Mathematics professor-cum-model Pietro Boselli was among the many influencers taken to task by Instagram's Diet Prada upon attending the MDL Beast music festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia earlier this month, and he is not happy about it. In a seven-minute video posted to his Instagram, the past Attitude magazine cover star called the criticism leveled against himself and others "nonsense" and asked his followers to "adhere to reason, and not the culture of outrage and virtue signaling and finger-pointing that is so rampant on social media nowadays" before passing judgment.
"I just got back from Saudi, I had the most incredible time there and met the friendliest and kindest local people, and I'm really glad I got to visit this country firsthand.
"Unfortunately, I got back and found a bunch of blanket and unilateral accusations against me and other influencers who went there, who apparently sold out to some evil country to ignore human right[s] issues. Which, of course, is utter nonsense, and I invite anyone who forms their opinion to adhere to reason and not to the culture of outrage and virtue signaling and finger-pointing that is so rampant on social media nowadays.
"Of course, our book knowledge of the world can sometimes be biased, and the way that Saudi is portrayed by the Western mainstream media is extremely negatively biased. So we need to inform ourselves properly, and not just copy and paste anecdotal information and make it our own opinion.
"Like every country, Saudi is made by people and not by its rulers. And people in Saudi believe in peace, in happiness and in freedom just as much as we all do. And they deserve not to be isolated or stereotyped by Westerners who haven't even been there, and what is happening right now is a stereotyping of Saudi so extreme that it borders on discrimination and racism, even by people who call themselves liberal progressives. Not everybody in Saudi is stoning and killing people like they want us to believe, just as much as not everybody in the US is shooting people in schools.
"Of course there are several issues in Saudi of which we are all aware of:
"Saudi is an autocracy, so there are limitations in freedom and human rights. Historically, Saudi's been closed to the movement of people. Until last year you couldn't get a tourist visa and now you can, which of course is progress.
"There are many archaic, religious laws in action, which are also improving. Until last year, women couldn't drive, which is crazy, but now they can. The religious influence on the culture is still very strong, and like in every country where there is religious influence, it can slow down progress because progress relies on reason and humanism and not on dogma.
"Also the economy of Saudi is monotone because it mainly relies on petroleum, which means that wealth can be concentrated in a few hands and there can be internal inequalities. In fact 1/8 of the petroleum in the world comes from Saudi, which by the way means that if you are flying on a plane or driving a car, you are buying Saudi oil.
"Other big problems in Saudi, of course, are that Saudi is sadly, one of 67 countries in the world where homosexuality is still criminalized, which is appalling, but we need to be positive and foster progress. And also recognize that progress is happening around the world. Just 60 years ago, homosexuality was criminalized everywhere and now it isn't.
"Other prominent issues in Saudi are the infliction of [the] death penalty. In fact, Saudi is one of the top five countries in the world, by number of capital executions, together with China, Iran, Pakistan and the US.
"All of these issues need to be addressed and need change, and the inception of change is precisely what we are seeing right now in Saudi. And I wanna tell you why the changes happening in Saudi are positive.
"Let me start by saying that wealth, democracy, a free market economy and free movement of people, historically have been the factors that helped many countries to be lifted out of misery and oppression. So opening the borders is definitely positive. The government is investing heavily to create a new sector of the economy, tourism, and varying the economy from the reliance on oil benefits people because it creates jobs and it distributes wealth.
"Openness and movement of people are also positive because as people move, so do ideas, and new liberal ideas can permeate the country. And this is already happening, by the way, through social media. Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Google, these platforms are still banned in China but they're very popular in Saudi. And the openness is positive because eventually people will demand changes from their rulers, like it has happened in other Arab countries like Tunisia, Libya and Egypt during the Arab Spring of 2011.
"I shouldn't be explaining the positiveness of openness. It should be apparent. And it is apparent if you actually go to Saudi and meet the people and see how excited they are about the change that is happening right now. In fact I met, when I was in Saudi, members of the LGBTQ community who thanked me personally for being part of a movement that will show to the world that Saudi is not the terrible place portrayed by the Western media. And in fact, most people there were so thrilled to be finally lifted out of isolation.
"I mean, what is boycotting the country gonna do? What is stereotyping the country gonna do? Is it gonna be good for the people of the country? Not at all. We don't need division, we don’t need exclusion, we need tolerance, we need pluralism. So I encourage anyone to visit Saudi, I encourage anyone to spread awareness about the beauty of this country, as well as its issues. The two things are not mutually exclusive. A positive trend, a positive change should be by no means seen as a cover up for what is wrong. A wrong is a wrong, but also a positive is a positive.
"With the mentality of boycotting, of excluding and of hating, one should not visit many countries in the world. You shouldn't visit China because there's no freedom of speech. You shouldn't visit the US because there are mass shootings or if you don’t agree with the President. And in fact one shouldn’t visit half of the countries in the world for their human rights issues.
"This narrow-mindedness is not progress by any means. Progress relies on reason, and the biggest enemy of reason nowadays is not ignorance, it's politicalization and polarization. I invite anyone to abandon their political entrenchment and to see things from other perspectives. This is called empathy. It's the highest form of intelligence. And we should all be united because most of us mean well, and we should also foster a constructive debate, not outrage, not aggression, and not finger-pointing.
"Thank you everyone, and peace."
Reactions to the video have been mixed. One viewer dubbed it "the most condescending and arrogant explanation of bad behavior [they'd] ever heard," while another praised Boselli sharing his insights.