Wake up America!…Special interest groups, news media, and money hungry politicians are duping you into profiling all Arabs as bad Arabs.. Often, the news media tell us the polls show Americans support Israelis over Palestinians. Based on what? How many of these poll participants have seen an Arab, talked to an Arab, or worked with an Arab? Very few I would venture. On what then do they base their opinion? They are largely influenced by the biased news media, which gives no quarter in making sure we see all Arabs as bad Arabs. Are there bad Arabs? Of course there are. Are there bad Americans? We have plenty of them. Where are all the bad Israelis? There must be some. Why don’t we hear more about them?
I lived in the Middle East for over 33 years. I have seen Arabs, I have talked with Arabs, I have worked with Arabs and I have lived with Arabs. Over this span of 33 years I had an opportunity to meet and interact with Arabs from all walks of life – Kings, Ministers, Emirs, College Professors and Businessmen – and I worked with Arab employees from Laborer to President. I believe this qualifies me to speak about Arabs.
Arabs have many of the same desires and expectations as we Americans. They love their families, they love their country, they love their land, they want to better themselves, they want to live in peace, and they worship the same God as Christians and Jews. They are the most hospitable people I have ever known. The Arabs I know do not judge people by their race, religion, or nationality – but by their character. They are some of the best people observers I have ever encountered and I have traveled the globe. They will judge you in their hearts, but are reluctant to criticize you face-to- face or publicly. Arabs greet you with Salaam Alaikum (peace upon you) – and your response should be, Wa-alaikum Is-salaam (and upon you peace). To Arabs, peace is not rhetoric; it is a way of life.
I went to the Middle East in 1954 to work as a young Engineer – eager and adventurous. I spent my first month in Sidon, Lebanon at a training center. Where I learned some conversational Arabic language and was introduced to Arab culture. On weekends and in the evenings I would travel all over Lebanon by motorbike and even to Syria. I had nothing but good experiences. I would stop at a village to have refreshments and on many occasions I was invited to homes by Arabs to meet their families, view their olive groves, and have refreshments. It was a wonderful experience.
I then traveled to my ultimate destination – Saudi Arabia. I continued my interest in the Arab world by visiting villages in Arabia. Arabs would invite me to their village and their homes for a meal and/or coffee. They shared their food with me. I sat in their majlis (living room) along the wall on cushions and drank coffee with sometime as many as 20-25 people present. The host would move about the room with a large Arab coffee pot and a stack of petite cups, serving his guest hot coffee flavored with cardamom seeds, until we all had drank our customary three cups. Then he would start his rounds again serving hot tea. The conversation was a good chance to practice my Arabic. They would laugh understandingly when I mispronounced a word. If we had been invited for a meal, we would retire to another room to sit around a huge brass tray heaped with Arab rice around a steaming spit-roasted lamb. The delicious rice was flavored with nuts, raisins, and spices. There would also be spit-roasted chicken. On some weekends I would visit as many as ten homes in one day to share their food, coffee, or tea. I had to turn down invitations because there were so many. I would no more than step into the street when I would be taken by the hand and told, “you must come to my house for gahwa (coffee).” The congeniality was sincere and hospitality was never lacking.
I was there during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The air was full of tension because the US was supporting Israel. One of my Arab friends wanted me to send my family to his village to stay with his family for safety. Of course I wouldn’t let them go, because I did not want to put his family in harms way. As a result, he brought with him another Arab friend to stay with my family for our protection. I had a hard time convincing them it wasn’t necessary.
Another Arab friend called me on the phone during the 1967 Arab- Israeli war and said he had heard they were evacuating Americans and wanted to know if I were leaving. I told him I was not going, but was considering sending my wife and three-year old daughter. He said, “Why? You have many friends here.” I replied, “It’s not my friends I am worried about.” We laughed about that for years afterwards. He would ask me if I was now worried about my friends.
When one of my Arab friends went to America for a medical problem, he brought me a huge amount of cash and asked that I look after his family while he was gone. His oldest son would come every week and I was to give him a specified amount for expenses. My boss heard about this and advised me not to do it, because something could happen to my friend and his family could cause me problems. Obviously my boss did not understand the bond of friendship that existed. There was no way I would violate that friendship. For over a year, I looked after his family until my friend returned to Saudi Arabia.
Returning to Saudi Arabia after a vacation, my wife and I inadvertently left one of our many suitcases on the sidewalk, outside the airport, when we were loading them into the car. After the weekend, we asked a company driver to see if by some chance it had been turned in to lost-and- found. The driver returned with the bag. Airport security told the driver it sat on the sidewalk for two days. When no one picked it up a policeman finally brought it to lost- and-found. Try leaving your bag on the platform in the New York subway for two days.
The Bedouin hailing down your vehicle as it neared his tent – insisting you stop and have coffee with him, traveling all over Saudi Arabia without fear of carjacking, camping deep in the desert with Bedouin strangers stopping to visit, stuck in the sand and have every passerby stopping to help, and leaving your doors unlocked (something you don’t do in America) — on and on — these are the Arabs all Americans should know.
I leave you with these few examples of the many, many good Arabs I know.
Frank Fugate is a former senior vice-president of the Saudi Aramco Oil Company.