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Saudis' Role in Fighting ISIS; Confronting Religious Extremism; Imagine a World

Aired October 20, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: the war on ISIS, military, financial and ideological. Saudi Arabia's billionaire

royal investor Alwaleed Bin Talal tells me they are done with sending money and moral support to extremists.


PRINCE ALWALEED BIN TALAL, FINANCIAL, MEDIA, AND REAL ESTATE MOGUL: Saudi Arabia has taken very strict rules to stop that from happening. And

yes, right now all this has been stopped completely.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): And later, how this is all being discussed around the water cooler plus is laughter the best antidote for the poison

of ISIS?


AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Pushback on ISIS: after admitting that Kobani could well fall to the terror group, the United States is now stepping up its assistance to

Kurdish fighters in that Syrian city, airdropping weapons, ammunition and medical supplies. And after weeks, sitting on the sidelines, now Turkey

says it will allow the passage of Iraqi Kurdish fighters into the border city to help.

Kobani's Kurds have been begging for help ever since ISIS marched on the city last month. But failing to take Kobani yet is a psychological

blow to the group that advances on fear and oil money and donations from wealthy Gulf patrons.

Most are said to be in Kuwait and Qatar but also in Saudi Arabia, which has a long and troubled history funding extremist Islam. But the

kingdom will be quick to tell you that is not official policy, especially now that Saudi Arabia has joined the U.S. coalition against ISIS.

So is Saudi Arabia trying to destroy a monster that it helped create? My next guest tells me better late than never, Saudi prince and billionaire

business man Alwaleed Bin Talal joined me earlier from Paris with that and his assessment on the global economy because when Alwaleed talks, markets



AMANPOUR: Prince Alwaleed, welcome to the program.

TALAL: It's a pleasure to be with you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Let me first and foremost ask you about the fight to destroy ISIS.

Do you agree with that fight?

And do you think what the United States and the alliance are doing is working?

TALAL: What's happening right now is very important and, yes, we have to continue not only in containing and degrading ISIS, we have to talk

about demolishing and eradicating them completely.

AMANPOUR: Do you think it'll work?

TALAL: Well, for now, I think the first action of hitting by airstrikes, this is the first step, I think, in a long and more concerted

effort that has to continue for possibly many years as Mr. Obama said. I think eventually that ground forces have to be committed and may not

necessarily be U.S. forces.

There are also surrogate forces that could be used, either the Iraqi forces after you upgrade them and some of the Syrian elements, the free

army elements could be used also. And maybe one day Turkey also could join.

AMANPOUR: And what about Saudi Arabian ground forces?

TALAL: Well, I cannot talk about Saudi Arabia. But clearly the fact that Saudi Arabia right now is involved through its air force and is

joining the U.S.-led coalition at a certain time in history, there may be a possibility for that.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about ISIS itself. You are on record as calling it a disease, a terrorist disease. And yet, as you very well know

yourself, Prince Alwaleed, Saudi Arabia has been blamed over many, many, many years for funding and allowing extremism to flourish.

Doesn't Saudi Arabia also bear so much of the brunt, of the blame for the rise of ISIS and such groups?

TALAL: It doesn't help right now to talk about what caused the ISIS rises. That's another question for another interview maybe.

But for now, ISIS is a fact on the ground and we have to face it head- on. And I'm glad that Mr. Obama took the leadership and assembled these world-class, top-notch countries to try to stop that disease from spreading

even further in our region.

AMANPOUR: Yes, but Prince Alwaleed, my question is directed at you regarding Saudi Arabia's responsibility in this regard.

TALAL: Well, when the Syrian civil war began, Saudi Arabia and many other Gulf countries and many other countries in the world also supported

all those groups that were trying to topple the regime over there.

And unfortunately, the bulk of that was the rise of ISIS.

AMANPOUR: What about funds by wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia?

Are they allowed to?

Do they get punished now for sending funds to any kind of extremist group?

TALAL: No doubt that -- and with all honesty, I tell you that, yes, we had a weakness over there, whereby some -- unfortunately some extremists

in Saudi Arabia, extremist elements, extremist elements in Saudi Arabia did fund certain extremist elements in Syria.

But Saudi Arabia has taken very strict rules to stop that from happening. And yes, right now all this has been stopped completely.

AMANPOUR: Are you confident that it will stop completely?

And what about the lectures and the sermons in the mosques?

Because they also are part of this sort of incitement.

TALAL: Saudi Arabia has enacted many laws actually incriminating any person going outside Saudi Arabia and joining those extremist forces. So

now it's a law in Saudi Arabia. Also in the mosques.

AMANPOUR: Do you wish that Saudi Arabia had taken this move much earlier?

TALAL: As you say, better late than never. Thank God it happened right now and Saudi Arabia right now joined the international forces.

AMANPOUR: We're talking about Syria. ISIS obviously has a huge amount of money and funds from oil as well.

How do you assess their wealth and their power?

And particularly now with the oil prices sinking?

TALAL: It is very difficult to assess really the ISIS amount of -- the amount of money ISIS has because I don't believe that any intelligence

system in the world has infiltrated their infrastructure. But clearly they are well fed. Clearly they have some funds.

So clearly this is a rich organization and I believe very strongly that we are seeing early indications of some success on the ground whereby

the U.S. continues the bombardment, the United States and its allies have really begun halting and inflicting some damage on ISIS.

AMANPOUR: The price of oil is falling at the moment and you have taken on a very public row with your own Saudi oil minister.

Why is it that you have done that?

What is -- what is your aim here?

TALAL: My aim is that that same oil minister in Saudi Arabia, just a few months ago, said that at $100 consumers and producers are happy. And

now it went down to $80, he's not talking. So the fact that he was happy when the price was at $100, the fact that now it sank to $80 and may sink

even further, that's an omen. That's a bad omen for Saudi budget.

You have to remember that Saudi Arabia's budget is 90 percent depend on oil. So any meltdown, any collapse in the price of oil will immediately

and automatically impact our budget.

My objective is really to have Saudi Arabia less dependent on that commodity, no matter how valuable it is for the international community.

AMANPOUR: The recent IMF report suggests that the global growth is really hitting a major stumbling block.

What do you think about growth coming up?

TALAL: It's very clear that right now we see the United States stabilizing around 2-3 percent, which is really acceptable growth, at least

for the short term. But we are seeing pockets of danger, whereby the growth in China is beginning to go, too, and go down. Also in Japan, the

same is applicable.

And most important now in Europe, where in continental Europe specifically, whereby Germany was the anchor country in the growth of this

European community, and right now we're seeing that the growth there is being reduced from around 2 percent to 1.3 percent.

So that's very alarming, because the whole European continent was dependent on the growth of Germany.

AMANPOUR: To get back to terrorism, if you had a message to your own people, to the people of Saudi Arabia, to the people in the region, to

those who were tempted to go fight but more importantly to give money that funds these militant extremist groups, what would you say to Saudis who

were tempted to do that and to your own authorities and to your own mullahs?

TALAL: There is a Quranic verse that says God will not change you until you will change within yourself. And I think Islamic saying is very

important, surmise the whole thing. I think we have to look inwards and have to be sure that to begin changing the way of thinking, that to change

the way of our acts and to change some of our -- the way of approaching such matters, these -- and what we have seen in front of our eyes is

horrendous acts of just massacring and killing men and enslaving ladies and imprisoning young people.

That's a big lesson for us, is that these people are just criminals. These have nothing to do with Islam. We have a problem -- Islam; it's not

a problem with Islam. But you have a problem with Islamism, which is political Islam. And we need to neutralize that.

AMANPOUR: Prince Alwaleed, thank you very much for joining me from Paris.

TALAL: It's a pleasure to be with you, Christiane. Thank you.


AMANPOUR: So if indeed, as the prince said, the actions of Islamic State have nothing to do with Islam, what effect are those actions having

on the faith and the faith debate? We ask two leading thinkers on the topic right after a break.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Just as what happened after 9/11, the battlefield brutality of IS has triggered yet another ferocious debate about Islam, particularly in the

American media. News programs and satirical news shows are just a few having a field day. A recent exchange between the author, Sam Harris, and

the actor, Ben Affleck, on comedian Bill Maher's political talk show went viral.


SAM HARRIS, AUTHOR: There are hundreds of millions of Muslims who are nominal Muslims, who don't take the faith seriously, who don't want to kill

apostates, who are horrified by ISIS and we need to defend these people, prop them up and let them reform their faith.


BEN AFFLECK, ACTOR: ISIS couldn't fill a AA ballpark in Charleston, West Virginia, and you're making a career out of ISIS, ISIS, ISIS.

BILL MAHER, COMEDIAN: No, no, no, we're not. That's the opposite.

HARRIS: No, it's not just ISIS, it's all jihadists. It's global -- it's a phenomenon of global jihad.

MAHER: I think that's the opposite of what we're doing.

AFFLECK: There is those things. There is ISIS, there is global jihadists. The question is the degree to which you're willing to say,

because I've witnessed this behavior, which we all object to on the part of these people, I'm willing to flatly condemn those of you I don't know and

have never met.


AMANPOUR: So this one size fits all is a parody of the religion, say many, or is it? As world leaders from President Obama to Ban Ki-moon

insist that Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a state, we dive into it with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a journalist, known for her commentary on race,

religion and politics right here in Britain, and she joins me here on the set; whereas from Los Angeles, Reza Azlan, the religious scholar and author

of, "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth," joins me.

Both of you, welcome to this program because really it does seem that no matter what we can never get to the bottom of this. So first and

foremost, Yasmin, I want to ask you do you feel that it's being discussed differently here in Europe, in Britain versus in America?

YASMIN ALIBHAI-BROWN, JOURNALIST: Yes, up to a point. I think we don't have this kind of fury, a kind of open fury directed at all Muslims.

There is concern and there -- I think it -- the concern is right. We should all be concerned.

But what you don't get is this torching of the faith and of believers --

AMANPOUR: Where do you manage to have a more reasonable discussion then?

ALIBHAI-BROWN: I don't know. It's culturally different. I think having the constitutional right to freedom of speech in America seems to

have mutated into the freedom to offend and then to hurt and to wound and I don't think that's what the Founding Fathers intended.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, Reza, this amazing constitutional right to freedom of expression, which they don't have institutionalized here in

Britain, do you think that this is what's led to this very polarized discussion in the U.S.? And you're right in the middle of it.

REZA AZLAN, AUTHOR AND RELIGIOUS SCHOLAR: Well, I think it's a little bit more complicated than that. Partly is has to do with the fact that

only about 1 percent of the population of the United States is Muslim.

And according to polls, less than 40 percent of Americans claim to have ever met a Muslim. And that's certainly quite different in a place

like the U.K., which is much more multicultural, has a lot larger Muslim, a lot older Muslim presence than we have here in the United States.

And frankly, that's an incredibly important factor because relationships have a huge role to play in sort of dismissing the kinds of

blanket statements and generalizations that have become such a part of the rhetoric about Islam in the modern world today.

AMANPOUR: Reza, just let me ask you because I want to play a clip of an interview that you actually had on CNN, CNN that's only shown in the

United States. And whereas the majority of American Muslims identify themselves as moderate and tolerant, the impression that's given on the

news shows is quite the opposite.

Let's just listen to this clip for a second.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your point is that Muslim countries are not to blame. There is nothing particular, there's no common thread in Muslim

countries; you can't paint with a broad brush. It's somehow their justice system or sharia law or what they're doing in terms of stoning and female

mutilation is different than in other countries, like Western countries?

AZLAN: Stoning and mutilation and those barbaric practices should be condemned and criticized by everyone. The actions of individuals and

societies and countries like Iran, like Pakistan, like Saudi Arabia, must be condemned because they don't belong in the 21st century.

But to say Muslim countries, as though Pakistan and Turkey are the same, as though Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are the same.


AMANPOUR: So, Reza, that was a month ago, you on CNN. And this debate is still being had, that this sort of broad brush is being painted.

Do you think some of it is because there is very little foreign or international news on American television these days? People don't really

have a broad -- a broad sort of pool to look into?

AZLAN: I think that has a large part to do with it. I think it's inherent to American media. Look, someone once said that if the only thing

you knew -- so the media only reports on the plane that crashes, not the planes that take off. So if the only thing that you knew about planes was

what you saw on the media, you would assume that every plane crashes. That's just the nature of the media.

Its purpose is to take very complex, complicated, multiperspective issues and to filter them down into the most simplistic, usually two-

perspective issues so that it can be easily disseminated so that we can get to the commercial and sell you whatever product that we're trying to sell


That's how the media works. And it's understandable. But I think the real issue here is the way that people with a public personal, people like

Bill Maher or like Sam Harris, for that matter, just seem to mimic the same kind of media simplistic rhetoric to a much larger audience and more

destructively pretend to do so in the name of the -- as the clip that you showed, the hundreds of millions of Muslims who don't take their faith


What that does is actually create a much more dangerous situation, because if we are going to confront Islamic extremism, which is a very

real, very dangerous thing, what we need is those hundreds of millions of Muslims who do not share those values, those ideologies to be at the very

front line of this. And all we're doing with our rhetoric is essentially dismissing them, alienating them.

AMANPOUR: So to you, then, Yasmin, because clearly as Reza pointed out, there are problems. There are problems in some of the more extreme


How do you counter that?

But how do you also -- you, the sort of moderate, how do you -- do you have any effect on the radicalization here in England, for instance?

ALIBHAI-BROWN: You know, 10 -- even six months ago, I would have not said this. But I fear that -- and I would say to Reza that many of us

perhaps are failing to realize the penetration, not of the violence of ISIL or ISIS, but of the -- of some of the Wahhabi doctrine that has really

penetrated in the middle classes in the U.K., across Europe, in North America. And this idea that all we have is hatred directed at us, that's

point number one. We have to look at this now and not -- I am not fully able to say the way I did once that the majority of Muslims don't think

like this, because I fear that many of them have started to believe some of this. And the other point to -- we in Britain, thankfully, do talk about

the way our governments have nurtured this, have nurtured this by never, ever looking at what Saudi Arabia was up to, for example.

So our dialogue now is becoming much deeper in terms of could America and the U.K. and European countries have stopped this kind of penetration?

And in my view, they could have.

AMANPOUR: Reza, what have we done wrong, so to speak?

I mean, first of all, that thing that Sam Harris said, basically suggests that you can only be a self-hating Muslim to be a good Muslim.

AZLAN: Yes. Yes, Sam Harris is apparently the expert on what it means to be a Muslim and what it doesn't mean.

Look, I think this is a very important issue that Yasmin brings up here, is that there is a kind of virus, Salafism, Wahhabism, that has

infected a large swath of the Muslim world. And that has been quite deliberately done. I understand Prince Alwaleed's desire to not want to

bring up the past to talk about the present, but the past matters because it is still very much the present. And the United States, the British

government have done very little to actually counter this sort of infectious Saudi ideology, particularly in the poorer places in the world,

like in South Asia, in Afghanistan and parts of the Middle East.

But at the same time, what we need to do is empower the enormous majority of voices in the Muslim world who are fighting back against this


Listen, if ISIS calls itself Muslim, it's Muslim. All you have to do is say you're a Muslim and you're a Muslim. If they say that they're

acting based on their ideas of what Islam is, let's take their word for it.

But the fact of the matter is is that the people that ISIS are killing are Muslim. The people that are fighting back against ISIS are Muslim. And

so the Islamic identity of ISIS doesn't really say anything about Islam as a religion.

So what we need to do is make sure that this is a much larger but not as loud voices of Islam that they are empowered to actually push back, not

just against these horrific actions, but as Yasmin says, against the very ideology that fuels these kinds of actions.

AMANPOUR: And just a last word to you, do you believe it when Prince Alwaleed says we've stopped all this?

ALIBHAI-BROWN: No. Of course not. Of course not. I have -- I know they haven't. I know where the funding is going into schools, into

mosques, into communities. And of course not. But you know, they do what they do because they weren't stopped and they aren't being stopped now.

And I fear that even when I once used to think had progressive ideas about Islam are now thinking that they have to give all that up and become


AMANPOUR: A lot to still be done on this issue.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Reza Azlan, thank you so much for joining me.

Thank you.

So as we just heard, painting all Muslim countries with the same brush is just like mixing apples and oranges, to pile on and mix up our cliches.

Take Saudi Arabia, which we've just been speaking about. Non-democratic, no suffrage for women, ruled by the same royal family for close to a

century. It is totally different in Indonesia, where women can vote and work and drive and democracy has taken hold and today in the world's most

populous Muslim country, Joko Widodo, a former furniture maker turned local mayor, has been sworn in as the nation's third freely election Indonesian


And up next, how can Muslims combat ISIS perhaps? By laughing at them, as its territory's being gobbled up, one Iraqi television show is

aiming to do just that -- after a break.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, the fight against ISIS is not only being fought on the streets of Kobani and the outskirts of Baghdad, as

we've learned tonight, it's also an ideological battle being fought in the hearts and minds of ordinary people.

But imagine a world in which it's also being fought online through the #NotInOurName hashtag campaign on social media, where ordinary Muslims

stood up to deny ISIS the legitimacy of their faith, using just one bold image.

But while there is nothing funny about the threat of ISIS as we know, in Iraq, humor is being used as a weapon of war against Islamic State.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): A new Iraqi TV comedy called "State of Superstition" aims to tear a strip off ISIS by making fun of them. For

example, here's their parody of an ISIS news service, the Blood Broadcasting Corporation or BBC.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Hello and welcome, dear Islamic State and infidels. Here is today's news of mayhem, Hamoudi Abou El

Asswak, and my sister and fellow journalist. Thank you.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): So for the actors involved, their work is an important part of the war on ISIS as well.

TAHA ALWAN, IRAQI ACTOR (from captions): They, in word and deed, are bloodthirsty. Their only message is one of blood, killing people, killing

the innocent.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Now like all parody, this show has a serious message. The bloody end to each episode, where ISIS leader, the self-

styled caliph, Abu Baker al-Baghdadi, turns his guns on his own followers, a reminder that this violent and nihilistic ideology can only end in self-


And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always watch the show online at, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.