America should laugh with the Kingdom, not scowl
We learned many lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic, the most important of which is that life is precious and every second of it should be prized and not wasted on idleness. We also learned that humanity’s fragility should not be assumed — that as human beings we can survive adversity and marshal our ingenuity to combat the threats that challenge us.
The Kingdom’s leadership did just that during the pandemic, so now we can afford to say, with pride and pleasure, that we are in the post-corona era. It was a collective effort by the leadership, government officials, medical staff, academics, the business community, police officers, and — most important — the citizens who disciplined themselves to follow the medical advice given to them and stick to it. Kudos to each one.
While many challenges face us in the post-corona era, I am amused by the brouhaha in the US media about a Saudi TV comedy sketch that took the mickey out of President Joe Biden. Commentators and pundits have taken umbrage, saying it was insulting, that it showed the Kingdom was not a friend of the US, that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was getting back at Biden for the president’s refusal to meet him and his release of the CIA document about the Khashoggi killing, that it was an insult to the American people, and so on; truly an amazing reaction.
It shows how thin skinned American media is, notwithstanding how that media has treated our leadership, our people and our faith. The portrayal of Arabs and Muslims in comedy, drama, adventure and fantasy fiction goes beyond insults and denigration. The caricatures are reminiscent of how Jews are shown in antisemitic material. An Arab-Muslim character usually elicits derision and disgust, with an evil sneer on his face, a dagger around his waist, an unkempt white robe, a straggly beard and piercing eyes with a dark shadow around them.
There’s usually a spouting oil well near him, harem girls at his feet, and a camel or two behind him. I remember an episode of a popular American TV series a few years back in which a female US secretary of state browbeats the presumed Saudi foreign minister into accepting her position on a Saudi infringement of human rights; the “Saudi minister” was just such a caricature, like all the Hollywood films from the 1920s until today. Derogatory references to the Kingdom and its leadership on US comedy shows are countless, from Saturday Night Live to comedians such as Stephen Colbert.
American politicians of all political persuasions shoot arrows at the Kingdom to criticize and demean.
Prince Turki Al-Faisal
As for the issue of oil production, many US commentators have alleged that the refusal of the Kingdom to expand production clearly indicates that we are using that as a leverage against the US at a time when Biden is in a bind about inflation. These commentators omit to mention that it is the war in Ukraine, Western sanctions on Russia, and Biden’s own energy policy that have contributed to the rise in oil prices.
Other recent American comments about the Kingdom and our crown prince by so-called experts and even politicians have been deliberately negative. One such luminary likened the crown prince to Icarus, the character in Greek mythology who perished after flying too close to the sun with wings of feathers and wax. If only this “expert” had taken a dispassionate look at what the crown prince actually said and did, he would not have chosen such a misleading analogy. Equally, the authors of an Atlantic magazine essay on the crown prince misrepresented what he said. Fortunately, the publication of the full transcript of the interview set the record straight.
American politicians of all political persuasions shoot arrows at the Kingdom to criticize and demean, even to the extent of calling for a carrot and stick approach to dealing with Saudi Arabia. I tell them that we are not schoolchildren who accept such chastisement or reward. Our friendship with the US stems from our shared interest in finding peace in the Middle East, combating terrorism, and challenging Iran’s aggression and its declared animosity to both of us. This is in spite of Biden’s relentless pursuit of a nuclear deal that will not only be temporary in preventing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but will also buttress the perpetual Iranian subversion of Arab countries and the launch of Iranian missiles and armed drones targeting the Kingdom.
We also share mutual benefits from the business exchanges and development projects in the Kingdom, ties that have grown over the years and will continue to grow in the years to come. Our shared human relationships stem from the continued presence of an American community in the Kingdom numbering thousands, and the presence of thousands of Saudi students in US universities.
All in all, I say to American media and other so-called experts: Laugh at the humor. For so long, we have withstood jibes at us from American media and politicians; it is only fair that you withstand our comedic jibes at you. Let us laugh together, not scowl at each other.
- Prince Turki Al-Faisal was chief of the General Intelligence Directorate, Saudi Arabia’s main foreign intelligence service, from 1977 to 2001. He was Saudi ambassador to the UK from 2002 until July 2005, and thereafter ambassador to the US until 2007. He is the founder and trustee of the King Faisal Foundation and chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies.