For Immediate Release
Wednesday, October 23, 2002
"Can We Reason Together?"
U.S. Intellectuals Respond to Saudis on Terrorism War:
"Is Islamic piety as practiced in Saudi Arabia inconsistent with militant jihadism?"
In a letter released today, 67 leading U.S. intellectuals welcomed the recent communication
from 153 Saudi scholars and religious leaders regarding the U.S. and the war on terrorism, while also challenging them to consider "the important roles played by some members of your
society in the attacks of September 11 and in the worldwide spread of violence perpetrated by groups citing Islamic sources as justification."
In their letter released today (in Arabic and English), entitled Can We Coexist?, the U.S.
intellectuals specifically criticize their Saudi colleagues for refusing to:
… discuss or even acknowledge the role of your society in creating, protecting, and spreading the jihadist violence that today threatens the world, including the Muslim
world. For example, speaking of those who murdered 3,000 innocent persons on September 11, you do not speak in your letter of perpetrators, but instead of "alleged
perpetrators." These words sadden and disappoint us. Do you expect us to believe that you are not aware that 15 of the 19 murderers of September 11 were Saudis? Or that
their leader, Osama bin Laden, was a Saudi? Or that their organization, al-Qa`ida, has for years received substantial financial support from sources in Saudi Arabia? Or that a
high proportion of Qa`ida and Taliban fighters captured by U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan are Saudis? Or that the spread of violence by Islamist groups across the
world, from Afghanistan to Indonesia to the United States, is clearly traceable, in part, to the ongoing financial, political, and religious support for such activities in your country?
The U.S. side initiated the debate in February of this year with a widely discussed "Letter from America" entitled What We're Fighting For. The 153 Saudi scholars and religious leaders responded in May with their own manifesto, How We Can Coexist. The U.S. statement
released today, Can We Coexist?, therefore represents the continuation and deepening of an
ongoing intellectual debate. (Each of these letters, including lists of signatories, can be read at www.americanvalues.org/html/follow-up.html.)
Insisting that "the rise of Islamist violence as a threat to the world, including the Muslim world, is not a phenomenon that you in Saudi Arabia can simply blame on someone else," the U.S.
intellectuals pose three questions to their Saudi colleagues:
First, do you believe that Islamic piety as practiced in Saudi Arabia is inconsistent with militant jihadism? Second, if you do believe that the two are inconsistent, how do you
explain the prominent role of Saudis in the attacks of September 11 and, more generally, in the rise of militant jihadism as a world-threatening phenomenon? Finally, do you
believe that Saudi intellectuals and religious leaders who hold that the two are inconsistent have an obligation to explain publicly and concretely why the ideas and
activities of al-Qa`ida and similar groups are wrong and dangerous from an Islamic point of view? We await your response.
More broadly, the U.S. intellectuals also write:
Opposing those in the U.S. whom you call "conflict mongers," you write that "stability
is the basis for rights and freedoms throughout the world." We believe that you have largely inverted cause and effect - we believe that rights and freedoms are the basis of
stability. For this reason, some of today's conditions in many Muslim societies - very little freedom of expression, an absence of democratic norms and institutions, and poor
recognition by the authorities of academic freedom and other basic human rights - suggest to us that stability in your society, no less than elsewhere, will ultimately hinge in
some important measure on the willingness and ability of leaders, intellectuals, and ordinary persons to demand basic rights and freedoms for everyone in society.
Areas of Agreement and Clarification
The U.S. intellectuals expressed agreement with the Saudi scholars and religious leaders on a number of points, especially regarding the universality of core human values. Seeking to
correct a possible misunderstanding, the U.S. intellectuals also offer this admission of error:
Regrettably, our frequent use of the term "American values" in our letter may have
caused some confusion, for at one point in your letter you state, with disapproval, that we in the U.S. are calling upon Muslims to "adopt American values." We intended, and
should have made clearer our intention, to ground our argument in universal, not national or particularistic, values. We hereby affirm that the core values upon which we take our stand are not exclusivist at all.
The U.S. side also writes:
You insist that Islam as a religion is not "an enemy of civilization" or "an enemy of
human rights." We fully agree. You write that political violence and radicalism is not "intrinsically tied to religion" or "restricted to one particular religion." We fully agree.
The U.S. scholars continue:
In this vein, we recall with regret that some Americans have made reckless and even
malicious statements about Islam. Some of these statements have been widely reported. At the same time, there is much evidence that these remarks do not reflect the views of the great majority of U.S. citizens.
In conclusion - asking "Can we reason together?" - the U.S. intellectuals write:
In a world threatened by violence and injustice, made anxious by war and discussions of
war, and facing the grim prospect of religious and even civilizational polarization, is any task facing us as intellectuals from East and West more important than finding a time and
place to reason together, in the hope of finding common ground on the dignity of the human person and the basic conditions for human flourishing? We earnestly wish to be
a part of such a dialogue, with you and with other intellectuals from the Muslim world. We recognize that the only preconditions for participating in such an initiative are good
will, the recognition of our common humanity, and the willingness and freedom to engage in critical introspection as well as careful criticism of others' views. Your
decision to write to us shows that you may have a similar aspiration. We hope to find ways to continue and deepen this conversation.
The letter from the Saudis released in May, How We Can Coexist, includes many prominent
scholars and religious leaders, including Safir al-Hawali anad Salman al-'Auda.
For the U.S. letter released today, the list of 67 signatories includes: David Blankenhorn of
the Institute for American Values; Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago; Amitai Etzioni of The George Washington University; Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins University;
William A. Galston of the University of Maryland; Robert P. George of Princeton University; Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School; James Turner Johnson
of Rutgers University; former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of Syracuse University; Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute; Michael Walzer of the Institute for Advanced Study;
James Q. Wilson of the University of California at Los Angeles (Emeritus); and Daniel Yankelovich of the Public Agenda Foundation.
- end -
The following documents are posted at www.americanvalues.org/html/follow-up.html:
1."Can We Coexist? A Response from Americans to Colleagues in Saudi Arabia." Released today. Available in Arabic and English.
2."How We Can Coexist." From Saudi Arabia. Released in May 2002.
3."What We're Fighting For: A Letter From America." Released in February 2002.
Other public and international commentary on "What We're Fighting For" is also posted at www.americanvalues.org/html/follow-up.html. For more information, or to schedule an
interview, contact Mary Schwarz at (212) 246-3942 or email: email@example.com.
Back to Top