Photo: Gene Puskar (AP)

‚ÄúCaravans of progress take time to cross a desert of resistance,‚ÄĚ wrote Jay Paterno in an op-ed for Arab News yesterday. The self-professed ‚Äúconsultant on politics, leadership, crisis communications and public relations‚ÄĚ has a lot to teach us, it turns out. Folks, I‚Äôve harbored a personal ‚Äúdesert of resistance‚ÄĚ towards the Saudi regime for their unfortunate habit of murdering journalists and activists, their singularly repressive human rights record, and their genocidal war in Yemen, but I have finally been swayed by a caravan of progress. Thanks to Mr. Paterno, I now see the truth.

It is pretty cool that a newspaper funded by the Saudi royal family would let someone like Paterno come to their country and write about how we‚Äôre more together than we are apart. To me, that shows bravery from the Kingdom. If Paterno‚Äôs brave experience sounds like ‚Äúcynical PR hustling from an experienced defender of disgraced regimes‚ÄĚ or ‚Äúpropaganda‚ÄĚ then maybe you need to put your innovation cap on, because the kingdom has plenty of that! Did you know they have smartphones over there? Oh golly! So cool!

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‚ÄúIn the West, the Kingdom can seem to be a distant and veiled foreign land. But I decided to put macro-geopolitical controversies aside and go focused on learning from personal connections,‚ÄĚ writes Paterno. So true. There are plenty of fake friends out there who will point towards Saudi Arabia‚Äôs ghastly record of targeting LGBT youth, or the country‚Äôs dreadful treatment of migrant workers, or their bizarre threat to do another 9/11 to Canada over questions about its human rights record, or their record of crucifying people, but have those haters ever been on a junket to the Kingdom to see what it‚Äôs really like?

If we actually got the chance to get paid to go on a guided trip to concerts and shit like Paterno, maybe we would see a country that‚Äôs doing innovation and stuff. Other respected thought leaders like Thomas Friedman learned a lot about tolerance, so clearly the Saud family is actually good and cool. Neither Friedman nor Paterno saw any executions or anything unsavory like that, and Paterno didn‚Äôt even write about any supposed ‚Äúhuman rights travesties,‚ÄĚ so clearly they don‚Äôt exist. Are you going to believe people online or are you going to believe a man who had an all-expenses paid trip that moved him so much that he wrote an op-ed?

While I may have come believing it was a closed country wanting to turn its back on the rest of the world, the opposite was true in everyone we met. From routine interactions with ordinary people to bigger events, I found in the Saudi people a fierce pride of place in their home country.

The crown prince’s visit to a number of countries played a great role in highlighting the potential and investment opportunities in the kingdom.

I was skeptical before too, Mr. Paterno, but, damn, sounds awesome!