Last week’s events in Saudi Arabia were unique, although we may not know for years or even decades what their final meaning is. It is impossible not to be tantalized by the potential of these events to change the course of Saudi Arabia’s history. What’s important, however, is that we focus on what this means to the people. The media seems too caught up in spinning the facts to pay attention to how their people are doing. Just call it missing the myths for the lie.
When thinking about the ongoing problems, it’s important to remember three things: One, people don’t behave like lemmings, so attempts to treat them as such are a waste of time. Lemmings never suddenly shift their course in order to fit with a predetermined set of beliefs. Two, Saudi Arabia has spent decades being batted back and forth between colonial powers, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, capitalism is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If corruption is Saudi Arabia’s curtain rod, then capitalism is certainly its flowerpot.
When I was in Saudi Arabia last January, I was amazed by the people’s basic desire for a stable life, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Saudi Arabia have no shortage of potential entrepreneurs, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Saudi Arabia are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.
So what should we do about the chaos in Saudi Arabia? Well, it’s easier to start with what we should not do. We should not lob a handful of cruise missiles and hope that some explosions will snap Saudi Arabia’s leaders to attention. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture these first inklings of a moderate, modern society. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to moderation is so poorly marked that Saudi Arabia will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Riyadh needs to come to the table.
Speaking with a young student from the unpopular Catholic community here, I asked her if there was any message that she wanted me to carry back home with me. She pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, reiaya-li-kona, which is a local saying that means roughly, “It is in vain to cast your net where there is no fish.”
I don’t know what Saudi Arabia will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will probably look very different from the country we see now, even if it remains true to its basic cultural heritage. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven’t lost sight of their dreams.
This article was not really written by Thomas Friedman, it was generated on a website that spoofs the New York Times. The generator was created by Brian Mayer with content from Michael Ward, used with permission. To generate as many new Tom Friedman op/eds as you wish (it kinda wears out after the third one), go to Thomas Friedman Op/Ed Generator.