A few days ago, I posted a question in the form of a Twitter poll for the duration of one day and asked the participants to choose one of the following answers: “I agree,” “I disagree,” or “I have no opinion on the subject.” The question was: “It seems that an ill-intentioned trend is taking over the global media, including social networking websites, which has the tendency of making a mountain out of a molehill when it comes to matters related to Gulf countries, while, at the same time, reducing mountains reduced to molehills when it comes to neighboring regional countries...” The results were as follows: 82% of the participants agreed with my statement, 8% disagreed, and 10% had no opinion on the subject.
I do not claim that the results are considered scientific; however, the absence of organized opinion polls makes many of us resort to the closest available alternative. The aforementioned results reflect how the people of the Gulf feel regarding the latest ‘attack’ from global content creators and international Arabic-speaking media outlets. It has become apparent that these media outlets are intent on taking any social or political story, no matter how mundane and commonplace it is, out of context and turning it into a humanitarian issue that universally afflicts all of mankind. If these content creators were interested in being objective, all they need to do is examine the actions taken by other major capitals right under their noses, and they would easily see that similar, if not identical, actions are being taken. All these handpicked guests these people repeatedly host on their talk shows have their own agendas. The average person may not be aware of these calculated choices; however, a professional is fully aware that if you wish to deliver a specific message to serve your own agenda, all you need to do is host certain individuals that are well-known for their stance on certain topics especially in relation to Gulf countries.
Allow me to highlight that given everything I have mentioned so far, I am not claiming that Gulf societies are above suspicion like a “Caesar's wife.” Just like any other society, Gulf societies are prone to making mistakes. However, based on my experience, I believe we cannot dismiss the fact that citizen satisfaction levels within Gulf countries are much higher than those in neighboring countries, and, dare I say, even compared to the levels in countries worldwide.
For instance, let us take human rights issues as an indicator, media outlets have purposefully misrepresented the case of an ill girl from the Gulf and manipulated the story to say that her caring family has “forcibly imprisoned” her. They even had the audacity to ask for confirmation whether she was alive or dead. In an attempt to force the public to see matters from their own distorted perspective, these outlets completely neglected the fact that they are basing their argument on a video recorded by the girl herself to her so-called audience. Logically speaking, how could a prisoner be allowed access to social media? And there are many similar examples in this regard.
In fact, various examples exist that may be smaller or larger in scale, proving that content creators from different organizations have been actively manipulating their content to serve their agendas. Moreover, we have seen those who deem themselves as part of the “opposition” cite a marginal newspaper or a single opinion piece published here or there to convince their audiences that their argument is valid and trustworthy, naively believing that everything that comes from abroad is true and unquestionable.
In my opinion, I see three groups that contribute in their own way to this antagonization of the Gulf. Firstly, those working in the media sector, yet they evidently lack real knowledge, and instead they rely on superficial analyses and misinformation spread by amateur writers who constantly boast about taking an ethical stance against Gulf societies without having an in-depth understanding or an impartial comparison methodology. They base their positions on writings that may not be scientific or even neutral, but rather unfounded assumptions. This group can be found in abundance in newspaper columns and talk shows, some of whom are self-proclaimed experts. From experience, the Gulf region is perhaps one of the most highly criticized regions in the world, yet it is the least objectively researched. For this reason, the region remains highly misrepresented. The stereotypical view that these societies are oil-obsessed is widely inaccurate and must be changed; these societies have existed long before oil was discovered, and they will remain even after it perishes.
As for the second group, it consists of those who overestimate their own supremacy and believe that these societies do not deserve all that wealth, a wealth that would have been more appropriate for “civilized” communities or, as one famous Arab writer said, for those who come from ‘green’ countries with more sophisticated populations than those inhabiting ‘yellow’ deserts. This perspective reveals an inflated sense of superiority, ignorance, and blatant racism.
Finally, the third group consists of those who believe that the status quo must be eradicated entirely, and radical change must happen through revolutions, just like what is currently taking place in Iran. Upon having a rational discussion with this group, one would clearly note that their argument is intellectually lacking. Unlike what some individuals like to believe, we cannot deem Iran’s expansionist activities in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq, a success. The repercussions of these activities can be clearly noted in terms of the poverty, oppression, backwardness, and devastation that has befallen these countries, which might require decades of reform.
In light of all this, what is the response in the face of such deliberate attacks? How can this misinformation be addressed? The answer is as follows: It is a common concern for all of us in this part of the world and perhaps the most important aspect to look into would be the issue of the media. We need to reestablish trust with the media in order to start viewing it as a source for accurate and transparent information. Our media is severely flawed and is still adhering to the traditional old school of thought that does more harm than good to our society. National chauvinism is no longer acceptable, and withholding information is no longer appropriate, given that no piece of information remains confidential in our time.
It would be unwise to underestimate the ferocity of this attack, as it comes from more than one direction. For instance, it is important to not underestimate the attacks of political Islam movements, as it is organized and has many resources. Some are even contributing to its cause without their knowledge. There are hostile forces that cling to their one-dimensional ideas and one-sided arguments, constantly standing in the way of modernization under the pretext of upholding traditions. There are also external forces that have clear intentions to harm us, and it is worth noting that we are living in an era that is best described as (the age of Twitter, WhatsApp, and Clubhouse) that has negatively affected logical and critical thinking. This reliance on social media allows for the spread of many rumors and false information that drastically affect individuals, groups, and even entire governmental organizations. All this comes at the hands of many uneducated individuals that lack the ability to analyze situations using proper scientific methodologies.
Relevant Gulf institutions are calling for this matter to be addressed appropriately as negatively influencing the minds of its people is considered the first breach in its security and stability.
Finally, in my opinion, this latest trend of antagonizing Gulf countries is meant to separate us, and therefore, we must work together to reform our nation and realize that only our division is what would lead to our defeat.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
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