We Have a Public Relations Problem [Archives:2001/46/Viewpoint]

November 12 2001

One of our readers sent me a letter explaining why there is little sympathy for the Palestinian cause in the USA and the rest of the world. It is undeniable that Israel has been receiving the greatest of sympathy and support throughout the USA and in most European countries.
The answer was delivered by the reader in a clear and short sentence, “Arabs have a Public Relations Problem!”
Indeed. Arabs have been unable to convey their messages to the USA and the West due to lack of skills in public relations. It is simply impossible to compare public relations of Israel with that of Arabs, especially concerning the Middle East struggle.
Arab leaders were usually restrained to the media, they shy away from reporters and media enterprises. They forget that having the media as a friend rather than as an enemy is a useful thing in the long run. On the contrary, Arabs have thought that media is a dangerous means that could ruin their reputations and put them in difficult situations. They have yet to realize that in a globalizing world, the media has become more influential in conveying stances and ideas, in delivering opinions and in bringing people together.
It could sometimes take a year or more for a journalist to interview a head of an Arab state. It is also unfortunate that most of the Arab countries do not adopt free press, putting the public relations problem on both local and international levels.
Many Americans realize that Arabs are weak on this issue. An American friend once told me, “As much as I know that the Palestinian cause is just, as much as I feel frustrated by the inability of Arabs to deliver this to the US public.”
In just one appearance on TV, Osama bin Laden conveyed a message to the whole world, especially the USA about the Palestine plight, of which some US citizens heard for the first time.
Arab leaders need to realize that the world is changing, and they have to adopt to the new world order, in which the media has a major role to play. If they continue to isolate themselves and ignore this important instrument, they will find themselves in a weak position unable to defend their rights, which may be just on all aspects.
Americans seem to be willing to listen, especially those who already listened long enough to the other side. They want to know the opinion of Arabs and understand why they think the way they do. I personally feel that if we fail to debate and convey the ideas that we feel are just, and try them and bridge the gaps, we will never be able to receive sympathy for our causes in the public domain.
Frankly speaking, through Yemen Times I was able to interact with many Americans who feel that they are at last hearing the opinion of Arabs through a limited medium. They emphasized the importance of open dialogue and discussion. Americans don’t mind presenting their ideas and listening to ours. All they need is an Arab initiative.
So far I have been able to clarify many points through open dialogue with my readers who contact me in the hundreds every week. They may think I am wrong in what I say, but they truly appreciate that I present my opinion.
This is what Arab leaders should do. Let us grasp this opportunity to create bridges with the West and debate.
Finally, I honestly believe that if we fail to respond by bringing about our thoughts and debating with others in other countries and from other cultures about our problems and causes, we have only ourselves to blame for the consequences, no matter what they may be.