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Saudi Softpower vs. Zion-Iran Media: When King Salman Holds The Flag, The Muslim Ummah Rallies Around Him

14 April 2016

By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

''Are you Saudi?'' asked the man seated next to me on the plane from London to Paris. I confirmed offering my hand.

''I am Tunisian living in Paris,'' he introduced himself, with a warm smile.

''I fondly remember an exhibition titled 'Saudi Arabia: Yesterday and Today,' in London, decades ago,'' he went on. ''I was a college student then, visiting the exhibition with a group of non-Arabs colleagues.''

''I can't tell you how impressed I was, as I hovered over the Haram model, and cried before the Kaaba cover,'' the man replayed his experience with misty eyes. ''That day was a good day to be an Arab and Muslim. I almost pretended to be Saudi as I took my colleagues in a group tour around the exhibition. I showed them with much flair the amazing development projects you built road networks, airports, ports, universities and brand-new industrial cities.

''To be frank, I wasn't always impressed by or cared for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. For a long while, I believed what your adversaries, Arabs and Westerns, said about you. I did buy into the notion that we have a share to claim in your oil resources, because it was a God-sent fortune for all Arabs, not just the Bedouins of Arabia. And because you tend to waste them! Unfortunately, some of you proved them right. Summer in Europe is a showoff time for many wealthy Saudis and Gulf people. The media here love to print such abnormal behaviors, and the Western public think those backward individuals represent all of you,'' he advised.

''After the exhibition, the lectures I attended, and the discussions I had with Saudi academics, journalists and professionals, I knew better. The few who misbehave here do not represent the majority of decent, educated and reasonable Saudis. And what you managed to achieve in few decades, the rest of us couldn't do in a century. It is just you prefer to work in silence, and we go for fanfare,'' he pointed out.

''Your modesty might be acceptable in a prefect world. But it isn't fair that some Arab and international media are saying awful things about you and you keep your mouths shut. You need to talk, you need to show, you need to explain. It is media age. Iran, Israel and Islam's enemies are using all their propaganda tools to win the argument. Isn't it about time you fought back?'' my Tunisian bother concluded.

True, we are failing the media test. I visited countries where building a new high school calls for celebrations and media fanfare. We are the world's biggest producer of seawater desalination, and I bet most of the globe population doesn't know about it. The same could be said about many record-breaking achievements that even Saudis don't hear much about.

When I participated in in the Saudi Cultural Week in Algeria (1984), I saw what the Tunisian brother was talking about and appreciated what he was calling for. Within a week, 150 Saudi intellectuals managed to visit almost every city and town, reached millions of hearts and minds, and corrected much of the wrong perception and misconceptions about Saudi Arabia and what we stand for. Six thousand had attended the closing ceremony in Algiers, singing and dancing with our singers and folklore bands.

We do have successful media houses, like MBC Group, and Saudi Research and Marketing Company, dominating Arab skies, airwaves and print. We need to have similar success with the rest of the world. Iran has tens of Arabic satellite channels, we have none in Farsi. Except for Aljazeera English, our media language is only Arabic. Long ago, our international cultural weeks and exhibitions have stopped.

Our job would be made easier by the fact that we have a unique spot in every Arab and Muslim heart. When King Salman holds the flag, the Muslim Ummah rallies around him. When the Imam of Al-Haram leads prayers in Bangladesh, Indonesia or India, millions pray behind him. The world realizes the spiritual and leadership status we enjoy, and needs to know if we deserve it. And people need to see us as we are, not as shown on tabloids and adversarial media.

The problem is we don't have unity of command and responsibility, here. We need a project owner that would coordinate the works of all concerned departments. I believe the Ministry of Culture and Information should play that role in collaboration with the ministries of Islamic Affairs, Education, and Foreign Affairs, together with King Abdulaziz Centre for Dialogue.

To win the case in the court of global public opinion, ladies and gentlemen, soft power is the name of the game!

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi


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