What do we really know about Saudi Arabia? What does the North American general public know about the Kingdom aside from what we absorb through media references? And if our sources of information about the Arab and Muslim world in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular, are mass media sources - tabloids, newspapers, magazines, radio and television shows, and let's not forget Hollywood - what exactly is it that we learn? Do we learn anything of substance? Anything positive? Anything but propaganda and crude caricatures of the Other, viewed through the prevailing political and ideological prisms?
After decades of negative portrayals in the news media and villainous stereotypes in Hollywood movies, a growing number of scholars, filmmakers and writers are pointing out not only the long history of anti-Arab racism in American mass media, but the fact that such portrayals have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the rise of Islamic extremism and terrorism. Books on the subject include Jack Shaheen's Reel Bad Arabs, Steve Salaita's Terrifying Patriotism: How Anti-Arab Racism Justifies Empire and Threatens Democracy, and Tran Nguyen's We Are All Suspects Now: Untold Stories of Immigrant America After 9/11. Other authors, such as Chomsky and Roy, discuss the issue within the larger framework of Nation and Empire. These are products of post-9/11 America, arising at a time, and in a climate, where they simply can no longer be ignored.
John Paul Jones, in the introduction to his book, If Olaya Street Could Talk - Saudi Arabia: the Heartland of Oil and Islam, states that, unlike the books and articles he had read about France, another country he had learned to appreciate, with Saudi Arabia "it is only the exceptional book or article that reflects my experience. The others seem a crude caricature, like wartime propaganda, and much of this was even before 9/11." It is his hope that this book will be a "step in changing American perceptions of Saudi Arabia in particular, and the Arabs in general, and further an examination of how and why those shifts in 'tribal thinking' occur" that give rise to conflicts and war. Writing about his experience in Saudi Arabia, though he'd never intended to do so, "eventually became an imperative. To contribute to ending the ideology of war without end should be a sufficient reason."
If Olaya Street Could Talk is at once personal memoir, travel narrative, and cultural and political commentary. It draws on Jones's experience as an American expatriate living and working in Saudi Arabia for nearly a quarter century. Though the book is essentially about his experiences in Saudi Arabia, his involuntary participation in the Vietnam war during his youth also comes up more than once, playing an important role not only in the plot, so to speak - in that it launched him into the career that would later lead him to work in Saudi Arabia - but also in his perspective on the changes he witnesses while in Riyadh, particularly the political/religious/ideological changes leading up to and accelerating after the events of 9/11. His Vietnam experience forms an important backdrop to the narrative, adding weight to his observations and especially his cultural/political commentary.