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‘Saudi Arabia Highest Giver of Aid Per Capita’

MUSCAT, 12 January 2005 — A mighty and powerful Arab media. That is in short, the one and only answer to “media monsters” of the West, who have been constantly polluting and poisoning Western minds and even propagating “Islamaphobia” (among them), a top Arab journalist said here yesterday. In fact, this was one among many thoughts, ideas and information that Khaled Almaeena, editor in chief of Arab News, highlighted in his illuminating lecture, “Saudi Arabia Pre- and Post-9/11” at the Press Club here on Monday. The lecture, Almaeena’s first in Oman, was organized by the Times of Oman and was attended by some top dignitaries, including ambassadors, embassy officials and other key Omani officials. The lecture focused on how Saudi Arabia has coped with terrorism and the talks also highlighted the Saudi role in developing the interests of the Arab world. The animated and lively session proved to be quite interactive. The audience, who were quite stimulated by the frank and fair presentation by Almaeena, raised some unusual and intellectual questions, which were rendered full justice by the region’s top political analyst. In fact, Almaeena, in response to a pertinent query by veteran journalist Arif Ali on this subject of the Arab world’s urgent need to set up its own powerful media, agreed that in an era of “might is right”, the onus was on them to bring out their own official mouthpiece. This could be done in the form of an electronic media, strong enough to convey the free and frank Arab message to the world and perhaps also serve as a ready rejoinder to the damaging antics of the Western media. Agreeing that the Arab world did not have a media force to reckon with, the seasoned columnist said: “Instead of wallowing in self-pity and crying that the West is out to get us and that the ‘New York Times is out to kill us’, we should have a world-class media.” Almaeena added: “Instead of wasting time, watching 127 Arab TV channels where all half-naked girls are singing and dancing all the time… instead of spending and investing too much money in that we should try and have our own powerful media.” The tragedy was that, “we don’t even have one good TV station (in English)!” he said. Decrying the fact that the Western media portrayed the Arab world — especially Saudi Arabia — in an unjust and totally negative manner, Almaeena pointed out that on many occasions even the achievements of the Arab world were buried in the usual media hype and negative rhetoric that has finally managed to drive a wedge between Arab-West relations. There was a time when the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia, enjoyed good relations with the West, but the media has totally soured up that relation. And the Sept. 11 incident only cemented this wrong notion that the Arab world was constantly plotting to destroy the Western world. He said today the Arab world was ready to reach out to the Western world and bridge the gap between them. “The Arab world wants to stretch out its/our hands — for we too are human beings like you,” he said in the earlier part of his lecture. “The message to the West is that we, in the Arab world, would like to be partners. But, we want friends, not masters.” He admitted that the Arab world was not disputing the fact that they had also done their own share of mistakes. But, he stressed that the mistake of a handful of people should not be blamed on the Arab world. While the tragedy and horror of Sept. 11 cannot be wiped out, one should not paint all of Saudi Arabia with the same brush. Highlighting many instances where the media played a major role in distorting facts and painting a ghastly image of the Arab world, especially Palestinians, he said that the media should not always be taken “at face value”. A classic example of bad media portrayal of the Arab world, including Saudi Arabia, was in the wake of the recent tsunami disaster in South and Southeast Asia. The media circus went wild accusing the Arab world — especially Saudi Arabia — of being stingy. “But, if we take the example of Saudi Arabia, the truth is that the country (per GDP) was the highest giver of aid.” He also highlighted earlier in the lecture on how Sept. 11 changed everything. How the Western world suddenly seemed to view countries like Saudi Arabia as a fount of terror, and from a country that was “the darling of the US”, it became a monster, which seemed to prey on innocents. But, Almaeena stressed, citing many examples, why this ugly image that Saudi Arabia had in the Western world and the bad press it has received so far need to be wiped out. However, he was quick to point out that even though “we don’t hate America, we are upset by American foreign policy,” which he said, was “lopsided”. He also stressed that there would be no peace in the Middle East unless the Palestinian problem was settled. But, in response to a question whether he agreed that the Palestinians were only reacting to the damage done to them, he said: “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” He said by fighting fire with fire did not gain anyone anything. “We should adopt a different strategy,” he said, indicating peaceful means as a method of solving all such problems. He also dismissed the notion that the Saudi men and women folk were actually urging their young to fight battles, while in reality, the “Saudi parents would like to have their children learn computers, learn English”. Almaeena also stressed that “no cause is so great that can justify the killing of 3,000 innocents” referring again to Sept. 11. There was a great need for change, he said and “not cosmetic change — but real change,” he said in relation to Saudi Arabia. But if there were faults, the solution, Almaeena said, is within. “Reforms,” he said, “was not something that was available in the supermarket. “A dialogue within Islam needs to be done and that will be the beginning of the road to change.” The main area of change in Saudi society was the issue of accountability. “What we need to improve in Saudi society is accountability,” he said. “Our people need to aspire to greater heights.” On an optimistic note, Almaeena said that the future looked bright, “provided we rise up to the occasion and tackle the issues that need to be tackled”.


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