Sunday, January 18, 2004

A Confession to America

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

In a meeting with a Congressional delegation visiting Jeddah, I admitted to some of them that we owe the world some overdue explanations. I said that first, we do have problems with our educational system. Yes, some books, teachers, imams, and writers instill uncertainty and fan fears of those who are different from us. Our isolationists, just like yours, would like to keep us indoors, away from you and everyone else including our next-door neighbors.
This is a problem that has been with us for generations and has been growing worse for the last twenty years. Thank God, we are finally tackling it. One of the most important recommendations of our National Dialogue Forum is to rethink and redesign our curriculum on a more tolerant, worldly, scientific and practical basis. We need graduates who know how to do things rather than how to philosophize and advance theories about man’s relationship with God. Yes, we need to keep the hereafter in mind but we also urgently need to help ourselves in the here and now.
Second, we must open ourselves up to the world. Our visa process should be more hospitable to investors, tourists, students and visitors of all faiths, races and nationalities. How else can we convince the world of our goodness and progress if the only proof we present is paid TV commercials?
Third, we have to learn how to communicate. Unless we, the silent majority, find our voices and present our case to the world, certain self-appointed representatives, the extremists on our left and right, will have the stage all to themselves. Their captive audience in America and elsewhere will see us either as anti-western or more western than the west itself.
Fourth, our media must act more responsibly and be more sensitive to those who are different from the majority. It is obvious that our traditional rhetoric has failed us and it is high time we realized its failure. We need a better understanding of others, and to make better use of available communication to present our case. To get us right, we shouldn’t expect the world to go the extra mile to see through our shouts and cries.
In a couple of hours I became friends with Alan Makovsky and David Abramowitz of the US House of Representatives, and as we hugged goodbye, we realized that all we need is for our peoples to talk to each other. The rest, I assure you, will be New History.

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