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.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Heaven and Hell 

You've got to love today's technology. It can shine a light into all those dark corners, where otherwise the cockroaches would lurk and scurry. It's a force that can reveal all the nastiness and stupidity in the world, and bring it out into the light of day.

An example of technology's power is Farah's camera phone. She shone it on a corner in King Saud University in Riyadh. The corner in question is a faculty bulletin board. And it contains guidance to female students on the correct way to dress in public.

Now KSU is an educational establishment for our finest and brainiest. So you might think that the cartoon-like imagery is a bit patronizing for bright university students. However, that would be to judge the picture at a superficial level. Like all great religious paintings, it can be approached at many levels. Let's start to unpick it.

In Christian church art, this would be called a "triptych", because it contains three graphic panels. Let's start with the one on the right. The lady on the right is wearing the standard "ninja" abaya and veil. There is nothing to relieve the drab monotony of its outline. Of course, she could be covering something really fashionable. However, in all probability, she's wearing another abaya underneath. And another underneath that, and so on, the Saudi equivalent of the "Russian Doll". Note that she is not carrying a handbag or purse. Thus, while she may look in the shops, she does not actually buy anything. Likewise, she is not able to carry a phone, and so does not gossip or chat with friends. Obviously, she does not carry cosmetics. Overall, we may regard her as conformist and dull. Or, in Western teenage parlance, "sad".

By contrast, the lady on the left is wearing a separate detachable veil. Not only does it reveal brief glimpses of facial flesh, it also implies the tantalizing possibility that she may whip it off and reveal a full frontal face. The overall effect is a stylish personal statement. She is probably wearing something fashionable underneath. She carries a large handbag or purse. She likes shopping, chatting with her friends. Naturally, she carries cosmetics. There is even room for a large bunch of car keys, when "some day" finally arrives. Overall, she is interesting, definitely "her own person". In Western teenage parlance, she is "cool".

Let us now turn our attention to the middle panel. It depicts "Heaven and Hell". Heaven, on the left, is represented by a blazing log fire. Heaven is in fact a large rambling resort hotel in somewhere very much like New England. It is a "hotel of a thousand rooms", so you can be as solitary or gregarious as you wish. Outside, it is early Fall, the sun is shining, the tree colors are gorgeous, the air is crisp and inviting. What better, after a long walk in the bracing air, to come back and sit by that same blazing log fire in the foyer, while one of the heavenly host brings you a spiced mulled wine? Later, there is dinner, excellent as always, with fine wines and stimulating company. The library of books and DVD's is extensive, and the many salons provide a range of entertainment from the raucous to the ethereal. My own favorite is the salon where long-deceased but world-class string quartets play for their and our pleasure.

By contrast, we see Hell on the right. Hell is a big muddy field with the occasional copse of trees. The weather is always drizzling with rain. You may occasionally see a rabbit. More often you will see a cow; as you approach it, it "moos" and defecates noisily. You cannot avoid treading in the stuff. If you want something approaching "fun", head off towards the copse, but look out for the Poison Ivy. In a clearing, there is a group of elderly Boy Scouts, sitting round a puny camp fire, singing camp fire songs and attempting to roast marshmallows. (No offense, but as "Miss Jean Brodie" famously remarked in the book of the same name, "For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like"). This world is of course also the world of the Muttawa, and they drive up in a demonic GMC to put a stop to all this fun. However, you can still tread in the cow stuff if you wish.

So, the moral of the picture? The lady on the left goes to Heaven. It's her sort of place. She enjoys the good things there, and the people suit her. We enjoy meeting her up there. As well as our nearest and dearest, we enjoy her company for her wit, her unique outlook on life, her individualism. Not only that, don't forget the large handbag. When she is not exercising her new-found driving skills, she is generous to a fault with her money. In my case, she gives me the money for the mega-size flat screen LCD TV I've been pining for.

By contrast, the lady on the right goes to Hell. Well, let's face it, Heaven wouldn't suit her. She prefers the endlessly dull rainy days and boring company. Only stay away from her, because she has no handbag. Just when you've saved enough for that flat screen TV, she comes over and gives you a hard luck story. She borrows the money and disappears over the soggy horizon. Time to try and make some more money by selling marshmallows to Boy Scouts.

I just hope those lady students have "got the message" and are dressing appropriately.

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