Saudi Crown Prince challenges false images of Arabs
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman took on the toughest four issues and questions thrown at every Arab World leader by the mainstream American news media and effectively slammed them out of the park like grand slam home run in a World Series baseball game. But Salman’s efforts were less of a game and more of a serious effort to confront the false perceptions many Americans have of Arabs
By Ray Hanania
Last week, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), shattered many of the negative stereotypes that persist in America that have defined a contentious relationship with the Arab World.
Before embarking on a tour of six American cities and meeting with White House and Congressional officials, MBS appeared on the CBS TV program “60 Minutes,” notorious as the toughest news program in the America.
The four toughest questions that Arab leaders always face but fail to answer properly undermining Arab World credibility where thrown at MBS by the reporter. But instead of ducking and dodging, MBS hit each one “out of the park” like Grand Slam home runs in an American baseball championship.
What MBS is doing is not a game, obviously. He’s about bettering the future of the Arab World and building a relationship with the West based on facts not the usual ugly fiction. MBS showed someone in the Arab World finally understands how to speak effectively to Americans to reinforce the best interests of the Arab World using strategic communications, not confrontation or disagreement.
The first question Arabs face involves the September 11, 2001 terrorism, and the fact that 15 of the 19 terrorists were Saudis.
Rather than being indignant at the question, as others often are, MBS took it head on, explaining the 15 hijackers were as much as threat to Saudi Arabia as to America and the West. He said Osama Bin Laden had a “clear objective … to create a schism between the Middle East and the West, between Saudi Arabia and the United States of America … to create an environment conducive to recruitment and spreading his radical message that the west is plotting to destroy you. Indeed, he succeeded in creating this schism in the West.”
The second question Arab leaders face is the perception that Arab women are more oppressed in the Arab World than they are in the West.
Americans conveniently forget American woman are oppressed, too. It took America 64 years to force all 50 American states to grant American women the right to vote under the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was adopted in 1920. The last of 50 states, Mississippi, ratified it only in 1984.
Native American women did not receive rights as Americans until 1924, and those rights were not fully implemented until 1948. African Americans have lived in a state of limbo in America as slaves following America’s founding through the late 1960s when laws were passed recognizing them as equals. Despite those Civil Rights laws, many Black Americans still are not treated equally.
But MBS didn’t throw that truth into American faces. Instead, MBS explained what he is doing to reverse years of restrictions imposed in 1979 after the Iranian inspired Muslim Brotherhood assault on the Grand Mosque (Masjid al Haram) in Mecca killing 255 Muslims and injuring 560 more.
MBS said in response to the 1979 attack, Saudi Arabia cracked down on many rights to confront violent extremism, including closing movie theaters, banning music and dance, and restricting the rights of Saudi women — not just banning them from driving but also expelling them from business and getting educations.
“The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men,” MBS said. “This, however, does not particularly specify a black Abaya or a black head cover. The decision is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear.”
The Saudi Arabia of the “past 40 years” is not the Saudi Arabia of today, MBS said, adding he ordered changes to allow all Saudis to live a “normal life” including allowing women to drive, re-opening movie theaters, and encouraging the Arts, music and entertainment.
O’Donnell forcefully re-asked the question, “Are women equal to men?” And MBS answered directly and without hesitation, declaring, “Absolutely. We are all human beings and there is no difference.”
The third question is always about “oppression,” human rights noted by a recent roundup MBS called measures to address “corruption.” The West has a questionable record on human rights, and civil rights, too, yet Saudi Arabia and the Arab World is held to a higher standard.
MBS explained “Saudi Arabia believes in many of the principles of human rights. In fact, we believe in the notion of human rights, but ultimately Saudi standards are not the same as American standards. I don’t want to say that we don’t have shortcomings. We certainly do. But naturally, we are working to mend these shortcomings.”
The fourth question involves the wealth of the Arab World that ignores the greater wealth of the West. “Arab wealth” is always exaggerated as obscene while “Western wealth” is associated with success and power.
It’s an amazing hypocrisy considering that on numerous lists of the world’s 50 wealthiest people, no Arabs are listed. The lists are dominated by Americans, Asians and Europeans.
Instead of engaging in argument, MBS answered with sensibility, explaining he spends 51 percent of his wealth on others, and adding, “My personal life is something I’d like to keep to myself and I don’t try to draw attention to it. If some newspapers want to point something out about it, that’s up to them. As far as my private expenses, I’m a rich person and not a poor person. I’m not Gandhi or Mandela. I’m a member of the ruling family that existed for hundreds of years before the founding of Saudi Arabia.”
Years of Western misconceptions about the Arab World won’t be immediately erased, and his appearance doesn’t minimize the serious threats the Arab World faces from Iran, or the need Saudi Arabia has for nuclear technology to replace depleting oil sources.
MBS showed he understands the one thing many Arab leaders and nations fail to understand, that strategic communications, or, how you present yourself, is significantly important to the West. “Perception is reality,” and how you say something is often more significant than what you say.
This first formal introduction of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to the American people was a World Series championship.
(Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American columnist, veteran political journalist and author of several books including “Power PR” and “Yalla! Fight Back”. Reach him through his website at www.Hanania.com. Originally published in the Arab News at ArabNews.com.)