Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Saudi Debate Society is Newsworthy

Monday, July 7, 2008 at 10:39am | Edit Note | Delete

Mobilizing opinion through Facebook
Laura Bashraheel | Arab News

LET’S TALK IT OVER: The Saudi Debate Society group was created by Yamen Al-Hajjar, a 24-year-old Boston University graduate who works for Saudi Aramco.

Facebook has grown very rapidly and has become more than just a social networking website. It is also a site for the unrestricted discussion of a range of social issues. Through creating social groups in Facebook, Saudi youth are free to express different opinions, attitudes and points of view in a more open and informal way. In addition, communication through an entity such as Facebook is important for doing away with misconceptions.

Yamen Al-Hajjar, a 24-year-old Boston University graduate who works for Saudi Aramco as a financial analyst, has created a group called the Saudi Debate Society on Facebook. “I created the group to serve as a catalyst for Saudi youth to discuss important issues which impact upon their lives and for them to take an active stance in improving society for the better,” said Al-Hajjar.

When he was in college, he used to meet weekly with a group of friends to discuss what could be done to improve Saudi Arabia after they graduated and returned to the Kingdom.

“Other than discussions, I wanted to go a step further and work with a group of like-minded Saudis in order to serve the community and raise funds for the less fortunate members of our society,” he said.

Addressing negative thinking and negative behavior was a common theme for Al-Hajjar. “Our goal wasn’t to complain and blame certain individuals or offices but rather to try to work with them in order to benefit society,” he explained.

The main question, however, is would the groups have an impact and would their voices be heard. “Group discussions make a difference even if the changes sought will take time and are slow,” he said. He believes that group discussions stimulate the mind because one is constantly trying to prove a certain point in the presence of other talented individuals.

“We have many areas needing improvement in our society,” said Al-Hajjar. “Many young Saudis would like to dispel the negative myths about their country. That will only happen if youth joins together and proves to the world that we are not all destructive extremists. Rather that we are smart, talented, and accepting individuals and our religious beliefs teach us to live in peace,” he said.

The group’s current project is a youth-based blood donation drive that will not only raise awareness about the benefits of blood donation but also gather a large number of volunteers to support hospitals and medical centers.

With the number of users at more than 63 million, Facebook is believed to be as active a tool as any in the media. “I believe it is critical to capitalize on such an important tool and try to benefit from the features it offers instead of using it only for fun or in negative ways,” said Al-Hajjar. “We have to start somewhere to create change; if our generation doesn’t take a strong leadership position now, we will not progress and compete with the world’s nations,” said Al-Hajjar.

Mohammed Al-Khereiji, a 24-year-old Jeddah-based student, is behind the creation of Saudi Mentality Group. He wants to bring to people’s notice how society is changing rapidly and how values are being lost. “Corruption and the loss of morals have always been around everywhere, but in the past six years, Saudi society has changed in much more rapid and alarming ways,” said Al-Khereiji. He believes that people can benefit greatly from learning about other people’s perspectives and points of view instead of sticking to the mind-set they were raised to believe in. He also said that one of the group’s goals is to show young people how they can have a happy active and fun-filled life and still maintain their Islamic and Arab identity.

Facebook is not tied to a certain social group, age or sex. Having both a mixture and a wide exposure, many believe that it is a positive step in the direction of change. “I think that exposing narrow-minded people to other ideas and opinions can change and improve them,” said Al-Khereiji.

He agrees with Al-Hajjar about the changes Facebook can bring about. “I can’t honestly say what the effect of Facebook is on our society because of the sheer number of people who use it. But I know for a fact that it can have a wonderful positive effect if it is used correctly,” he added.


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