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Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Why Arabs Fail To Influence Americans
By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim This commentary was published in The Arab News on 07/06/2011
The first thing I have noticed about the US from my first day of arrival at the end of October, 1974 is that, it is an open political and social play ground for everyone to play.
All you have to do is just show up and play. And if the American people like your style, then you would win their hearts regardless of where you come from, provided that you play against any team without prejudice. They can hire you at NASA and send you to the Moon if you are fit to do it. And you can be a presidential security guard if you can be trusted.The Israelis knew this, but the Arabs didn't.
I have noticed during my stay that, the American people have the best listening ears. And I have seen photos of the American billionaire listing to poor sick kids in India and saw top American professors playing tennis with exchange students. In early 1975, I had a seven-minute chat with former first lady, Lady Bird Johnson. In the US, talking to people is very important public relations for foreign countries and this is something the Arabs never understood. The Israelis took full advantage of it, but the Arabs didn't. Arabs are very suspicious or have no confidence. Maybe we are not used to speak freely.
Arab officials come to Washington and meet officials and never think about visiting a college in the American countryside or meet their fellow American Arabs. And to my amazement, any Arab official wouldn't give a lecture if there is an Israeli official present —even if it is a medical or science conference that talks about new medicine or new discovery that saves and help humans. The irony is that the same Arab medical staff would use the medicine that those Israelis have developed. This is bad public relations from the start.
We, the Arabs didn't know how to handle the strength of the American media and to take advantage of how liberal the media are. Is it because Arab officials care about their personal interest rather their own people? Or is it because some Arab officials are exposed to avenues of corruption and human rights abuse? We never saw an Arab official on meet the press. Can you imagine Muammar Qaddafi setting next to former Ohio senator and astronaut John Glenn and talk about achievements for the world? What did the Israelis do in the US? They simply talked to the American people first.
I came across the name of the current Israeli prime minister in the 70s when I read the story of the Netanyahu operation in Entebbe where Benjamin's brother was killed. And from that day Benjamin Netanyahu was present in the American media. And during the invasion of Kuwait, he was part of CNN. And on May, 24, 2011 he was getting more standing ovation than the president of the United Sates when he was giving his speech to the US Congress. And my question is, why was he able to overwhelm the Congress? I think, because he started to study the American mind and he took advantage of it. He lived in the US and knew how to play their games. At the same time, there are millions of Arabs who lived in the US, but unfortunately they stood idle and spent days and nights complaining about Jewish organizations such as AIPAC and never thought of integrating into the American life and politics. Egyptian President Anwar Saddat had an open channel to the American media. He became a very close friend to Walter Cronkite, a very influential media figure. But, what did the Egyptians do to their president? They assassinated him.
We have 22 Arab states and we complain of why the Israelis over took the helm in the American media. The Arabs couldn't have an organized public relations with the world. There are a lot of congressmen and congresswomen who would like to see an Arab figure to speak to the American Congress, but the figure must have charisma, language skills and international track record of achievements and it is important that he has a relationship with his own people back home. The Arabs must be present in the international arena, but they must fix things at home first before talking to the outside world. The world will not listen to a leader who has billions in their vaults while poverty is widespread in his country and the world will not listen to a leader who orders his air force to bomb his own cities. When Netanyahu went to the playground, he already knew the cheering crowd before he knew the referee. The crowd is the Congress and the referee is Barack Obama.
Abdulateef Al-Mulhim is commodore (retired), Royal Saudi Navy.