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Saudi society’s response to new media

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Prince Muhammad bin Saud bin Khaled discusses pros and cons of modern communications technology in his new book titled "Rejection and Acceptance."


By P.K. Abdul Ghafour


Jeddah: Saudi Arabia has made remarkable progress in the media and communications sector in recent years despite the resistance posed by its conservative society in the beginning.
In his book titled “Rejection and Acceptance,” Prince Muhammad bin Saud bin Khaled, who is undersecretary for information and technology affairs at the Foreign Ministry, attempts to relate how Saudi society dealt with information technology from the era of telegram to the Internet.
The book in 312 pages explains the government's efforts since the time of the Kingdom's founder King Abdul Aziz to this day to convince the public on accepting modern information and communication technology to achieve progress and meet the country's development requirements.


The book is a serious attempt to document and clarify the introduction of information technology to the Kingdom, explaining how the various relevant agencies dealt with the issue and why some sections of Saudi society were afraid of such technologies, mainly because of religious reasons.


Culture and Information Minister Abdul Aziz Khoja has written the book's foreword. “I was very happy to go through the pages of this book that deals with one of the important topics on which a lot of discussions have taken place among Saudi intellectual circles over the past decades,” Khoja wrote.


The minister acknowledges that there was a lot of resistance from a part of society toward accepting modern communication and information technology ever since the formation of the Kingdom.


The author has handled the topic with clarity, explaining the pros and cons of the issue. Some Saudis opposed modern technology because they could not realize its importance in building the country and linking its various cities, villages and regions and facilitating its administrative systems. They were cautious in dealing with new technological inventions for reasons supported by religion and emotion. For them it was like accepting the unknown.


According to Khoja, Prince Muhammad has done justice to the topic. He gives a theoretical view in the first chapter while explaining the relation between religion and science and its products. He has included the viewpoints of Muslim scholars and researchers in the light of the objectives of Islam and its philosophy in dealing with new scientific developments and innovations.


The minister referred to King Abdul Aziz's endeavors to convince his people about the importance of modern technology as well as to remove their doubts and fears through dialogue and highlight the use of technology in spreading the message of Islam.


The author has explained the various communication means and new technologies that have entered the Saudi society including drama and cinema as well as modern social media networks that have proved their capability to impact and change trends and administrative systems.


Prince Muhammad rightly points out that the brain is one of the greatest blessings of God to humanity, adding that it gave man the power to think, imagine and innovate. It also enabled man to translate his dreams into reality. Information technology is one of the revolutionary inventions of mankind, as it changed the method of communication between people.


About 30 years ago, many people looked at a computer as a magical instrument, as they had no clue about this great invention that brought about an ICT revolution, the author said. Saudis did not take much time to master the new technology and make Arabic software programs, he adds.
The author does not want people to read his book just like a history book; rather, he wants them to think and ponder how the Saudis accepted new technological developments and its religious, social and economic dimensions. “This way we do justice to Saudi generations in order for them to make firm steps today and look forward to the future with faith and confidence,” he said.
In the first part of the book, Prince Muhammad refers to the challenges faced by the inventors of printing press, radio and telephone from church, alluding that resistance was not a peculiar position of Saudis alone. He believes the main reason for the rejection of devices such as radio, television and telephone by humans is that they came as an extension or expansion of human senses. Radio is an expansion of man's capability to transmit and receive sound from far-off places, while television helps him see things that are taking place faraway.


Prince Muhammad cites six reasons for people to resist new technological developments: conflict of interest, loss of faith in the other, lack of a clear vision, lack of finance, fear of domination, and adoption of wrong criteria. Thus, reasons for rejection are many and cannot be restricted to one factor. He points that there is consensus between Islam and science and cites a statement by the renowned Islamic scholar, Yousuf Al-Qaradawi: “There is no place in Islam for conflict or enmity between religion and science. In Islam, religion is science and science is religion.”


The author narrates the resistance faced by King Abdul Aziz, especially from the men who fought with him, known as Ikhwan, when he first introduced wireless communication in the country. The late king used three methods to defeat his opponents: presentation of evidence, open dialogue, and religious rulings.


Prince Muhammad quotes the views of scholars and experts to explain the reasons for people to resist technological inventions. People may not be ready to accommodate such devices, they said. Most inventions came from non-Islamic countries, and some Muslims were suspicious of their intent and benefits. The new inventions have not been mentioned in divine books of either Muslims or Christians or Jews, which was another potential reason for refusal.


The book also refers to the history of cinema in the Kingdom, as it was available in the past, especially at foreign embassies and consulates and Aramco. There was an air-conditioned cinema in Dhahran, the author says, adding that King Faisal had bought a film on “Lawrence of Arabia” in 1964 for his personal use when he visited London. About 70 years ago, King Abdul Aziz was asked about cinema to know his opinion. Then the king replied: “I believe that it is an equipment where we can show what we accept and would not show what we reject.”


According to Abdullah Al-Muhaisen, Saudis have produced 65 films between 1975 and 2008. However, the first Saudi cinema title was Dhilal Al-Sammt (Shadow of Silence) produced by Al-Muhaisen in 2006, which was screened during the Saudi Cultural Forum earlier this year. The author, however, believes that cinema in the Kingdom still remains the prisoner of extremist religious views that consider it taboo. It was earlier attributed to a ban on photography and now they say it was to prevent immorality.


Part four of the book covers the results of a discussion on “Modern communication technology between acceptance and rejection: Saudi Arabia as a case study.” In this section, the prince gives a summary of that discussion, explaining the various viewpoints. The annexes containing texts of the various Saudi laws related to telecommunication, telecom authority, combating cyber crimes, electronic publication and electronic transactions have enriched the book. “Such books would be useful for media persons, historians and social researchers as well as those concerned with information technology and its development in the Kingdom,” says the culture and information minister.


(Courtesy: Arab News)
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