Sultan’s description of the American people as a whole was positive, especially when it came to life on the West Coast.
“Not once have I been mistreated or racially harassed or abused in any way,” he recalled. “They were very kind and accepting toward me. If the equivalent of what happened in New York on Sept. 11 had happened here, I don’t believe that our people would have shown the same self-restraint and patience toward the Western expatriates living here that the American people have shown toward the Arabs and Muslims living there.”
One young man, who wanted to be called Yousuf, complained of an inability to relate to Saudi people.
“Here, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” he said. “People have no respect for creativity, no respect for original thought.”
Yousuf studied in the US for years and was hoping to gain some work experience there before returning to Saudi Arabia and working for his family. All that changed after Sept. 11.
“Everything here is segregated — men from women, rich from poor, and foreigners from locals. This is a land of segregation. The majority of people try to justify this, but I feel that we should focus on integration, not segregation.”
Yousuf said there was a contradiction in the behavior of many Saudis. “When people are outside the country, they go wild. When they are inside, they go to the other extreme.”
“I am very angry at my people,” he added. “They have this terrible habit of blaming the world for their own faults.”
Maybe things are beginning to change. Maybe we're seeing the genesis of reform and modernization in the Arab World. Certainly hope lies with the young people like those quoted here. But as we see from the experiences of these young men, America has a big role to play in encouraging reform and serving as an example.
How do we protect ourselves from those young Muslim men whose mission is violence, while embracing and welcoming the young Muslim men and women who come in peace? Although I'm uncomfortable with the rhetoric on both sides of the issue, I hope and trust we'll find a reasonable, workable balance.