Friends of Saudi Arabia in US
TWO decades ago, a good-natured elderly Saudi man arrived at Ogden, Utah, US, to receive medical treatment at one of its hospitals. His son was studying at Weber State College (now a university). Being in a foreign land, the elderly Saudi received a very good medical care and proper attention. Responding to this humane treatment, he started giving away money and gifts to nurses and this become the talk of the town. Now, the perception is probably different.
The nurses were trying to find an explanation for the handouts given to them for a job they were supposed to perform with utmost care — treating a sick person regardless of his country of origin or nationality. They contacted Dr. Bingham, who was called "Sheikh Bingham" by Saudi students and he explained to them that those handouts were a gesture of appreciation of their good medical services.
Perhaps the actual geographical and cultural distance — at that time — created a sense of alienation, and ultimately the human mental processing divided the universe and the actual nature of people into "us and them." This makes the basis of good/bad, east/west, or white/black.
Of course, the good is associated with (us) and the bad is associated with the others (them). Alternatively, the same concept could be applied to the rest of the issues. This is a universal phenomenon. Most of the people do not expect the others (them) to be good as (us), and if the others prove to be good, their acts are seen with suspicion.
Intrinsically, people are born with good nature, but as they grow up, they might continue to be good or become the opposite. Because of those mental structural binaries, the good humanistic gesture only comes from the good (us), and when it comes from the other (them), some of (us) might either question it or admire it. The other is like (us).
In 2005, a group of US citizens, led by Dr. Michael Saba, formed a group called "Friends of Saudi Arabia." Prince Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, now deputy foreign minister, Delano Roosevelt and Neil Bush patronized its first function. Also, hundreds of prominent US citizens from all walks of life attended. They were enthusiastic about strengthening multifaceted relationships between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Most important was that they had sincere intentions.
What was so special about that event was the attendance of tens of early Aramco's retirees who first worked on oil exploration in Saudi Arabia and other US citizens from several major companies. They had come from distant states of the US to attend the function in Miami, Florida. For the good old time's sake, they had come on their own volition, paid for their air tickets, hotels and food.
Among those who attended were Stephen Furman and Timothy Barger. Steve authored a book entitled "Dhahran Fables: Fiesta Room Tales" and Tim set up Selwa Press, which is a publishing house dedicated to "discovering early Arabia."
In paper books and digital formats, Selwa Press documents and distributes the history and culture of our country among the US population. Those history books constitute the crux of Saudi Arabia's modern history.
Among these books are, “Ibn Saud: King by Conquest” by Nestor Sander; “Discovery! The Search for Arabian Oil,” by Wallace Stegner; “Out in the Blue: Letters from Arabia 1937-1940”; “Burning Issues: Understanding and Misunderstanding the Middle East- A 40-Year Chronicle”; “Revolt in the Desert”; “The Arab War”; and the latest book is “Underground in Arabia.”
Moreover, this entity shouldered the burden of spreading Saudis’ creative literary work, such as “The Unfurling,” poems by Nimah Nawwab. With respect to culture, it produced digital videos on Arabian horses and Saudi artifacts.
Selwa publishing business is small, and surely not a very profitable one. It only shows a personal commitment and a gratitude for those childhood's memories of the place they loved — Saudi Arabia.
Yes, we do have good US friends, and we should cherish and strengthen our friendship with them by building bridges of continuous communication and organizing frequent functions.
- Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Zuhayyan is a Saudi academician based in Riyadh. This article is exclusive to Arab News.