Saudi Arabia: Agents of Influence

I have been finding the Wikileaks reports in regards to Saudi Arabia entertaining to follow.  The reports that American television has been influencing the minds of many Saudis actually had me laughing out loud…initially.  But as I started thinking back, I recalled discussions between my husband and I and the role American television had in his life.  However instead of shows like “Friends” or “Desperate Housewives” he avidly watched American Western (as in Cowboys) movies and shows like Lassie and Rin Tin Tin.  I remember asking him why these shows impacted on his desire to travel to and see America someday.  His response was twofold yet relational.  He liked the freedom and code of honor depicted of America’s cowboys and the heroism and love shown for Lassie and Rin Tin Tin.  Even today a large percentage of Saudis view dogs as haram and dirty.

Now I do have difficulty comprehending how an American show such as “Desperate Housewives” or the “David Letterman Show” are effective towards fighting Islamic extremism and positively depict American values.  I know that the media reports the appeal is the freedoms both shows depict but are those really the freedoms one wants to promote?  “Friends,” I can more easily accept the appeal to Saudis younger generation.  Rather than ‘Desperate Housewives’ or ‘David Letterman Show’ I believe ‘Friends’ gives a more realistic portrayal of America’s younger generation.

However the question that I have for American Bedu readers is what shows really do have the ability to influence and why?  In comparison, what kind of shows “should” influence and why?

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17 Responses

  1. Whether Saudis or others, people are influenced by what appeals to them emotionally, politically, socially, sexually and psychologically. I don’t watch movies and shows much (not enough hours in the day), but can say Gone With The Wind had impact on me.

    Wikileakes revealed many things that should give Saudis something to chew on, think about and figure out where do the stand. The article below is worth reading and discussing.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/06/world/middleeast/06wikileaks-financing.html?scp=1&sq=Mideast%20Resists%20U.S.%20on%20Blocking%20Financing%20to%20Terrorists,%20Cables%20Suggest&st=cse

    December 5, 2010
    Cash Flow to Terrorists Evades U.S. Efforts
    New York Times
    By ERIC LICHTBLAU and ERIC SCHMITT
    WASHINGTON ¬ Nine years after the United States vowed to shut down the money pipeline that finances terrorism, senior Obama administration officials say they believe that many millions of dollars are flowing largely unimpeded to extremist groups worldwide, and they have grown frustrated by frequent resistance from allies in the Middle East, according to secret diplomatic dispatches.

    The government cables, sent by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and senior State Department officials, catalog a list of methods that American officials suspect terrorist financiers are using, including a brazen bank robbery in Yemen last year, kidnappings for ransom, the harvesting of drug proceeds in Afghanistan and fund-raising at religious pilgrimages to Mecca, where millions of riyals or other forms of currency change hands.

    While American officials have publicly been relatively upbeat about their progress in disrupting terrorist financing, the internal State Department cables, obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to several news organizations, offer a more pessimistic account, with blunt assessments of the threats to the United States from money flowing to militants affiliated with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other groups.

    A classified memo sent by Mrs. Clinton last December made it clear that residents of Saudi Arabia and its neighbors, all allies of the United States, are the chief financial supporters of many extremist activities. “It has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority,” the cable said, concluding that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

    The dispatch and others offered similarly grim views about the United Arab Emirates (“a strategic gap” that terrorists can exploit), Qatar (“the worst in the region” on counterterrorism) and Kuwait (“a key transit point”). The cable stressed the need to “generate the political will necessary” to block money to terrorist networks ¬ groups that she said were “threatening stability in Pakistan and Afghanistan and targeting coalition soldiers.”

    While President George W. Bush frequently vowed to cut off financing for militants and pledged to make financiers as culpable as terrorists who carried out plots, President Obama has been far less vocal on the issue publicly as he has sought to adopt a more conciliatory tone with Arab nations. But his administration has used many of the same covert diplomatic, intelligence and law enforcement tools as his predecessor and set up a special task force in the summer of 2009 to deal with the growing problem.

    While federal officials can point to some successes ¬ prosecutions, seizures of money and tightened money-laundering regulations in foreign countries ¬ the results have often been frustrating, the cables show. As the United States has pushed for more aggressive crackdowns on suspected supporters of terrorism, foreign leaders have pushed back. In private meetings, they have accused American officials of heavy-handedness and of presenting thin evidence of wrongdoing by Arab charities or individuals, according to numerous cables.

    Kuwaiti officials, for example, resisted what they called “draconian” measures sought by the United States against a prominent charity and dismissed allegations against it as “unconvincing,” according to one cable.

    The documents are filled with government intelligence on possible terrorist-financing plots, like the case of a Somali preacher who was reportedly touring Sweden, Finland and Norway last year to look for money and recruits for the Shabab, a militant group in Somalia, or that of a Pakistani driver caught with about $240,000 worth of Saudi riyals stuffed behind his seat. One memo even reported on a possible plot by the Iranians to launder $5 billion to $10 billion in cash through the Emirates’ banks as part of a broader effort to “stir up trouble” among the Persian Gulf states, though it was not clear how much of the money might be channeled to militants.

    One episode that set off particular concern occurred in August 2009 in Yemen, when armed robbers stormed a bank truck on a busy downtown street in Aden during daylight hours and stole 100 million Yemeni riyals, or about $500,000. American diplomats said the sophistication of the robbery and other indicators had all the markings of a Qaeda mission. “This bold, unusual operation” could provide Al Qaeda “with a substantial financing infusion at a time when it is thought to be short of cash,” a dispatch summarizing the episode said.

    Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is seen as a rising threat by the United States and was blamed for a parcel bomb plot in October and the failed attempt to blow up a jetliner last Dec. 25. The cables do not make clear whether the finances of the Yemen group are tied to Osama bin Laden’s network.

    American officials appear to have divided views on the bin Laden group’s fund-raising abilities. A February cable to Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that “sensitive reporting indicates that al-Qaida’s ability to raise funds has deteriorated substantially, and that it is now in its weakest state since 9/11.”

    But many other cables draw the opposite conclusion and cite the group’s ability to generate money almost at will from wealthy individuals and sympathetic groups throughout the Middle East while often staying a step ahead of counterterrorism officials.

    “Terrorists avoid money transfer controls by transferring amounts below reporting thresholds and using reliable cash couriers, hawala, and money grams,” a recent cable warned. “Emerging trends include mobile banking, pre-paid cards, and Internet banking.”

    The documents suggest that there is little evidence of significant financial support in the United States or Europe for terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, despite a string of deadly but largely low-budget attacks in London and other European cities in recent years, according to the documents.

    “U.K. financing is important, but the real money is in the Gulf,” a senior British counterterrorism official told a Treasury Department official, according to a cable last year from the American Embassy in London.

    In hundreds of cables focusing on terrorist financing, the problem takes on an air of intractability, as American officials speak of the seeming ease with which terrorists are able to move money, the low cost of carrying out deadly attacks, and the difficulty of stopping it. Interdictions are few, and resistance is frequent.

    In Kuwait, for instance, American officials have voiced repeated concerns that Islamic charities ¬ largely unregulated by the government there ¬ are using philanthropic donations to finance terrorism abroad. But a Kuwaiti minister, in a meeting last year with the United States ambassador, “was as frank and pessimistic as ever when it came to the subject of apprehending and detaining terror financiers and facilitators under Kuwait’s current legal and political framework,” a memo summarizing the meeting said.

    Saudi Arabia, a critical military and diplomatic ally, emerges in the cables as the most vexing of problems. Intelligence officials there have stepped up their spying on militants in neighboring Yemen, and they provided the tip that helped uncover the recent parcel bombs. But while the Saudis have made some progress, “terrorist funding emanating from Saudi Arabia remains a serious concern,” according to a cable in February. Mrs. Clinton’s memo two months earlier said Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other groups “probably raise millions of dollars annually from Saudi sources, often during Hajj and Ramadan.” Officials said they believed that fund-raisers for extremist groups had often descended on the pilgrims to seek money for their causes.

    The American Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, reported in February that the Saudis remained “almost completely dependent on the C.I.A.” for leads and direction on terrorist financing.

    So it was not surprising that a month earlier, the embassy reported in a separate cable that Treasury Department officials had provided information to the Saudi domestic intelligence service, the Mabahith, on three senior Taliban leaders ¬ Tayyeb Agha, Mullah Jalil and Khalil Haqqani ¬ who had made several fund-raising trips to the kingdom, the cable said. (Like a number of other suspected financiers identified in the cables, the three Taliban leaders do not appear on the Treasury Department’s list of “banned” entities suspected of terrorism financing connections.)

    The Americans shared phone numbers, e-mail addresses and passport information for the three men with the Saudis to cross check against Saudi customs databases. Saudi authorities said they were not familiar with the Taliban leaders but promised to pursue the tips.

    Last week, American officials said steady pressure from the Bush and Obama administrations had led to significant improvements in fighting terrorist financing. They said, for example, Saudi Arabia was now taking actions that they had long hesitated to take or had resisted, including holding financiers accountable through prosecutions and making terrorist financing a higher priority. A leading Saudi religious scholar has issued an edict against terrorist financing, and the Saudis have created new financial intelligence unit.

    “The U.S. government has been relentless in pursuing sources and methods of terrorist financing, including prioritizing this issue with all countries in the gulf region,” said Stuart A. Levey, a senior Treasury official, who was speaking generally about American policy and not about anything in the leaked cables. “As a result, we have put Al Qaeda under significant financial pressure.”

    Behind the scenes at diplomatic encounters, tensions have occasionally flared. In 2007, a senior Bush administration official, Frances Fragos Townsend, told her Saudi counterparts in Riyadh that Mr. Bush was “quite concerned” about the level of cooperation from the Saudis, and she brought a personal letter on the subject from the president to King Abdullah, according to a cable summarizing the exchange.

    Ms. Townsend questioned whether the kingdom’s ambassador to the Philippines, Mohammed Ameen Wali, might be involved in supporting terrorism because of his involvement with two people suspected of being financiers, the summary said.

    Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, challenged the assertion, however, saying the ambassador might be guilty of “bad judgment rather than intentional support for terrorism,” and he countered with an assertion of his own: an unnamed American bank handling the Saudi Embassy’s money in Washington was performing unnecessary audits and asking “inappropriate and aggressive questions.”

    American diplomats said that while the Saudis appeared earnest in wanting to stanch the flow of terrorist money, they often lacked the training and expertise to do it. “Their capabilities often fall short of their aspirations,” a cable last November said.

    Saudi leaders appear equally resigned to the situation, according to the cables. “We are trying to do our best,” Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who leads the Saudis’ anti-terrorism activities, was quoted as telling Mr. Holbrooke, the special representative to the region, in a May 2009 meeting.

    But, he said, “if money wants to go” to terrorist causes, “it will go.”

    Andrew W. Lehren contributed reporting from New York.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/06/world/middleeast/06wikileaks-financing.html?scp=1&sq=Mideast%20Resists%20U.S.%20on%20Blocking%20Financing%20to%20Terrorists,%20Cables%20Suggest&st=cse

  2. I loved Friends, too bad it’s over, Desperate housewives, some of it was entertaining and of course the cast was gorgeous, David Letterman on the other hand is in a world by himself, the man is so quirky and strange, which makes him extremely hilarious and very popular. We all love many American TV shows and movie, does it affect, or influence any of us, I don’t think so, at least not me.

    @ Mr. Yami,

    What exactly do you want, if there is an award for rambling, you would win hands down !!!

  3. Freedom is one thing, using it wisely is another. When we choose to do and be good, we strengthen our soul, something which does not occur if our behaviour is imposed.

    I don’t have a TV so rarely watch it.

  4. F loves seinfield, watced reruns all the time , my daughter is a big fan of Bones – some forensic anthropology show , so far we havn’t incorporated any themes from those shows in our life, i don’t know how you can be influenced by a mere show , unless you’re like my niece who’d 4 and whose world revolves around Dora 🙂

  5. I don’t watch much TV from my home country of America but the show I’ve seen once that embaresses me because it was produced in America is ‘Gossip Girl.’ The whole thing was devoid of any social redeeming value. Gag.

  6. Watching t.v. has almost come to a grinding halt. The reality shows bore me, and even the History channel has some cheesy espisodes as well.
    As far as reality shows, I hope the world outside the US realizes that it is unusual to 19 children, that the Kashardians, e.t.c is not the norm—nor is the 1960’s Leave it to Beaver. (BTW what a contrast of families)
    Jon Stewart show is funny and I have met many who enjoy his show in ME.
    I think middle of road shows, in general show an average portrayal of American life.

  7. I watched a few episodes from Greys Anatomy and came away with the impression that hospitals are full of doctors and nurses having sex around every corner and in every vacant room. And Im not the only one…

    While my friend was visiting me from Bahrain she was bitten by a spider so we ended up in the hosp waiting for a doc. We were both just sitting there,not having seen a doc or nurse in quite awhile, and after a long silence… she turns and says…do you think they are all off having sex?

    Which, incidently is what I had just been amusingly thinking to myself.

    Im not a big TV watcher…I couldnt tell you whose on American Idol…DWTS…whats the latest hit sitcom etc…Im more of an Animal Planet, History or Discovery Channel kind of girl…when I have the time…usually about 2 a.m. after work and homework are done.

  8. I’m a big fan of Bones as well. I love that people around the world can watch what we watch. American tv shows often have more money then home based tv shows so have a higher level of script writing, technical work, etc. I HATE the spread of inane American TV (reality shows make me want to throw up) and having other countries believe that American’s are all sluts, who sleep with everyone in a merry-go-round fashion, don’t work, work in non-existent jobs while living in high rent luxurious apts, have tons of money to spent on designer clothes/shoes, and all the other stereotypes people have about Americans. It has often led me to banging my head against my keyboard when I run across people on the internet who have obviously taken their impression of Americans from TV shows. I guess according to them women here all dress in provocative clothing and are willing to shed them at a drop of the hat or wink from a male. Oh not to mention we all have children out of wedlock, star in porn, and have no idea who our children’s or even our fathers are.

    *bangs head against keyboard again*

    The little portion about Abdullah and his love of Lassie and RinTinTin warms my heart. I love dogs! I will never be able to fully understand Saudi people hatred of them. Has no one given someone a puppy there? I mean come on puppies have got to rate up there with all the aww inducing moments.

  9. We don’t watch anything besides PBS kids (used to watch food network long while ago) so I cant recommend anything. We get our news online, as all the news channels (even local news) is busy covering tabloid and or unimportant crap. They rarely show anything significant or international news. “World News” on abc makes me gag. There are hardly any news about the world, only tabloid and local political sensationalism or worse, Sarah Palin. So my box is set to PBS Kids, maybe some cooking shows that comes on Saturdays on PBS. Watching TV or Movies in my honest opinion is the most mind numbing lazy activity humans can engage in. Same entertainment people can get from reading a good book, bit people choose to sit back turn off their brain and watch it instead.

  10. @Coolred38,

    You must come visit me @ work sometime.. no hunk drs and definetly no sex in every empty room, actually there aren’t any empty rooms.. I’m sittingin the cafeteria or what passes for that and i see bored residents, sleepy interns and the rest reading something or trying to mark charts … and definetly not as exciting as grey’s anatomy… except for the scrubs we have nothing in common, and our OR is one of the most boring places int he planet and we don’t have an audience for the surgeries either….just blood and gore and silence .
    I do enjoy grey’s anatomy it’s like a comedy ….pure fiction

  11. LOL @ Coolred’s friend’s question! 😀

    I’d rather read than watch TV and I can’t think of any shows that portray the average American.

  12. I don’t have a television but do watch television shows via online streaming on the Internet. So do my siblings and most of my friends. The shows I watch tend to be cable dramas like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Big Love, The Wire and Dexter.

    These are very adult type of shows with nudity, swearing and sex and I doubt they’re watched in the Middle East (I could be wrong though). I enjoy them because the acting is stellar, the storylines complex and the characterization worthy of great novels. I don’t believe I’m influenced by them but I do like the insights they give me into the human condition, different eras and progress made since then (Mad Men), different religious communities (Big Love), political machinations (Boardwalk Empire), the ways the drug trade impacts communities and institutions (The Wire), etc….

    I also watch BBC dramas, current and past, like Little Dorrit, Upstairs/Downstairs and Prime Suspect.

    My tolerance for reality shows is nonexistent although Amazing Race is very popular with my family and lots of friends swear by Top Chef.

    Are these type of shows (cable dramas) shown in the Middle East? I would assume they would be heavily censored if so.

  13. Madelenas…way back when I first arrived in Bahrain, 1987, they didnt show so much as a hug between “mother and son” on tv….by the time I left, 2009, the satellite dishes were beaming everything possible into homes…but the local channels stil had the same exact shows that were on back in ’87. I swear I could not watch Bahrain 55 for 6 months and then turn it on randomly just to see what was on…and find the exact same programming as before…everytime….plus football.

    Always football.

  14. I just watched “Locker Wars” the other night and must admit that I found it entertaining and interesting. This is a new reality show on the A&E station which has individuals who can bid for the contents of storage lockers that have been abandoned.

    For easy entertainment give me the old shows from BBC such as “Have You Been Served?” or “Hyacinth” for which I am drawing a complete blank at the moment on the correct title but it does feature Hyacinth, her sisters, her father, her husband, the vicar, etc….I keep typing hoping that before I finish the right name will occur to me but I guess chemo brain wins on this one.

  15. the hospital i worked at, depending on the doctor, as soon as the lights were dimmed the stereo was cranked on anyones choice. just had to put that in there.

    i blame the neurons!?

  16. Anonymous_Saud

    @ Mr. Yami,

    “What exactly do you want, if there is an award for rambling, you would win hands down !!!”

    What do you think I want? Why are Anonymous?

    The article I posted is not mine-it’s NY Times.

    Speaking the truth to power unabashedly is not rambling, it has another name. The filth done in the name of the people I care about in my motherland must be exposed, debated and learned from.

    What’s your interest in Saudi Arabia? What do you contribute to he well-being of the country and its marginalized, disenfranchised and silenced people? Start by telling us your true name.

  17. I think that many of our shows influence the way that we are viewed overseas. For example, Jay Leno’s interviews on the streets in America asking who the president is or how many quarters are in a dollar tell those who watch it that Americans on the street are ignorant.

    Another poor example was The Jerry Springer show where they put Americans with the lowest morals on t.v. to air out their dirty laundry. Drugs, incest, etc…

    As a matter of fact, I used that show as an example that I gave my Uncle (God rest his soul) when he was trying to generalize his views on Saudis after 9/11.

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