The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

A Rambling Rant about Saudi Censorship 

A reader of this blog was kind enough to tell me that The Religious Policeman had featured in an article in the London “Sunday Times”. He was even kinder to type it up electronically and email it to me. Why did I ask him to do this? Because the paper version would never get here past the Saudi censorship.

One of the few pleasures in life is to go to the larger bookstores here and buy a copy of an English-language newspaper. Usually it’s one of the British papers, occasionally the IHT or USA Today. They come on that very thin airmail paper. And invariably, they’ll contain apparently random splotches of black. Closer inspection reveals that a young western lady was showing some leg or shoulder, but has been “Magic Marker’d” vigorously, and of course it soaks thru the thin paper to obliterate the other side as well. My wife gets especially annoyed because her copy of Good Housekeeping suffers even worse; all those adverts for showers and “ladies’ things”, you can imagine.

So who’s responsible for poring thru the tens of thousands of magazines and papers that come into the country? Well, in the north of Riyadh there is a certain college of theology, the The Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University.

This institution was created as one of the solutions to our youth unemployment problem. (Look at the sports stadium in the background, what a waste). Each year it takes in thousands of the less gifted of our students, churns them thru an “Islam-by-numbers” remember-everything but understand-nothing sausage machine, and they appear at the far end to become government-salaried Imams with a job for life. (Are we going to run out of mosques for them? Eventually, but one of our Kings once decreed that every Saudi in the land should have a mosque near enough for him to be able to walk to. “That’s every fifty meters”, quipped a very rude Western expat I once knew. And no, I don’t despise all Imams. I have been inspired by some very holy, learned and wise ones. However, none was a graduate of this place.)

So how do the students make a few Riyals in their spare time? Not serving in Fudruckers or a coffee shop, not real work, that’s for sure. You guessed it, they are our censors! Yes, these wheezy-chested, acne-pitted, dentally-challenged, long-bearded apologies for manhood are the ones who decide what I may or may not see. Even though I was already married and embarked on my career when they were still noisily filling their diapers with waste material and foul odors. All their spare time is obviously taken up with poring thru the world’s press, drooling into their beards, shuddering with delight at the sight of Mrs. Bush’s ankle, and then obliterating it with a scribble of the Magic Marker.

Some of the things they do are ludicrous. I was once reading a UK paper when I noticed that a quarter of a page was missing. Checking back to the table of contents, I worked out that it was a report on a speech by Jack Straw, the UK Foreign Minister. Now to the best of my knowledge, Jack Straw does not give speeches wearing a skimpy little cocktail dress that reveals far too much of his legs and bosom. So why was it cut out? I checked the internet news to find out, the speech was about Zimbabwe and Southern Africa. Was it because he’s possibly Jewish? I still have no idea, but if I ever meet the student who did that, I’ll roll up his Spiderman comic and insert it thru his nearest sphincter.

One of the decadent habits I picked up in the West was a liking for classical music. So I’ve built up quite a CD library. Nowadays I get them from Amazon, delivered to my work address, that way they come unopened, unlike anything sent by ordinary mail. But 2 or 3 years ago I was browsing thru a record shop in Riyadh. It was called the “747”, at the corner of Olaya Street and Thalateen Street, (called Thalateen because that means “30” and it’s 30 meters wide, go figure). The 747 used to have a lot of problems with the Religious Police because, like many record shops, it had very narrow aisles. That meant that a woman could not move past a man without brushing against him. It also meant that men and women could meet there clandestinely without being too obvious, or not as obvious as the “couples” you sometimes see pushing a trolley round the supermarket with a single bag of rice in, not looking at the shelves, deep in earnest conversation. Anyway, the Muttawa made the 747 become men-only, and I’m digressing. I was in the 747 and I saw a CD by a string quartet, and on the cover it had a picture just like this

and, as you will have guessed by now, the young lady’s shoulders had received the Magic Marker treatment. How fatuous is that? What vile sin did they possibly imagine they had protected us all from? Imagine the following conversation in the Alanezi household.

Me. I’m going to London tomorrow.

Mrs A. Oh yes, business?

Me. No. I’ve seen a photo of the viola player from the Allegri String Quartet, and as soon as I saw her bare shoulders I just knew that I had to fly to London to see her and fall at her feet and have carnal knowledge of her, even though it means that my soul will be damned to the flames of hellfire for eternity.

Mrs A. That’s nice, can you get me some things from Marks and Spencer?

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