We are proud to witness open discussions between opinion leaders in Saudi Arabia. These sessions are taking place behind open doors and are broadcast via TV stations to the entire world with their different viewpoints. They allowed the world to see local ideologies, which have been accused of promoting hatred and supporting terrorism, to be heard.
Self-criticism is taking place in public and uniting diverse personalities over a single discussion table. During the 5th National Dialogue Forum, Shiaa and Sunni, men and women and liberals and conservatives, exchanged ideas. Discussions took place in an honest and transparent environment. Accusations were exchanged in a civilized manner and surprisingly, this meeting of elites has caught the attention of the public as well.
Education curriculums received a fair share of criticism. They were accused of promoting hatred toward non-Arabs and non-Muslims.
Sheikh Saleh al Hassin, who heads the national dialogue, wanted the discussions to cover the different regions of the Kingdom. Thirteen meetings were held in various parts of Saudi Arabia so as not to confine the dialogue to the capital. He opened the discussion by clarifying the word “Other” and indicated they are our brothers in Islam, Arab nationalism and humanity.
I do not know of a single society that has developed its dialogue to this degree. It was planned, open, officially-sponsored and broadcast live. This makes us proud because it reflects self-confidence and a lack of fear.
In the past, it was claimed that a discussion about the Shiaa, apostates, women, liberties and curriculums does not agree with society’s need to protect itself from what was being said about it. Such claims sought to evade facing up to facts on the ground. We live in a mixed society where a Christian surgeon treats Muslim patients and a Shiaa university lecturer teaches a class of Sunni pupils. One reads a lot of criticism from liberals in a conservative society.
Regardless of the other’s identity, he is present in our daily lives. Disregarding him and issues related to him does not cancel out their presence nor does it help future generations to face them. We live in quiet times where we are not yet obliged to address them immediately. Yet, it is important we examine reality and attempt to solve its problems. This is the only guarantee of positive continuity.
A society that is seeking to develop itself has to be honest with itself and not shy away from confronting its problems in order to solve them. Earlier this week, we witnessed frank and open discussions. The aim behind the national dialogue was never to defame or offend but to be honest and listen to the opinions of all participants; they were all patriotic in spite of their different allegiances. This is what makes honesty acceptable and well worthy of our respect and appreciation.