Last night I went to see a film in Jeddah. This, in itself, is unusual as there are no cinemas in Saudi Arabia (although there is talk that they are in the pipeline). It was on the roof of the Jeddah Cultural Exchange Centre” (http://www.jcec.com.sa/) and was also organised by the lovely Susie of Arabia (http://susieofarabia.wordpress.com)
The film was the Aramco Brat’s Story (http://bratstory.com), which had been billed as a look at expats at Aramco, and their attitudes towards Saudi Arabia, and whether perceptions of the kingdom are true. This, it was, for about 20 minutes of the film…the rest could’ve been anywhere and was basically a look at American life in a compound. This was actually kind of interesting to me as I have never set foot in a compound. As expected, life didn’t appear to be too different from life anywhere in the west. Perhaps because of this the Americans interviewed didn’t have a bad word to say about Saudi Arabia. Admittedly I agree with the idea that western perceptions of the kingdom are wrong, but anyone who believes things are as wonderful as the director makes out is clearly deluded.
The most hilarious part of the film came when an all-american blonde stated: “I think being brainwashed is just…um….really….stupid”. The director claimed he wanted to present an unbiased opinion of what KSA is like (unlike the news networks), yet ended up with a sickly sweet homage to America and Saudi Arabia (including pictures of Bush and King Abdulaziz together, set to cutesy piano music).
The film, as well as being a very interesting propaganda exercise by whoever payed for it, also gave me a chance to meet Susie…who is basically a Jeddah-celebrity. She informed me that, while I was away in Lebanon last week, the King had passed a decree allowing single men into malls (providing they behave themselves). This is actually quite a radical step and although it’s difficult anticipate good behaviour, the best way to learn is through trying. Much like the idea of women driving, the only way for men to get used to it is for it to happen (see my previous post). Susie and I agreed that the King is doing good things, step by step, and challenging the religious establishment. We just have to hope he stays in good health long enough to see things through.
In other propaganda news, I’m currently reading The Arab Lobby by Mitchell Bard, a response to the Israel Lobby. I feel I should point out somewhere that I in no way agree with the contents of this book, and if any muttawa find it on me I am not a supporter of Israel! I think this ranks as the most ridiculous book I’ve ever read…consisting of ways in which Arabists have influenced the US government to side against Israel. The argument against this should start and end with a simple look at Israel and the support and power it has been given by the US. The book does, however, have a point to make about the US-Saudi relationship…but it is not a new point.
The other ridiculous element of the book is the belief that everyone in the Arab world and every lobby group for Arabs is Anti-Semitic. NO! They are anti-Israel! That said, there are many Arabs who are genuinely anti-semitic. Bard argues against the ridiculous notion of the Arab lobbyists that the creation of Israel would result in the hatred of the Arab world (I’m yet to get to the point where he realises that this has happened, that the Arabists were right, yet ignored, and his whole argument falls on it’s face).
When I first came to Egypt several years ago, I was slightly shocked to see how many copies of Mein Kampf were on sale. I, myself, own one but this doesn’t make me a Nazi. Yet you never see it displayed in London bookshops, or hear people talking of their respect for the Nazis. One of my students once said “I love Hitler. What can you tell me about him?” I told him that he had killed 6 million Jews in horrific circumstances. When I realised that this was the reason why my student loved him, I explained that a) Israel probably wouldn’t exist if Hitler wasn’t around and b) if my student had lived in Germany in the 40s he, and his family, would’ve been on the train with the Jews of his town.
He went on to say that he still loved Hitler but he “didn’t know why”. Bard suggests brainwashing takes place in the Saudi school system. I have no idea whether this is true, and not many of my students express any admiration for the Nazis.
To bring things full circle, Bard does make the valid point that many oil companies were (and still, indirectly are) supporting discriminatory practices of the Saudi Kingdom (although some would later go on to challenge them) including….being banned from hiring Jews. Funnily enough the Aramco Brats story didn’t mention this part of their history.
“By the skillful and sustained use of propaganda, one can make a people see even heaven as hell or an extremely wretched life as paradise” – Adolf Hitler
(PS – I am NOT a Nazi)