I held discussions with ordinary people, politicians and top-level movers and shakers, but was disappointed by how few have any grasp of our positions on the global stage. I concluded that this sorry state of affairs is not their fault, it is ours. We have neglected to use modern tools to put our messages across.
Public opinion in America is largely shaped by the media, which is more opinion-centric than focused on neutral reporting. Mainstream television networks and newspapers give stories a lick of paint according to their political persuasion. Note, for instance, the massive disparity in how CNN and Fox News handle news such as the Florida school shooting in which 17 young people died: CNN’s anchors called for gun control, while Fox News — aligned with the National Rifle Association — cited the mental illness of the shooter.
In the same way that the American left and right vie with each other on air, online and in print to influence minds, some countries, among them the smallest and weakest, are sufficiently media-savvy to manipulate US opinion at all levels. They flood popular talk shows with their political emissaries and inject massive funds into media campaigns, self-promotion via advertisements or even sponsorships, and public relations and lobbying firms.
The same goes for groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, whose leaders have been photographed visiting the White House, the Department of State and the UK’s House of Commons as part of their efforts to persuade high-level officials that theirs is a benign organization, when — as we are only too well aware in this part of the world — just the opposite is true.
For more than half a century Israel and its American backers have perfected the art of manipulating minds via Hollywood movies depicting Jewish immigrants to Palestine as courageous pioneers. Conversely, Arabs are almost always portrayed in a negative light. After a decades-long drip feed of indoctrination, no wonder the majority of Americans are more supportive of Israelis than Palestinians.
Is it not beyond time that our GCC leaderships took the power of the media with the seriousness it deserves? Whether or not we agree with all aspects of American foreign policy, the reality is that we need the US to be in our camp diplomatically, economically and militarily if we are ever attacked.
Let us not forget that former US President George H.W. Bush’s determined response to Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 saved the day. I should add that it was thanks to the pressure heaped on the UK, France and Israel by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during the 1956 Suez Crisis, besides fierce Egyptian resistance, that British, French and Israeli troops were forced to withdraw from Egyptian soil.
We are in no position to push back against the scurrilous, propagandist attacks of our enemies, and we have no meaningful platforms on which to effectively counter fake news with truth.
Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor
As things stand, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, including my own homeland the UAE, are in no position to push back against the scurrilous, propagandist attacks of our enemies. We have no meaningful platforms on which to effectively counter fake news with truth; perhaps because we naively believed that righteousness would be recognized by the people who count.
I fail to understand why we have not sought to establish international satellite channels broadcasting around the world in English. Although news networks in Arabic abound, as well as English-language channels covering local news and entertainment — apart from one that works against our collective interests — there are none capable of attracting a substantial American viewership. This should be step one.
Step two should involve mega movie productions and documentaries aimed at displaying the finest aspects of our culture, heritage, modern achievements and philanthropic endeavors.
Step three requires extensive diplomatic networking, the use of professional PR consultancies, advertorials, opinion editorials, sports sponsorships, charitable works and use of social media.
In brief, we need to use the Western media to our advantage to show the world all the good that we do in terms of fighting terrorism and eradicating extremist ideologies, as well as the challenges we are battling to overcome in a region unsettled by sectarian violence, proxy wars and poverty under the dark shadow of the greatest terrorist sponsor, Iran.
I would like to shine a light on the UAE, which is a haven of stability, a template for those parts of our Arab world currently in distress; it is a place where people of all ethnicities live and work in security.
Let us shout out loud our successes. Let Americans see who we really are and where we aspire to be. Let us speak the language America speaks through all relevant media. There is no time to delay while others are intent on working the system against us. In the current climate, it is not enough to be right. We must be transparent, clear and — most of all — heard.
• Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure.