A Visit to Rural America – Fatany

Published: August 9, 2005

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Samar Fatany | Arab News | August 6, 2005

JEDDAH — The Committee for Development of International Trade of the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry sponsored an outreach program in several cities in Tennessee from July 18-21, 2005.

I was accompanied by my daughter, Sara, on a program of visits to civic organizations and media outlets to discuss Saudi-US relations, developments in the Middle East and the Kingdom and other issues of the day.

The three-day program covered over 600 miles of travel in Middle Tennessee including visits to three Rotary Clubs – consisting of about 250 people, two daily newspapers, one radio show, one television show and one social reception.

We were escorted by Patrick Ryan, editor of the Saudi-US Relations Information Service and a resident of Middle Tennessee.

People Samar Fatany Tennessee Visit

We met with community leaders and thought leaders – political, academic, lawyers, doctors and business people.

It was quite an experience to visit rural America and get acquainted with the people I read about in novels and history books. I didn’t know what kind of reception to expect and I was a little apprehensive for I was under the impression that the south represented the hardliners – who believed that the Muslims are their enemies, and Saudi Arabia is a breeding ground for terrorists. I was invited to speak in several Rotary clubs across Tennessee, in Murfreesboro, Cookeville and Smyrna.

My daughter Sara was with me and like any teenager she tends to be very observant and quick to criticize and I was a little worried that she would get bored. However to my pleasant surprise I saw her enjoying the events and even paying attention to what was being said and discussed. Although politics is not her favorite subject, she still appreciated my efforts to project the true image of Saudi Arabia. In my speeches I tried to present the human side of Saudis and explain the challenges of reforms and the threat of terrorism that Saudis also have to endure. Sara did not tire of listening to me repeat the same speech over and over again. In fact I would find her reminding me of what I had missed to say the second time round. I guess it was important for her to have the respect and trust of the American people whom she grew up enjoying their jokes, songs and movies. Ever since she was four Sara visited the US every summer. Her brothers and sisters went to school in Virginia and Boston and have had beautiful memories of friendships, classes and teachers, and had great times visiting shopping malls Disney Land and Sea World.

In my speeches I explained to the Rotarians that the Saudi people realize the difference between the US foreign policies and the American people. We respect American values of human rights, freedom of speech and justice for all.

The Rotarians impressed me with their sense of patriotism and faith.

I could relate to their Christian habits of beginning their events with a prayer as we Muslims start everything in the name of Allah.

They also swore allegiance to the flag on every occasion all in one voice which I thought they did with great enthusiasm and pride. Maybe that could explain why they would tend to be more aggressive and somewhat intolerant than others when they feel that their country was being threatened or attacked. I felt I needed to ease their fears and correct their misconceptions. The message in my speech was that the Muslims are not enemies to Christians, Jews or Americans. We pray five times a day to the descendants of Abraham, Jesus and Moses and there is a whole chapter in the Qur’an on the Virgin Mary. The Jews have lived among Muslims before the creation of Israel and were never discriminated against until they decided to rob Palestinians of their land. They had safe havens in Arab lands when Hitler planned the Holocaust. The conflict in the Middle East is politically motivated. Politicians have failed to achieve the peace.

Extremists have taken over the lives of Christians Jews and Muslims alike and we the silent majority are being manipulated for the selfish gains of political leaders who only have their own interest in mind. We are not the decision makers and our religions don’t preach hatred and bigotry. We need to embrace our shared values of peace love and the brotherhood of man.

No devout Muslim will forsake his religion because of acts of terrorism that are committed by some who claim to be Muslims. And no pious Christian will abandon his religion for the likes of Timothy McVeigh or for the sake of those who bomb abortion clinics in the name of Christianity. There are also many Jewish people who believe that the Palestinians have a right to exist.

The threat of terrorism is not only in the US.

Saudi Arabia is also a victim. It pains me to hear that the American people believe that Muslim Scholars have not condemned terrorism and that Saudi Arabia is willingly funding the terrorists. The truth is the majority of Muslims scholars have condemned and condemned but their condemnation never reaches the American people. The Friday sermons in Saudi Arabia is translated into English every week for the benefit of the Western audience who refuse to believe that terrorism is condemned and rejected by all Muslims and is Un Islamic.

Islam is a peaceful religion and the Saudi people hold no animosity toward anyone. Saudi Arabia is witnessing a reform movement and needs the support of its friends and allies to make it succeed. It needs the cooperation of US and international security forces to win the battle against terrorism that is threatening our progress and development. I know we have friends in America and this trip has shown me how Americans are still the warm and friendly people that I have always known. Even in Tennessee my daughter and I were received with warmth and respect. Their hospitality was overwhelming. Our host Patrick Ryan and his family and friends have shown us great hospitality that will be difficult to reciprocate.

I am now back in Saudi Arabia and I shall always remember beautiful Tennessee and the wonderful people that I have met and learned to respect.

– Samar Fatany is a radio journalist based in Jeddah.

Source: Arab News

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