So Saudi Arabia is splitting its forces in order to fight what it sees as the greater fight; they are reportedly sending around a thousand troops into Bahrain, at the invitation of the crown prince (my lack of capitals – after all, there are so many crown princes around this area, it’s essentially become a generic term).

Obviously these troops have been otherwise engaged in the last few weeks, crushing the few small-scale protests that have been ‘allowed’ in Riyadh.

Since it has become apparent that what come commentators insist on referring to as the ‘Arab Spring’ (mwahahahah, as in gymnastics, d’you see?) is more resilient than at first supposed, the key question this was always going to boil down to was: are there more loyal troops than disloyal ones?

The first thing to notice here is just how much these theocracies/oligarchies spend on their military. OK, we all know it’s going to be a lot. But according to the CIA’s suspiciously jolly-sounding ‘World Factbook’ (does it have pop-ups?) not only is Saudi Arabia the world’s 3rd highest spender on the military – as expressed by spend as a % of GDP, 10% in their case – but 6 of the top 10 are Arab Muslim states. Plus, one of the others is Israel – which you might say was directly linked to the others.

So I think it’s fair to say that these countries have all been preparing pretty thoroughly for some professional-level repression of their own populaces (unless Oman, at number one, were seriously considering invading Australia or something – actually thinking about it they probably wouldn’t go for one of the few places hotter than their own country. Maybe Wales then?).

The second thing to notice is that, in all of the footage of these current conflicts, from Libya to Yemen – no-one is burning their own flag in protest.

We will all have seen some ritualistic flag burning over the years, largely it has to be said of the American one. (Where do they get those flags from incidentally? How does owning a factory churning out the revered and yet flammable icon of the Great Satan sit with the ayatollahs?).

In those instances, whether consciously or not, those people recognise they are defiling the symbol of nationhood of another country. Simply, I think the fact they are not doing this with their own symbol means it’s not the nation that’s broken, it’s the administration of it. That is to say, the flag still means unity to them.

There is a lot of conjecture about how bad the replacements for some of these regimes may be, and in particular the contention that the resulting power vacuum will be a breeding round for further extremism. And yet – where are Al Qaeda in all this? There was a brief panic about the Muslim Brotherhood (which sounds more like a specialist barbershop quartet to me in any case) – but unusally for our media, that was largely founded in complete ignorance since the MB was founded in 1928 as a nationalist movement and has been essentially stamped on by successive governments ever since, trying to field legitimate candidates for election but prevented from doing so.

The extremist elements we have been trained to think of as the unified voice of Islam by televised idiots (‘Fox news: 7 days, 24 hours, 10 commandments’ – copyright Newsjack) are in fact resolutely anti-nationhood, anti-cultural identity.

The inhabitants of these countries recognise that much better than we do. They don’t want to win some eternal war of faith, and they don’t want to obliterate anyone – they just want to live somewhere where they can wake up with the same number of family members in their house as when they went to bed.

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We cannot recall

March 15, 2010

There are two interesting things about Toyota’s epic recall-a-thon:

1: They are not alone in recalling cars on a large scale. So far from alone, in fact, that they should get some badges and a special jacket made, and elect a club secretary.

2: They have handled it really, really badly.

To look at the first point, an instructive 15mins spent reformatting the list of all car recalls ever issued in the US from the NHTSA here shows you very quickly that pretty much every car manufacturer you can think of does this all the time. In 2010 alone, so far 22 different proper car marques have issued recalls in the US – more if you include Ford, Chrysler & GM!

Only joking – actually no I’m not. Anyone would think that the US media canon wasn’t very happy about Toyota taking over GM’s world number one spot… I must have missed the torrent of panic & opinion about the Chrysler 300 saloon’s wheel nuts being recalled, or the instrument display of the Jeep Grand Cherokee [both listed as 2010 recalls above].

Anyway, the point is everyone does this, all the time. Are they as serious as Toyota’s issues potentially are? Not always, but definitely sometimes.

So why is this such big news now?

Along with no doubt a number of other important factors, one reason is my second point; how was this issue fumbled so badly by such a massive company? The presumption here is that massive companies are more prepared & well fortified from a communications perspective. That may sometimes be the case, but often the reality is that it becomes another process, just like ordering new wheel nuts or instrument clusters.

In the case of Toyota, one of the things that happened was that this issue blew up 10 days before a scheduled fortnightly PR meeting – meaning no-one did anything until the process told them to. After all, you don’t want just-in-time automated systems ordering more wheel nuts whenever they fancy. And all those fancy haircuts at the PR agency are just another supplier, aren’t they?

So there was a big gap, which inevitably got filled with the opinions of everyone who could be bothered to give one. When President & CEO Akio Toyoda (yes, relation) did make a statement, he immediately personalised it by being ‘deeply sorry’ about everything – rather than appearing in control of what had caused the situation. And then he drove off in a nice big, safe Audi

Things to learn here:

1) People don’t hang around waiting for you (as the official brand) to tell them what actually happened; they will form conclusions based on the available evidence, and if you’re not there when that happens – tough.

2) Embrace all dialogue. Imagine you’re a Prius owner that gets an email from Toyota, before there is a story at all, saying ‘It’s no big deal, but because we’re so safety-minded and curious, we’d like to check our solution to the problem everyone has – of making cars stop & go – is still the best one in the market. So come and say hello and we’ll give you a free [insert anything of value here]’. It’s the same solution, but doesn’t totally destroy your brand’s core value..

3) Buy an Audi.

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