Debilitating Impact of Rumors [Archives:2001/28/Focus]

July 9 2001

Hisham Al-Qubati
I was wondering, while walking all the way to my friend’s company, of what could have made him insist on my coming at that late hour. I guessed it must be an urgent fax that he wanted to be translated or written to one of the foreign trade companies he deals with. When I arrived he was holding one of a colorful lady’s pair of sandal which he had received a short while ago. Fixing his gaze on its black outsole, he asked me to send a fax to the manufacturers to delete the figures printed in it. The outsole contained two figures, one looked like a tree and the other looked like three small feet-fingers. “The prints on the sand might be read as God’s name (Allah) and this would subject the newly imported article to a greet loss,” he nervously said. I laughed and tried to convince him that what was printed was not more than a small tree. But he did not heed to my interpretations. He insisted that he knew more than me and that it was his own business.
As I stepped out of the office after writing the desired fax, I recalled similar stories of traders who suffered heavy losses because of a semi-ban of their goods said to be imported form Israel, simply because they bore similar figures and no mention of the country of origin. It is enough if an Imam of a mosque says that some sandals or shoes bear the name of God to put all sub-dealers in the commodity in a real crisis as their goods are torn or thrown to the street. Just a few months ago, yet another trader I know was fined by the Ministry of Trade and Supply for his registered trademark which was officially approved more than 15 years ago. Moreover, he had to give an undertaking not to print his company’s logo on inner-boxes!
The episode had its genesis in a mosque in Sana’a. The Imam remarked that the trademark was targeted to offend descendants of the Prophet’s family. A few days later complaints started to flow from the sub-dealers regarding threats of intimidation because of the trademark printed on the sandal and shoes’ inner-boxes. As a swift solution he distributed cartons of marker pens to delete the trademark. But this was not the end of the problem, for some days latter he was summoned by the Ministry of Supply and Trade where he was fined and warned not to print his trademark on inner-boxes any more.
Some years ago I was stopped in the street by a man who accosted me with the question: “Do you know what is this,” pointing to the Nike name on my T-shirt. “This is a God of the Greeks,” he said. Many may recall this controversy. I searched through the pageant of names of the Greek and Romans’ Gods and Goddesses starting from Zeus and Hera and their progeny and found none bearing this name. Now, even if there was a god bearing the name of Nike in the Greek or Roman mythology, does this mean that people who wear clothes bearing such names are calling upon people to abandon their religion or believe in another God?
I just wonder why such myths are being created from time to time. Who is really behind them? What is their purpose? Do they serve some traders’ interest who want to defame the reputation of others owing to jealousy, hatred, etc.? Or are they just the figment of imagination of some preachers?
Many products are often said to come from Israel, mainly because the country of origin is not usually mentioned on these products. Let me clarify that many Yemeni traders nowadays tend to import low-quality products at low prices. They instruct the import companies and manufacturers not to print the country of their origin so that clients are led to believe that they are made in some reputed industrial countries. Another reason is that they do not want to disclose the identity of companies they deal with to other traders. Conversely, products which do not carry information about the country of origin does not mean that they have been imported from Israel.
The scandals some mosque preachers labor to circulate adversely affect the reputation and credibility of politicians, literary figures and traders. Unfortunately, rumors mongering has been a marked phenomenon in Yemen during the last few years. It is commonly observed that some preachers indulge in several strategies to add a certain kind of spice to their repeated speeches.