Two stories about Americans’ perceptions of Saudi Arabia today. First, from the Washington Post, a not-very-deep interview with Peter Berg, the director of the upcoming movie about Saudi Arabia, “The Kingdom.”
From the article, by Sarah Kaufman:
Oil, Allah, vengeance — and a socko car bombing that seems to detonate in your lap: “The Kingdom” hits you hard. Starring Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner as FBI agents investigating a terrorist attack on Americans in Saudi Arabia, the film is sort of a faster, bloodier, more ruthlessly linear “Syriana.” The first couple of minutes especially caught our attention. They’re given over to a lightning-speed, multimedia CliffsNotes version of events in U.S.-Saudi history — oil springs out of the sand, America races in to suck it up, cozying up to the royal family, then fundamentalists see their country run amok with nonbelievers, yada, yada, yada, boom: 9/11 happens. We asked director Peter Berg about mainlining history along with violence and suspense.
I’m going to see it, but probably not until it’s on DVD.
And in the Khaleej Times online newspaper:
JEDDAH — A project to fight misconceptions about Islam, and Saudi Arabia is in the offing. Seventy-three researchers from the Arab world, the United States, Europe, Russia and Japan are working to publish books under a Saudi-financed international project, which is to be launched shortly with the publication of eight books.
[Mohammed bin Saud Al Bishr] added that the project was also aimed at presenting Saudi Arabia’s viewpoints on various contemporary issues and highlight its moderate foreign and domestic policies. “It will definitely give convincing answers in order to correct political and religious misunderstanding,” he explained. Crown Prince Sultan has donated SR5.6 million to the project that aims at removing stereotypes among Westerners about sensitive religious issues like the wearing of the hijab (head cover). There have been strident campaigns against Islam and Saudi Arabia following the 9/11 attacks. The issue of Women in Saudi Arabia needed special focus as the Western media gave a wrong impression about status of women in the kingdom
It’s undoubtedly true that Americans in general know very little about Saudi Arabia. However, I doubt that this project is going to help matters much. We’ll learn that they don’t kidnap, cook, and eat Christian babies, for example, but we’ll still know that they women have to be clothed head to toe in loose black garments, that old men with sticks will beat them if a stray strand of hair slips out, that women can’t drive there, that women and men are segregated everywhere in public, that no religion other than Islam can be practiced openly, that homosexuals are stoned to death, etcetera. What are they going to say? The usual, “Women here like it that way”? “Homosexuality is condemned in Islam”? I don’t think this will improve Saudi Arabia’s image at all.
A few years ago I remember one of the Saudi princes had a goal to increase Western tourism to Saudi Arabia, but it couldn’t have been very tempting to women, men who travel with women, or people who like to drink alcohol. Anyway, there’s currently a U.S. State Department warning against visiting the kingdom:
This Travel Warning updates information on the security situation in Saudi Arabia and reminds U.S. citizens of recommended security precautions. It supersedes the Travel Warning issued December 19, 2006.
Due to concerns about the possibility of additional terrorist activity directed against American citizens and interests, the Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel to Saudi Arabia. The United States Mission in Saudi Arabia remains an unaccompanied post as a result of continued security concerns. Non-emergency employees and all dependents of the U.S. Embassy Riyadh and Consulates General Jeddah and Dhahran were ordered to leave the country on April 15, 2004. An armed attack on the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah occurred on December 6, 2004, resulting in casualties among the non-American staff and damage to consulate facilities. On November 13, 2005, the Consulate General in Jeddah closed the visa section for security reasons that require the assistance of the Government of Saudi Arabia to resolve. On May 12, 2006 a lone gunman fired shots at the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah. There were no injuries. The consular section remains open for American citizen services.
Terrorist groups continue to target housing compounds and other establishments where Westerners may be located. Saudi Government facilities are also targets. In addition to car bombs and armed assaults involving multiple gunmen against such facilities, terrorists have used ambush attacks to kidnap and/or assassinate individual Westerners. In February 2007, four French residents of Saudi Arabia returning from Madain Saleh were killed in a shooting incident while resting on the side of the Tabruk-Medina highway, approximately 17 km north of Medina. In February 2006, there was a terrorist attack on Saudi oil facilities in Abqaiq in the Eastern Province. There were no U.S. citizens or Westerners injured in this attack.
American citizens who choose to visit or remain in Saudi Arabia despite this Travel Warning are strongly urged to avoid staying in hotels or housing compounds that do not apply stringent security measures including, but not limited to, the presence of an armed guard force, inspection of all vehicles, and a hardened security perimeter to prevent unauthorized vehicles from approaching the facility. American citizens are further advised to exercise caution and maintain good situational awareness when visiting commercial establishments frequented by Westerners or in primarily Western environments. Keep a low profile, varying times and routes for all required travel, and ensure that travel documents and visas are valid. American citizens are also advised to exercise caution while driving, entering or exiting vehicles.
U.S. citizens who travel to or remain in Saudi Arabia despite this Travel Warning are strongly urged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh or the Consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran through the State Department’s travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov , in order to be included in the Mission’s warden network. Updated travel and security information for Saudi Arabia is issued periodically via the warden network.
From time to time, the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Saudi Arabia may restrict the travel of official Americans or suspend public services for security reasons. In those instances, the Embassy and Consulates will keep the local American citizen community apprised through the Warden System and make every effort to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens. Warden messages can be found on the U.S. Embassy Riyadh website: http://riyadh.usembassy.gov .