To the editor:

James Kirchick’s guest column entitled, “Singing the Praises of Dictators” (1/30) reveals more about the author’s own ignorance than it does about Saudi Arabia’s public relations campaign.

Kirchick rightly highlights the Saudi government’s many oppressive policies as crucial information for anyone to consider when evaluating Saudi public relations information or when visiting Saudi Arabia, as a group of students from Yale recently did. Kirchick goes past the bounds of intellectual discussion, however, by singling out Saudi Arabia’s recent PR campaign as “propaganda” and “a campaign of deception,” and by personally attacking Amelia Shaw EPH ’03, one of the students who visited Saudi Arabia recently, saying that he expects “someone with a Yale education to display a little more intelligence and insight rather than reproduce propagandistic rhetoric.

Kirchick ludicrously compares Saudi Arabia’s PR campaign to that of Nazi propaganda.

The only evidence he provides to justify this comparison is the $15 million that Saudi Arabia has spent to fund the campaign and his own personal experience at the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C. His “evidence” does little to support his claim.

First, Kirchick notes that Saudi Arabia’s $15 million PR campaign is the most expensive PR campaign ever conducted directly by a foreign country. How this justifies comparison to Nazi propaganda, I’m not exactly sure. If we follow Kirchick’s logic, than all expensive PR campaigns must be propaganda. In his jump to criticize the size of Saudi Arabia’s investment in public relations, Kirchick fails to note that Saudi Arabia has never before conducted such a campaign in the United States, while dozens of other nations have for decades.

Moreover, Kirchick’s attention to the size of the investment is misleading. While $15 million is the most ever spent directly by a foreign government on a PR campaign in the United States, it pales in comparison to the amounts spent every year by lobbies representing the interests of foreign nations. Israel, for instance, conducts PR campaigns directly through its government but also, more importantly, through its American lobbies. Year after year, the major Israeli lobby in Washington, D.C., has been listed as one of the 10 most well-funded lobbies in the United States and the most well-funded lobby representing the interests of a foreign nation. The amount of money spent by Israeli lobbies on public relations in the United States far outweighs the $15 million spent by the Saudi government. Kirchick’s decision to single out Saudi Arabia for spending money on public relations can only be seen as biased.

The other evidence that Kirchick provides to support his claim of a “Saudi propaganda machine” is his experience speaking to former Saudi Ambassador Gaafer Allagany. Kirchick recounts that Allagany, when asked about the peace process in the Middle East, sympathized with the Palestinians and claimed there was a double standard in the media. While Kirchick and others in this country may disagree with Allagany’s opinions, calling such opinions “propaganda” or “rhetorical outrage,” is both unproductive and ignorant.

Overall, Kirchick provides no solid evidence of a Saudi “propaganda machine.” He correctly points out that the Saudi government should be criticized for its repressive policies regarding the treatment of gays, women and religious minorities, and that any evaluation of Saudi Arabia should include consideration of these policies.

Kirchick’s vehement attack on Saudi Arabia and those holding views different than his own is disturbing, and unfortunately, all too familiar in recent times.

Antoine Munfakh ’02

January 30, 2003