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.
Monday, May 31, 2004
The Saudi Lottery
An email from a correspondent prompted the following train of thought. Although gambling is un-Islamic, we're always having lotteries for autos in the shopping malls, and I'm sure some tame Imam could be persuaded to issue a Fatwa saying that this scheme is OK.
Every week, Saudi citizens could buy a 10-Riyal ticket with a number from 0 to 20. Then, following the weekly terrorist "surrounding" and shoot-out, those whose number matches the number of escaping terrorists, win a cash prize. It's topical, it's exciting, and no other country could imitate it.
I'm going to propose the idea to the Saudi Ministry of Fun and Frivolity. For obvious reasons, members of the security forces won't be allowed to take part. And I'll try and avoid getting a "0" ticket.
When I spoke last time about the high levels of public safety in Saudi Arabia, I did exclude terrorist activity. However two events since then have seemed to mock my words; the shooting of a German national last week as he came out of a bank, and the most recent atrocity in Alkhobar.
This time we didn't use the "Keystone Cops", we used an elite commando unit. And while the operation was as successful as such operations can be, three terrorists still managed to escape from a single surrounded building. Not that that will be a surprise to anyone. There's a quota, you see.
And, to compound this bad news:-
- the vilest murders were committed on non-Muslims in the name of Islam
- the victims were expatriates, our guests, whom we are supposed to protect
- the expatriates worked in oil, the one and only sector of our economy that actually makes money for us, rather than spends it
- if those expatriates chose to leave (and who could blame them?), then that sector will grind to a halt - we are a nation of managers, not workers
- the West, faced with a loss of its oil supplies and a possible world recession, would be sorely tempted to come in and occupy the facilities. Again, who could blame them?
- our country could be the next beneficiary of the United States' unique approach to "winning hearts and minds". However we'd only have ourselves to blame.
I'd like to be able to say that the overwhelming majority of my fellow Saudis totally condemn this terrorism. Sadly, that is just not true. There is a substantial minority, if not verging on a majority, who applaud any action that discomfits a royal family whom they perceive to be "unreliable" in religious terms, and to be too friendly with the US. So they support any action against them, regardless of who dies. And I see this support for the terrorists all around me, both in furtive conversations and more overt celebrations, the smiling jokes among friends, the victory fist punched in the air.
So while it would be nice to see Madrid-style mass demonstrations in the streets of Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Makkah, Madinah, condemning this terrorism in all its manifestations, forget it, it's not going to happen. We have other priorities. Hitler was obsessed with the racial purity of Greater Germany. We are obsessed with the religious purity of the Arabian Peninsula.
You may recall that a few weeks ago, I talked about Saudi censorship of the printed media. Well it doesn't stop there; our censors have the entire Web to worry about! When the internet first emerged, our authorities just ignored it. Then they started to realize that they couldn't ignore it while attempting to join civilized countries in bodies like the World Trade Organization. Meanwhile, leading edge citizens were connecting to it, at great expense, thru phone links to other Gulf countries. So in 1999 they finally allowed access. However, the "catch" was that all Saudi ISP's have to connect thru a bank of servers in the King AbdulAziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) in Riyadh, a "Technology Park" situated between the Sheraton Hotel and Ikea.
One advantage of this arrangement to the government is that it can track and listen into all the the conversations in and out of the Kingdom. A second benefit is that it can prevent its citizens from seeing forbidden sites. And usually a site is forbidden because:
- it is pornographic
- it carries a political message unacceptable to the government
- it carries a religious message unacceptable to the clerical elite. However this applies mostly to non-Wahabbi-Sunni variants of Islam, rather than the other major world religions.
- someone in KACST decides he doesn't like a site for some totally arbitrary reason.
- a site is added because of "finger trouble".
Whenever we try and access such a site thru a Saudi ISP, this is what we see:-
Attractive, isn't it? Islam is renowned for the richness of its ornamental art and its exquisite calligraphy. Therefore, KACST has scoured the country for the most talented web designers in order to come up with this page. And they have also taken some perfectly good Arabic "Access to this page...." and turned it into the ugly English techno-babble "Access to the requested URL...". Are those of us without a Computer Science degree supposed to know what that means? However I digress...
As a citizen, we can report any site that ought to be blocked - have fun, put in www.microsoft.com. You will also note that this page allows us to report a site when it is blocked for no good reason; we are invited to fill out a form and report it. This form is then transmitted to KACST's Customer Care Department, so named because it acts as an outlet for customers who care. However do not assume that the staff of this department care likewise; in fact they do not give the proverbial "tinker's cuss". Chosen for their complete lack of motivation and work ethic, and in between chatting with friends on mobile phones, smoking, drinking coffee, eating donuts, scratching their private parts and snoozing, they convey the message to some huge electronic trashcan, secure in the knowledge that the customer has achieved some cathartic release, but is not naive enough to expect a reply, let alone any action.
It will come as no surprise that the Religious Policeman blog is blocked. However, I don't take it personally, because every Blogspot blog, and there must be thousands of them, are similarly blocked. So whether it's this one, or some others, or a combination, we'll never know. Unless you want to send a message to KACST Customer Care and ask....
I do notice, however, that many of my fellow-countrymen are reading this blog. There are ways of bypassing the blocking mechanism that are fairly obvious to any observant internet user. I won't speculate any further, to avoid giving KACST any clues, and ask that you likewise refrain in any responses.
KACST, being civil servants, are obviously clueless when it comes to making the most of this page. They could, for example, make it artistic, as I have done below, using Michelangelo's "Last Judgement" to depict the fate in Hell that would otherwise follow a visit to the site in question, had it not been blocked for the sake of their immortal soul.
It has also escaped their notice that this must be, by a long way, the single most frequently accessed page in Saudi Arabia. As internet Real Estate, it's as valuable as it gets. If I had the rights to sell advertising on it, I could retire next month as a very rich man. So why it doesn't have Pepsi or Kudu (a chain of hamburger joints) as a background, I have no idea.
As you can see, I'm not very good with Photoshop. However if the talented artists out there would like to submit alternative designs, I'd be glad to publish them. I'll even make sure they're mailed to KACST (but not to Customer Care)!
RIYADH: Three Saudi reformists who have been in detention for two months will go on trial after authorities turned down a proposal put forward to secure their release, the wife of one of them said.
"Ali al-Demaini, Matrouk al-Faleh and Abdullah al-Hamed were told by a lawyer today that they will be referred to the courts," Demaini's wife, Fawzia al-Ouyuni, told AFP Wednesday after visiting her detained husband in Riyadh.
A dozen had originally been arrested in mid-March, following a political meeting in a hotel. Some were released, after promising to desist from further activity. However the three remaining political prisoners
would not have admitted guilt for signing petitions demanding political reform or other pro-reform activities and would not have undertaken to cease those in future
They will therefore be tried in closed session, with no reporters, jury, or legal representation, in what is called in this country "A Trial", but in any other part of the world is called a "Kangaroo Court". To quote the FAQ from the London Embassy of Saudi Arabia, "The West's judicial system is the result of its own historic evolution and so is Saudi Arabia's. According to Saudi tradition there are no juries, nor are there likely to be in the future. Lawyers are not an integral part of the system. One can bring a lawyer but that is optional. We don't consider the presence of lawyers a prerequisite for the delivery of justice." So what do you think are their chances of an acquittal?
Here's a little test, to see if you've been paying attention to all of this blog so far. Match the act, and what should happen next.
1. You take part in a political meeting in a hotel.
2. You are an adult male and you have sex with a 13-year-old girl.
a) Someone writes a flattering newspaper article about you.
b) You go to prison
If you answered 1b and 2a, well done, you have the mind of a "Muttawa", reward yourself with a shawarma, a smoke, and a snooze.
If you answered 1a and 2b, you're obviously still corrupted by decadent western zionist thinking, you don't understand our unique traditions and culture, go back to the beginning and start again.
BURAIDAH, 21 May 2004 — Four militants and a policeman were killed and one militant and two security men were injured yesterday in a shootout during a raid on a militant hideout in Khudaira, a southern district of Buraidah.
A statement from the Ministry of the Interior said security forces uncovered a group of wanted terror suspects in the Khudaira area.
(Note: A "Rest House" is not somewhere we put our elderly relatives to spend their final days. It's our equivalent of a Pub or Bar, no booze of course, but lots of food, coffee, Sheesha / Hookah / water Pipe smoking, and of course no women. Some even have soccer pitches and swimming pools for the athletic.)
This time the "score" is a bit more respectable, only two out of seven escaped, but even that is two too many. How police can manage to "surround" a house yet allow terrorists to escape thru the cordon remains a continuing mystery, and of course the cynics here say that they were "meant" to escape. It's a good job the cops didn't guard the Iraq border in the first Gulf War; Saddam would have been thru them and sipping Johnny Walker in King Fahad's palace while they were still trying to figure out where to get a cup of coffee.
Meanwhile, some interesting snippets from the Head of Civil Defense (our Fire Service). Now I have much more respect for these guys than for the cops. When there's an emergency, The Civil Defense generally look as though they know exactly what they are doing, unlike the cops who usually stand around bewildered or shout at each other randomly.
Civil Defense helicopters provided crucial assistance in last month’s siege on a mountainous area northeast of Riyadh where a group of terrorists were holed up.
This of course is a reference to the terrorists who were "completely surrounded" some weeks ago. The newspapers then went completely quiet, which meant that the bad guys got away (once more), the editors obviously thought that we all have the attention span of a goldfish and would immediately forget the whole thing. The "crucial assistance" of the helicopters obviously didn't do the job, apart from warning the terrorists of their impending arrival from 10 kilometers away; as you would expect, our cynics say that it was the intention.
Another little gem of a quote:
Al-Tuwajiri denied reports the department was hiring female firefighters. “There is no such plan,” he said. “Women cannot do this kind of work. It is for men only. Our culture and traditions prohibit this because it will lead to mixing between men and women.”
No mealy-mouthed concession to womens' rights there. Sad. In other parts of the world, women do serve in the fire services, as long as they can pass the same physical, for example carrying a male colleague up a ladder. Perhaps, if they had women in the Fire Service, they would have been allowed into that burning Makkah school, and fifteen girls would not have died.
Some people ask whether Saudi Arabia is all bad; others wonder why I continue living here, especially having experienced the West. In order to present some sort of balance, here are three major things that are good about my home country.
1. Family. Saudi society revolves around the extended family, and we are very family-minded. We spend a lot of time socializing together in the family. We also venerate age. Therefore our older relatives gain more respect and care, the older they get. We would never dream of putting them in a so-called "Care Home" or "Assisted Living" ("Assisted Dying"?) community, we look after them ourselves. Sometimes the close attention and curiosity of one's family can be extremely cloying, however it is reassuring as well. My extended family is the main reason I continue to live here.
2. Infrastructure. A century ago, the Arabian peninsula must have been one of the most God-fordaken places on earth. Limited water, extreme temperatures, vast expanses of uninhabited nothing. With the oil revenues, and all credit to earlier governments, much has been sunk into infrastructure - water desalination, an excellent road system, education and literacy, hospitals and public health.
3. Public safety Unless you are unfortunate enough to get in the way of a terrorist bomb, and with the exception of our roads (where standards of driving are appalling), this is a very safe place to live. Somebody once quoted to me that there are more murders each year in Washington DC than there have been in the whole of Saudi Arabia since its inception. Muggings are extremely few and far between, and unlike in the West, I can walk with my family thru the city center or in the neighborhood, at 2.00 in the morning, with absolutely no fear of a drive-by shooting or being set upon by a gang of drunken hooligans.
Of course, these good things apply equally to Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the Emirates and Oman, but in addition these countries have varying measures of democracy, womens' rights, free speech, civil rights and religious freedom, with no cruel and unusual punishments. That's all I ask for Saudi Arabia....
This is a story that will never go away. And neither should it. It typifies all that is bad in our society; fear of foreigners, an injust and inept judicial system, refusal to acknowledge the blindingly obvious, fear of "losing face" at a governmental level.
JEDDAH, 15 May 2004 — A Saudi high court judge has dismissed as “baseless” allegations by four Britons that they were tortured at a Riyadh prison to extract confessions.
Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Khudairy said the six Westerners — four Britons, a Canadian and a Belgian — were convicted after 13 judges had looked into the case.
Three of them were sentenced to death while two others were given jail terms for carrying out a series of blasts in Riyadh and Alkhobar in 2001, Okaz newspaper reported.
The court convicted the five after they confessed their crimes on Saudi Television. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd later pardoned them at the request of their families.
Here we have a Saudi High Court judge saying that there is nothing wrong with the Saudi judicial system. Well, to quote the legendary Mandy Rice-Davies, commenting on one of her "tricks" who denied ever meeting her, "He would say that, wouldn't he?".
Quite simply, the Saudi legal system is completely In Camera. That means that there are no cameras! There are also no reporters. The process is totally secret. I was flippant before when I said that cases were decided by cockroach races and reading entrails. In fact no animals are harmed in the process. The case is decided on the basis of scissors - paper - stone (best of five). However I digress.
The story starts in November 17, 2000, when Christopher Rodway and his wife were driving thru Riyadh in their 4WD. Suddenly it blew up, and Mr Rodway was seriously injured. We have a very stupid law that prevents us giving first-aid before the paramedics come , and they took 40 minutes to arrive. So poor Mrs Rodway, who was less seriously injured, had to sit all that time in her wrecked vehicle, next to her husband who was bleeding to death, surrounded by a crowd of gawping Saudis who could not or would not do anything to help. It beggars belief.
There then followed a series of attacks against westerners, of which this is an incomplete list.
What happened then was that the police started arresting other westerners, and said that the whole thing was some sort of turf war between the operators of illegal expatriate "pubs". (And no, they didn't have signs outside like "Rose and Crown", with karaoke music drifting out of the window, they're nondescript houses in housing compounds.) Well to those of us on the outside, this seemed complete nonsense. The people picked up were "boozers", it was generally accepted, but boozers are usually good at boozing, not at making sophisticated bombs with mercury-switch detonation mechanisms. The obvious answer was some sort of home-grown anti-western terrorist organization.
However this wasn't obvious to Prince Nayif. And every time there was another bombing, more westerners got arrested. Being a westerner at that time was no joke.
If you got bombed, it was Bad News, because:
a) Everyone assumed you were a boozer
b) Your wife and family had to pack up and leave within five days, because their visas were no longer valid without you, and
c) You were dead
Whereas, if you didn't get bombed, you were in dread of the night-time knock on the door, because Nayif needed more western scapegoats.
The situation became so ludicrous that even in 2002, westerners were still being arrested following bombings. Nayif was committed to his piece of fiction, and he would "lose face" if he owned up to the obvious truth. He even at one point accused the kindly and civilized diplomats from the British Embassy of being behind the whole thing.
The whole thing was no joke for those who were arrested. They got the full "Saudi Prison Experience", and were even paraded on TV to give "confessions", which is why they are now suing. This lengthy article will give you some flavor of their ordeal.
Why did the Government of Saudi Arabia frame seven westerners for a series of car bombings they didn't commit?
Those car bombings, which began in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in November 2000, killed three members of the expatriate community and severely injured several others. To western observers, they were clearly the work of Islamic fundamentalists.
But the Saudis were not about to admit that. So five Britons, a Canadian and a Belgian found themselves arrested, systematically tortured into false confessions and eventually convicted of those bombings.
The whole farce ended with the major housing compound bombings of a year ago. That was something they couldn't pin on westerners, although I've no doubt the option occurred to them. So the prisoners got a "Royal Pardon", not, you will note, a reprieve. No wonder these guys are suing. I wish them all the best. The shame of this episode will sully Saudi Arabia's name, until the government has the honesty and courage to come out to the world and say "We were wrong, and we aplogize to these men and their families for the trauma we have inflicted on them."
Every self-respecting country ought to have a Royal Family. The Brits have got one. The Danes do, and had a lovely wedding yesterday. Even India has the Gandhis. And we have the House of Saud.
So where did they come from? Let me tell you a little story. Once upon a time, on a hill known as Watership Down, there lived a family of rabbits. They had a family name, let's call them the Hashemites. They ate grass and skipped around, did nobody any harm, really.
However, nearby lived another family of rabbits. They were seriously wierd. All their female rabbits had to stay inside the burrow. Whenever there was an eclipse, they would hold special rituals. They took everything absolutely literally. They were led by the meanest, baddest rabbit ever. Let's call him AbdulAziz.
He decided to move in on the rabbits on Watership Down, and take the place over. This he did, relatively easily. The poor old Hashemites moved off, so some very poor and scrubby land up north. AbdulAziz was now King of some very prosperous real estate.
He decided it was time to start a family. As I said, these rabbits were seriously wierd. They had a rule that you could have 4 wives at a time. Tough shit on the 75% of male rabbits who ended up celibate, they could always go off and be terrorists. So King AbdulAziz started to procreate, as rabbits do. When he got bored with one wife, he divorced her, and married another one. In fact he married several, having children all along the way. And of course these children interbred, thru several generations.
This tale illustrates why we now have several thousand Princes and Princesses. They all get a pension. However there remains the problem of how to find them gainful employment.
Some are real businessmen in their own right. Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud owns lots of everything. However others operate, let us say, less mainstream businesses. When cops make a drugs arrest, they will never follow the chain upwards, knowing what they would find. Many are involved in the "beverage industry". Others are Venture Capitalists. When they spot a growth business, for example mobile phone sales, they will approach the owner with a "buyout opportunity". When the owner rejects the low price, he is reminded that he could easily become the guest of Prince Nayif's penal correction system, no questions asked. So the bad news is that he has to sell. The good news is that he gets to stay on and manage his old business, on a lousy salary.
This leaves the top princes. Clearly they have to be found positions in the top echelons of government. The royal succession passes via elder brothers, so that's all sewn up. The current King, Fahad, is not a well man. In fact he is both a diabetic and an alcoholic, which is a Bad Thing. It is said that he has so many intravenous drips, so many pipes going into him, that he looks like an Oil Terminal. Then there is Crown Prince Abdullah. He is the next oldest brother, so he is next in line, and the current de facto ruler, given King Fahad's incapacity.
But what to do with the others? Imagine, in earlier years, a family picnic in the grounds of one of the palaces. The younger princes and princesses play together. Young Sultan has lost his Action Man. Young Nayif is beating one of his smaller cousins with a stick; "Apostate!", he shouts, not knowing what it means, but liking the sound of it. Fahad (in tube-festooned wheelchair) and Abdullah, discuss their future careers.
"Saud's no problem", says Abdullah, "He's bright, urbane, witty, charming. Good talker, complete bullshit of course, but it sounds plausible. Make him Foreign Minister, he can be the Acceptable Face of Saudi Arabia, he'll make us all look civilized. I can just hear those women on the diplomatic circuit. "Darling, last night I met the Saudi Foreign Minister! Absolutely Divine! Such a charmer, such twinkling brown eyes! Made me feel twenty years younger!""
"That's settled, then" says Fahad, pushing the plunger on his glucose tube and giving himself another shot. Nayif, meanwhile, has discovered a young female cousin holding Sultan's Action Man, and is throwing large stones at her. "Harlot, adultress, whore!" he screams, his face livid with rage. Eventually, she loses consciousness; Nayif loses interest.
"Sultan", continues Abdullah, "is quite straightforward. He loves his Action Man, his toy tanks, his model aeroplanes. We'll make him the Minister of Defence and Civil Aviation. He'll probably make Saudi Airlines buy every airliner that's going, he thinks Airfix make them, but since when did our nationalized industries have to worry about being cost-effective, that's what the oil money is for".
"OK", says Fahad, for whom any conversation is a bit of an effort. "The one I really worry about is Nayif"
"I know what you mean", replies Abdullah, looking at the prnce in question, who has now captured a stray cat, and is cutting off its head with a steak knife. "He's definitely the dimmest of the lot, I doubt he'd even get into Imam University. He's nasty, mean, sadistic, and completely stupid. I don't think we have anything that would suit him."
Meanwhile Prince Nayif, having decapitated the cat, has climbed into his toy Police Car. He's driving round in circles, blue light flashing, going "Nee-Naw-Nee-Naw", and eating a shawarma, just like the real thing. Abdullah and Fahad look at each other, each having the same flash of inspiration. "Minister of the Interior!" they exclaim simultaneously.
Abdullah settles back in his chair, satisfied. Fahad rewards himself by pushing the plunger on his tube of Johnny Walker Red Label.
1) An expression of sympathy from our government to the victims and relatives of the Al Qaeeda bombings in Madrid
2) An expression of sympathy from our government to the family of Nick Berg
We get lots of hand-wringing about Arab civilian deaths in Iraq and Palestine, but never for the death of Western or Israeli civilians. Even though our Quraan, like the Old Testament, expressly forbids the killing of innocents.
May 2004 seems to be the month for government and popular hypocrisy, on all sides, to plumb the depths.
The Saudi government is making a lot about the Iraqi prison abuses.
AMMAN, 13 May 2004 — Speaker of the Saudi Shoura Council Dr. Saleh ibn Humaid yesterday condemned the abuses committed against Iraqi prisoners by the US-led coalition troops as “hideous”, and warned the latest violation of human rights in Iraq could “exacerbate” the risk of terrorism.
Fair enough, except that it comes from the Speaker of our “Poodle Parliament”, which has not, to my certain knowledge, ever asked for an enquiry into the abuses committed against Saudi and other prisoners by Saudi security forces within Saudi prisons. True, our guys generally confine themselves to “bastinado”, sleep deprivation, and threatening to rape the victim’s wife / daughter / mother; they don’t generally use dogs (unclean), urination, or women warders pointing at genitals. However who knows whether they will now copy these new techniques from the US and Great Britain.
It’s all a depressing time for the Human Race. Governments and individuals on all sides are showing that we’ve not really advanced that much in the last few thousand years. However I would make one point. What the Coalition troops did in Iraq prisons is appalling, and very much undermines any case they make for bringing “Western Civilisation” to Iraq. However the West does have press and TV media that highlights and exposes these “dark corners”, and a political and judicial system that will, eventually, get to some sort of truth and bring about some sort of justice. In Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, the government can do what it pleases, it is never subject to internal criticism, or brought to account. So, whilst we’d rather not have your interrogation techniques, we’d very much like your free press and independent judiciary.
I won't be doing this too often, there aren't that many and I'm too old for their typical clientele.
Many thanks for all the good wishes, I am safe but there's too much activity around for me to use my normal link. Thanks for all the emails but please excuse the lack of reply, I'm sure you'll understand.
Anyway, I just had to come on air because of the latest piece of idiocy from our rulers. Forget what I ever said about Crown Prince Abdullah being relatively reasonable - he's completely lost the plot. Prince Nayif, on the other hand, has always lived in a mad world of his own.
JEDDAH, 8 May 2004 — Saudi Arabia is in a state of war with terrorism, Interior Minister Prince Naif declared yesterday. But he also said efforts at communicating with extremists had been effective in bringing a number of them back into the fold.
Speaking to top military and civilian officials in Jeddah last Saturday when four terrorists went on a shooting spree in Yanbu killing five Westerners and a National Guard officer, the crown prince said he believed Zionists were behind most terrorist attacks in the Kingdom. But in a press statement after the attack, Prince Naif blamed Al-Qaeda.
“I don’t see any contradiction in the two statements, because Al-Qaeda is backed by Israel and Zionism,” he said.
So there you have it. It's official, our Interior Minister says so. It's all the fault of the Jews, just like they teach us in school. Al Qaeeda is a front for the Mossad. Osama Bin Laden is really a Jewish kid from the Bronx, went out one day to buy some bagels but somehow ended up in Afghanistan where he led all those good Arab boys astray and got them to practice blowing things up with historic Buddha statues. But you have to admit that the Jews are clever, the way they threaten themselves with oblivion; there's nothing more deceptive than a double-bluff.
Anyway, it'll be easy to pick them up at the roadblocks. This is the photo of the man that all the cops will be looking out for.
Clearly it's only the US's spectacular PR disaster in Iraq that has prevented this getting more headlines. It typifies our two Arab diseases - self-denial of the blindingly obvious, and blaming everyone else. With attitudes like that permeating the highest levels of government, we can be assured that our War on Terrorism will continue to be a futile farce. We might as well save ourselves the bother, let's invite the Talibaan in right now, Mrs. A ought to stay in more anyway, my daughter would enjoy a break from school, and maybe our national soccer team will play better in full length pants.