Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
Thomas Friedman, in his latest article “Letter from Saudi Arabia” published in the New York Times, wrote, “Saudi Arabia is a country that is easier to write about from afar.” In his article, Friedman has explained many things about Saudi Arabia to his readers in the United States. This writer wishes to explain many other aspects of Saudi Arabia that the people in the US and other parts of the world need to know. Friedman visited the Kingdom last week. It wasn’t his first visit to the Kingdom and most likely it will not be his last. Whether he admits it or not, he likes visiting the region especially Saudi Arabia. He also loves writing about it just like so many journalists from around the world. As a matter of fact many Op-Ed writers envy Friedman and others who visit the Kingdom for the opportunities and hospitalities they receives while in the Kingdom. I have written in many articles in the Arab News that writing about Saudi Arabia generally boosts sales of a newspaper and attracts worldwide attention if the writer is somebody like Thomas Friedman. I am sure Friedman must have been aware of the opinions of many Saudis about his visit to the Kingdom. As he wrote in his article, many were not happy to see him invited to Saudi Arabia because of some of his controversial articles about the country. To be honest, I didn’t even know about the visit till I saw many of the tweets and comments about the visit. Reading between the lines, most of the people who were opposed to the visit were basically irked because they were not invited to his lecture. In other words, it was a perfect case of sour grapes. They all knew that Friedman is a widely read writer. Every writer knows that it is not easy to make everybody like his or her articles. The same goes for Friedman. Even I don’t agree with many of his analyses about the Kingdom but he is entitled to his opinion and I do respect his opinion. Since I have been following his articles for a long time, I can claim to read between the lines. His writings are usually based on concrete facts or educated guesses. And to be honest, I sometimes feel that he has a red line between his Washington DC office and the White House, State Department, the Pentagon and M Street. As for Friedman’s lecture in Riyadh, I honestly wanted to attend it. Had I been there, I would have asked him few questions like: Are the Saudi-US ties really strategic by nature? What really makes Saudi Arabia such an interesting place to write about from afar? Why he or other well-known columnists never write about Saudi Arabia’s contribution to the region and to the world? I sometimes feel that both Saudi Arabia and the United States are underappreciated regarding what they have done for the world. Both countries are blamed for many things than any other country. Whenever things get complicated in the world, people start looking at the US for a solution. Similarly, when some regional crisis goes out of control, people await for a solution from Riyadh. But the difference between Saudi Arabia and the US is that America has the strongest and most influential media outlets in the world. The US media can shape not only the opinion of people in America but also of the people around the world. And this is where Friedman gets his influence. Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Writing About KSA From Afar reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.