Perhaps more potent and pernicious than the above examples are those to be found in the media. Jones describes one particularly disturbing encounter with a well-known New York Times journalist, Thomas Friedman, the author of From Beirut to Jerusalem. Though Friedman did not technically misquote Jones, the journalist, after an interview during his first visit to Saudi Arabia, chose to quote "only the part of our conversation which reconfirms preconceived notions," thereby completely distorting Jones's statement. Specifically, Friedman quoted only the part about the author seeing "Saudi doctors and nurses around him celebrating on 9/11," but not his "overall statement about the number who had offered their condolences, the positive reaction of the Saudi hospital administration, and the number of Saudis who were far more concerned about Osama bin Laden changing their lives than the Americans' lives."
Another New York Times columnist sent to Riyadh, Maureen Dowd, instead of focusing on "understanding how Saudi professional women work, what their personal aspirations are, not to mention the aspirations and workings of the vast number of Saudi stay-at-home middle class mothers," and how these "contrast with the aspirations of American women," chose to contrast the negligees sold in prominent Riyadh lingerie stores with the completely covered women who shopped there.
Though Jones does not spend much time discussing politics or war in If Olaya Street Could Talk, nor the events of 9/11, he does hint at an interesting parallel between the Saudi and American populations. After a close personal encounter with the mutawaa, he has a brief discussion with its boss. "He voiced that he knew all Westerners hated the mutawaa," leaving Jones to think to himself, "also, about eighty percent of the Saudi population." What comes to mind immediately is how much the current American administration, with Bush at its head, claims to represent the will of the American people and to be doing what's best for the them. Perhaps the percentage of Americans who, by the government's standards and rhetoric, could be labeled anti-American because they do not necessarily approve of the actions taken by the administration ostensibly on their behalf, is similarly high.
If Olaya Street Could Talk is not only an interesting personal narrative of the author's life as an expat in Saudi Arabia, punctuated by fascinating travel tales, it is also an important book for our times, with many positive things to say about the Kingdom. At times saddening and enraging, but much of the time fascinating and engaging, this book is highly recommended.