In Praise of Bin Laden
ABC News, Dec. 10, 2002
Reporter’s Notebook, By Jim Sciutto
The Saudi government insists religious extremism is not sanctioned in the kingdom, and that it’s not taught in schools. But it is easy to find teachers who speak out against the United States with a surprisingly deep hatred — a sentiment many are passing on to their students.
Getting these teachers to speak on the record, and especially on camera, is difficult.
On a trip to Riyadh, ABCNEWS producer Hoda Abdel-Hamid and I met three teachers who work at a private high school for boys just outside the capital. And although we’ve frequently witnessed the depth of anti-American feeling in this part of the world, both of us were amazed at what we heard from these men during our interview.
All three teachers are personally connected to the terror war. Each has a brother in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, suspected of supporting terrorism.
“I do not know if he was with al Qaeda or not,” said Saad al-Shabbani, whose 20-year-old brother, Fahad, is a detainee at Guantanamo. “He is a young man, I don’t think he was part of any group specifically. But with the events unfolding he wanted to serve Islam.”
‘If Someone Kills My Muslim Brother, I Can Kill Him’
Whether their brothers are actually tied to al Qaeda, all three teachers are teaching their students — Saudi teenagers — that al Qaeda is a noble cause. Here’s an exchange with Mohammed Al-Osman, another teacher:
ABCNEWS’ Jim Sciutto: Do you believe Osama bin Laden is a good man?
Mohammed Al-Osman: Undoubtedly.
Sciutto: He’s a good man, even for planning these attacks on civilians in the U.S., and the Koran says attacks on civilians are not justified?
Al-Osman: Three thousand Americans were killed, but many Muslims also died in Afghanistan. I tell my students the Koran allows self-defense, so if the U.S. kills civilians, then sometimes we have to kill civilians.
Sciutto: What I’m hearing from you is that you’re telling your students they can kill people because they’re angry.
Al-Osman: If someone kills my Muslim brother, I can kill him.
Sciutto: The people in the World Trade Center, they didn’t kill your brothers.
Al-Osman: If I can’t target the enemy who did wrong, then I can sacrifice other people.
Al-Shabbani echoed this sentiment.
Sciutto: “You have described to me a very sad future. If someone attacks you, you attack them. They attack you, you attack them. What future are you teaching your students — about violence, about killing, constant killing?”
Al-Shabbani: I teach my students that sometimes you have to do injustice to people who have done an injustice to you.
Pointing Fingers at Israel
When confronted with statements like these, Saudi officials say they’re the views of a small minority. But they concede these views are being promoted by extremist religious teachers, and even in some school textbooks.
During a visit to Saudi Arabia this summer, ABCNEWS’ 20/20 came across one high school textbook with a passage reading: “Judgment Day will come only when Muslims kill Jews in a great war.”
Saudi officials say they’ve identified parts of the official school curriculum that are inflammatory and that they’re changing them. But they also say that the root of anti-American feeling here is not in the schools, but in U.S. Mideast policy. Specifically, says Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, the Bush administration’s unflagging support for Israel and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
“The schools are teaching the same subjects that they did 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago,” said al-Faisal. “What has changed is American policy. It is perceived that America is standing unjustly with Mr. Sharon.”
The teachers we met, like many people in the Arab world, hold the United States responsible for Palestinian civilian deaths in the Israeli conflict, because Israel buys its weapons from the United States and also receives financial support from Washington.
Many here also frequently point out that the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan left civilians dead — justification, they say, for al Qaeda’s attacks on American civilians.
Al-Osman attempted to justify the World Trade Center attacks in the following exchange:
Sciutto: There were civilian casualties in Afghanistan. But the American goal was not to kill civilians. They wanted to go after soldiers and accidently killed civilians. Osama bin Laden’s goal was to kill civilians. His plan was to kill civilians. Isn’t that a difference?
Al-Osman: Bin Laden wanted to hit a building, the World Trade Center, that represented the American economy.
Sciutto: Yes, but that building happened to be filled by civilians. He drove the plane into the building to kill civilians. Do you deny that?
Al-Osman: Al Qaeda was going after a symbol.
Sciutto: But that building, that symbol, happened to be full of people. Is that right?
Al-Osman: It’s not necessary to give a warning of the attack so that people could flee the building that day.
Sciutto: So you’re saying that it’s OK to surprise civilians in the building.
Al-Osman: In this case, yes.
As for the men ABCNEWS interviewed, we were told privately many times that a crackdown on teachers like them would anger powerful religious extremists here. And so many Saudi students are still being taught to hate Americans, and even to kill them.