion of so-called 'terrorism'…"
"As everyone knows, many commentators and intellectuals within and without America were dumbfounded by the weakness of the American excuses, by the violation of values and standards, and by the unending contradictions [in American policies]. But one group of observers was not surprised – the group of Islamic observers who monitor the state of the world and its changes through the prism of the Koran. This group did not need to wait for Bush to declare that it is a Crusader war, and that Sharon is a man of peace, because it already says in the Koran: 'Their hatred has been expressed in words, and that which they design is even more virulent.' Fourteen centuries ago Allah exposed [what] they design, warned us against supporting them, and called on us to call to them [to join the religion of] Allah, and to wage Jihad…"
The Future of Saudi-U.S. Relations
Sheikh Al-Hawili: "America and its supporters must know that if it extends its hand to attack the land of the two holy places [Saudi Arabia], it will have no protection from the cruelty of God and the vengeance of the soldiers of Allah, the mujahiddeen. It will have no protection, even if it digs a hole in the earth or seeks refuge in space. Holes in the ground in which to hide every time a plane deviates from its course will not help those who put forth this kind of proposal …"
"We demand that America apologize to our nation and promise that statements of this kind [about nuking Mecca] will never be repeated by anyone, whether in the administration, in Congress, or in the media. We leave the options open before them. If they choose the path of truth and justice, they will find no one more just than we. But if they choose oppression and aggression, they will find no one who loves martyrdom more than we [do], and no one more willing to die – as this is the hope of every man in this land. While the American young people, including Clinton, evade military service, our young people meticulously do this service…"
Dr. Muhammad Al-Khasif: "Since September 11, America has been interfering in our sovereign affairs in our land – something we do not agree to in any way, shape or form… I recall how Dr. Umayma Al-Jalahama was dismissed from the Al-Riyadh newspaper because of America's interference, following an article she wrote on the Jews in a matter for which there is solid proof in Western literature [i.e. the blood libel]."
Our Struggle Against America
"The impudence of the American administration led it to talk of partitioning Saudi Arabia… We will fight to the last of our children against the American partition plans. America must realize that we are not like the other countries upon which it imposes its policy."
"It is America that created its enemies. I am one of those who studied in America and I am grateful to the American educational institutions. I had many friends, and my time in America was a good time in my life. However, today I hate America and its policy. I see it interfering in the sovereignty of my country. I see it dictating to me, I see it killing children in Afghanistan and Palestine with the support of the Jews, and killing children in Iraq with the oppressive siege. From this platform I send a message to the American administration: We will not be silent on the partition plans and we will not agree to additional interference. We will struggle against America and we will call on the mujahiddeen to fight America everywhere in the world…"