The brutal killing of the American Paul Johnson in Riyadh once again sparked off a barrage of hate mail from the United States. Before I go further let me tell readers that I receive more hate mail from the United States than any other nation. Since Sept. 11, 2001 the tide of incoming mail horrors waxes and wanes with the amount of negative coverage the Kingdom garners from the media. The uglier the reporting about Saudi Arabia, the nastier the mail will be.
It appears to be well accepted in the United States that Saudi Arabia is guilty of causing all the world’s ills. Americans from all walks of life — young and old, educated and uneducated, rich and poor, traveled and sedentary, believe that Saudi Arabia and its people are evil. The residents of our global village need someone to blame for all the wrongs everywhere and thus the mantle of collective guilt has been forced upon Saudis and Muslims.
We have been branded terrorists. Like a ball and chain, the terrorist label has been affixed to us. Muslims are deemed guilty of all manner of criminal behavior — and no proof of innocence is ever enough. Saudis in particular have become pariahs. We can no longer attempt to study, travel or even receive medical treatment outside the Middle East without lengthy interrogation, extensive documentation and even mugshots and fingerprinting. It is no wonder that more and more Saudis prefer to turn their backs on their tormentors, rather than turning the other cheek.
And that is a mistake. Because now is the time for jihad. Ah! You are already assuming that I am about to talk of holy war. Please! Understand one point clearly. There is no such thing as a holy war. All war is miserable, filthy terror. The word “jihad” means “struggle,” and it is time for all Muslims to take up the struggle against ignorance.
We must begin to inform the world about the reality of our situation. Saudis must give people the opportunity to know our culture and history. Muslims must help those of other faiths to understand that Islam is all about peace and submission. Terrorism, murder and criminal behavior are antitheses to the norms and values of Muslim societies.
Yes, we are all sorry for the killing of Paul Johnson. However, feeling sorry is useless if our outrage is not followed by constructive action. We need to let the world know that we utterly condemn and reject such actions that are alien to our Islamic ideology. It can be quite a challenge to reply in a calm, rational manner to the vitriolic messages bombarding us over the airwaves and through the Internet, but we must.
After Johnson’s death, the hate mail poured in as expected. We, at Arab News, sent back thoughtful replies as usual. Then, from out of the blue, something wonderful happened. For the first time many Saudis sat down and of their own initiative tried to set the record straight. They wrote of their agony over the current situation. They wanted to share their ideas and feelings directly, without the muffling of the media filter.
At Arab News, our work was made easier by a few articles written by Saudis. Three essays, written boldly and with frankness, calmed hundreds of thousands of Americans. One penned by Jeddah-based businessman Zaid Al-Sulaiman and titled “An Open Letter to All Foreigners,” brought in hundreds of responses. He echoed the feeling of the majority of Saudis who appreciate the role of expatriates in the building of the Kingdom.
Dr. Ibtissam Al-Bassam’s article, “An Open Letter to Mrs. Paul Johnson” evoked a great response from both America and Europe. Her words were genuine and reflected the true nature and the empathy of Saudi women. Abdurrahman Al-Shayyal, a young post-graduate student, left no doubt about our feelings toward this inhumane act and other terror activities in his essay, “Slaughtering Our Honor.”
We noticed that after these views were published by Arab News, the hate mail from the USA subsided. In fact, people began to sympathize with the people of Saudi Arabia and many offered us moral support in our fight against terror. The letters had such great impact that Qorvis Communication, which does public relations for Saudi Arabia, asked to use Zaid Al-Sulaiman’s essay. By that time already half a million people had read it because it was being posted on websites from Florida to Alaska.
The power of the Internet is stronger than any PR campaign done by companies on a contract. The sentiments of the three writers came from their hearts and from love of their nation and religion. Their words were sincere and genuine and therefore accepted by those who moments earlier were ready to tear us to bits.
So, it is in this context that I invite any Saudi who feels that they have a message to share with the outside world to write their thoughts down and send them to us. If English is not your strong point, write in Arabic and we will translate. We will post the letters on our website for the world to see.
We have nothing to hide. Yes, we have problems, like any other country in the world, but we have the resolve and the will to solve them. I have always maintained that the image of this country can only be projected by the behavior of its women and men. We can do it by reaching out to others across the globe, speaking from the heart, stating everything as it is and standing up to be counted.
Now is the time to strive on behalf of our nation, our religion and ourselves.