Published in Arab News on Thursday, October 22, 2009
Well-known columnist, prominent businessman and Shoura Council member Najeeb Al-Zamil has urged his fellow countrymen to open a channel of communication with expatriates in order to improve the image of Saudis.
“Now is the time to be honest about ourselves. Yes, we Saudis suffer as a result of media manipulation and Western stereotypes, but then, why is it that we are misunderstood and hated by people living among us?” he asked recently during an exclusive interview with Arab News.
“These expatriates who have come here to make a living and to improve their lives — why do they not like us? Things are so bad that if you are Saudi and you smile, people get confused. ‘Are you sure you are Saudi?’ they ask. And if you tell them, ‘Yes I am a Saudi,’ they say: ‘No, come on! Maybe your mother is from Palestine or Sri Lanka or Africa.’ This is because Saudis are known for always putting on a grim face. Of course we cannot control the global media. But why do these people who work and live among us, why do they have this bad opinion of us? Why? I am a businessman. Expatriates who work for me — they see me more than their wives or their families back home, and yet they don’t like us.”
Al-Zamil says this requires some serious consideration on the part of Saudis. “We have to think about this rotten state of affairs. If you are a doctor, then you cannot heal a patient or treat him unless you have correctly diagnosed the problem or the disease. The problem is with us — with our attitude,” he said.
“I can’t blame expatriates for having an incorrect opinion of us. This disease afflicts me, and so I need the medication. I have to initiate something to rectify the situation. Correct diagnosis led us to the discovery that people don’t like us because they don’t know us, and they don’t know us because we have put walls around us. They (the expatriates) are living on an island. We haven’t made any effort to reach out to them. We haven’t created bridges to get to their islands, and because they don’t know us, they have all kinds of things in their mind. They think that beyond their islands live monsters. They all have vague ideas about us; they are afraid of us. To them, we are mysterious people.”
Al-Zamil recently announced the creation of an informal forum called the Saudi-Expat Forum. He offered the facilities of Al-Zamil House, which has hosted many debates and discussions on a range of topics of local, national and international interest, as the staging center for this forum. “This forum is to encourage Saudis to open their doors to communicate, to engage the expatriates — to allay their fears. They are in our country; they are in our society; they are our guests. We should show them generosity. We should tell them we are modest. We should demonstrate our modesty,” he said.
What Al-Zamil says about Saudis can also be true of expatriates. Most of them have been living in Saudi Arabia for ages and have made no effort whatsoever to reach out to Saudis, to speak their language ... These expatriates are not aware of the local culture and make no efforts to make friends with Saudis. What does Al-Zamil say to that?
“The problem is we don’t encourage them. We have never encouraged them. If I go to India or Pakistan, people make an effort to get to know me. Expatriates have been here for so long, and we have not made the effort to know them, to understand their problems, to communicate with them on a human level. Since they are in our country, we have to make the effort. Let me be honest: Saudis suffer from attitudinal problems. Many of us think, ‘Oh they have come here to work. They are workers; they are beneath us.’”
Al-Zamil doesn’t use the word racism, but he says this attitude prevails everywhere. “It happens in Germany. It happens in America. In Germany, Asians are berated and sometimes insulted. However, in their case, their feeling of superiority is understandable. The world admires the Germans for their Mercedes, BMWs, Audis and Volkswagens. They have technology. They have machines. What do we Saudis have? Nothing — only ourselves as human beings.”
He said Saudi elitism was something neither the Kingdom nor its citizens needed. “This attitudinal change occurred a few decades ago. A conscious effort was made to drill into our psyche that we Saudis are different, that we are the best, that we are special people, that we don’t need to work. This work is for that Indian and that Pakistani or that Bangladeshi to do. I don’t have to work. I am Saudi. I have to be the boss, nothing else. We were taught such stuff for decades.”
It is a fact demonstrated by some of the Kingdom’s economic statistics. “Who would believe that we have unemployment? That is precisely because our people don’t want to work. Islam encourages people to work hard. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said a working hand is much better than an idle hand and that an idle hand will only unite with evil. Work is sacred. Work is divine. Saudis have to change.
“They have to lead from the front and let these expatriates know us better so they will go and bat for us and speak for us. If we beat our own chest, nobody will believe us. It is when others say good things about us that the image will change,” Al-Zamil said.