I love to read about our country through other people's eyes. Here, Siraj Wahab (no, not Siraj Wahaj), a Saudi Arabian journalist from Arab News, comes to the U.S. for the first time. Some excerpts:
"In the Middle East, we have often been told that the media in the US never talks about American deaths in Baghdad and Afghanistan. That turns out to a complete lie. The center spreads of leading American newspapers were filled with pictures of those who had died in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. The media was not hiding anything from the public. Having said that the general impression I got from the Americans with whom I had an opportunity to talk was that they really think they are in Iraq and Afghanistan for the good of those countries. Why they think so is very difficult to comprehend. Americans are indeed easy-going and good-natured people."
On the flight over from Jedah to D.C., Wahab talks with Syed Sajid Rahmani, a 60-year-old American national of Indian origin. In the early 70's, Rahmani's father in Hyderabad (India) decided that he would send his two sons abroad. Syed came to the U.S., got an MBA and settled in the D.C. area, his brother went to Saudi Arabia, got an engineering degree and settled in Jeddah. The differences, some 35 years later?
"Now, more than three decades later, Rahmani says he is a full-fledged and completely integrated American citizen. 'My kids are grown. They have graduated from some of the best universities in the United States. They are on their own and are completely independent.' The same, however, cannot be said of his brother in Jeddah. 'Yes, he has the money but no citizenship. His kids, like all other children of expatriates, were not allowed in local universities. They had to go to Malaysia and Dubai for higher studies. Every two years, he still has to beg his employers to renew his residency permit or iqama. There is no difference between him and a newly hired foreign worker in Saudi Arabia. His kids have separate iqamas, but they have to keep coming to Saudi Arabia to renew them. Do you see the difference?' he asks."
Politically, I disagree with some of Wahab's opinions. He writes that "it is important to talk to Hamas and how it should be seen as a national liberation movement just as the IRA is seen now." As an American of Irish background, believe me, the modern IRA - with their famous Christmas bombing campaigns, blowing up cars, murdering "informants" - was and is seen by many as being "thugs and murderers," not a "liberation movement." Hamas quite openly doesn't just seek an independence from Israel, Hamas seeks the utter destruction of Israel.
Wahab is surprised by the open atmosphere in a college classroom:
"One of them (a student) asks me about Arab News' stand on Iraq, and I give him an honest opinion. Unbeknown to me was the fact that he was checking our online edition at arabnews.com on his laptop even as I was answering his question. I found that very interesting and alarming as well. It is not like in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East where whatever the professor or expert says is the last word. 'Here in America, students are taught to think critically. This is a questioning society. It keeps asking questions of itself,' says (Professor Akbar S.) Ahmed.
Next week, Wahab reports on his visit to San Francisco. Will link to that when it's up.