For those who may think we’re all the same, I offer the following vignette. It was part of a presentation by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), given in 1989 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, when I was in training to sell spare parts to the Royal Saudi Air Force. I subsequently served two years in Riyadh.
How do people resolve disputes? Not everyone employs the same methods.
Let’s say you have a neighbor, and one day, to your surprise, you come home to find he has erected a (very nice) fence one meter into your property. He has taken your land! What do you do?
First, probably, you pay him a visit to call his attention to the error and ask him to move the fence. He blows you off.
Second, you go to a respected mutual friend and ask him to intercede for you. He does, and your neighbor blows him off too.
Third, you engage a lawyer and go to court. Unfortunately, the court does not help.
Fourth, in absolute desperation, you tear down the fence (and wait for your neighbor’s response).
Now let’s reverse the roles and say that your neighbor is an Arab. What would he do?
First, probably, he will tear down your fence. (You erect it again, stronger, electrified, etc.)
Second, he will send a respected mutual friend to negotiate. Let us say you blow him off.
Third, he will resort to the law. They do not help.
Fourth, he will reluctantly come talk to you directly. As all negotiations are zero-sum, someone will win and someone will lose. If he loses, he also loses face in the community. He doesn’t want to take this risk, but he has no alternative now. He much preferred dealing with you via direct action or through proxies.
CAIR offered this story as illustrative of the way things work in Saudi Arabian society, to prepare us for what we would face in the course of daily business.