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‘Saudis, Americans make good friends'
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 16 - 02 - 2009

Ignorance is the root of all problems. The more people know about each other, the less there will be chances of misunderstandings leading to tensions.
Saudi Arabia has realized this very well, and the foremost example is the interfaith dialogues initiated by King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
So it does not come as a surprise if Saudis know more, for example, about Americans than Americans know about Saudis.
“They know a lot more about us than we know about them,” is one of the observations made by John K. Hartman who has served as a visiting professor of journalism at King Saud University.
“Saudis tend to know much more about Americans than we know about them. In fact, many of the professors at King Saud University got their graduate degrees in Ohio – two at Ohio State University and one at Ohio University,” Hartman said in online information on Saturday.
“They didn't ask much about our personal lives, they didn't ask much about what life is like in the United States, but I think it's because most of them knew. They get a lot of their media from the US, so they're more familiar with our lifestyle,” he explained.
Hartman said that by contrast, Americans often exhibit little interest in Saudi Arabia, and added that a column he wrote for Editor & Publisher on his visit to Saudi Arabia got little notice, but a column he wrote on the 25th anniversary of USA Today got a massive response.
“It's not that people are for or against Saudi Arabia; it's just so far away that people aren't interested,” he said, and added, “Still, despite major cultural differences, Americans have more in common with Saudis than they think – and the countries would do well to try to learn more about each other. I think, all things being equal, we should try to become better friends.”
Hartman, 63, a journalism professor at Central Michigan University and a resident of Bowling Green, Ohio, taught in two-week blocks at KSU with the official title Al-Jazirah chair for international journalism sponsored by Saudi Arabia's Al-Jazirah newspaper (not to be confused with the Al-Jazeera TV station).
He taught news reporting and public relations to KSU students, led a discussion on the changing media environment in the Middle East, gave a keynote address titled ‘The End of the Print Newspaper' to a university audience, and spoke to the Al-Jazirah staff on investigative reporting.
“The people were very receptive, the students were very receptive, the journalists were very receptive,” he said.
The fact that many of the students spoke English only made them more responsive. He said he could tell which ones knew English by how long it took them to laugh after he told a joke.
“It was like a wave going through the audience,” said Hartman.
His visit also gave Hartman an up-close look at the Saudi media. He said the newspapers place much more emphasis on photos of people – rather than of events – and are much different in appearance than US papers. “I learned that the Saudis care deeply about journalism and want to learn how to do it better,” he said.
About Dr. Abdullah Al-Othman, rector of KSU, he said he was intent upon turning King Saud University into a world class university and increasing its graduate programs to make up 40 percent of the student body.
He said KSU intends to be the equivalent of Ohio State University by 2020 and the equivalent of Harvard by 2040. ‘“Our initials will also stand for Knowledge Society University,' he (Al-Othman) said in perfect English,” Hartman added.
“We talked about research projects of common interest, particularly those regarding youth and young adults (one of my newspaper research themes). He expressed concern about the way US citizens perceive his country and suggested research projects in that realm. He asked my views and I said I thought Obama had a more magnanimous view of the rest of the world than (then President) Bush and his opponents. I added that Obama appears to inspire the younger generation in much the same way as John F. Kennedy affected my generation. I said Kennedy inspired me to want to go into public service and to want to make the world a better place,” said Hartman, and added that he saw his visit to the KSU as fulfilling Kennedy's vision.
Hartman also conducted a seminar on the effects of the Internet on the newspaper business at Al-Jazirah headquarters.
“Some Saudis are not crazy about us. In one restroom I saw the ‘USA' scratched out on a hand drier. They are concerned about the way Muslims are often portrayed as villains in US movies and media; that women are often portrayed as sex objects in Western media, which runs counter to Muslim beliefs; and that some US citizens display a superior attitude toward Saudis and other Arab people,” Hartman said.
“Yet my wife Kay and I could not have been treated better. Our hosts saw to all our needs,” he said. “We learned that the Saudi people we met care about the same things we do – their families, their children, their professions, their religion and their society. Yet we Americans differ greatly over the role of women in society and the limits placed on female journalists.
Nonetheless, we Americans have much more in common with the Saudis than we have differences,” he added.


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