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, December 01, 2005

Disingenuous - the Sequel - update 3 December 

While I was writing the previous post, the passage that really caught my attention, even more than the idea of our heroine sitting at home playing "Scrabble" with the Muttawa, was this....

At Jarir Books, I can sit with my cappuccino in Starbucks, perusing Erica Jong, in view of shelves of “Venus & Mars” and Harry Potter books.

You see, I must have cumulatively spent days, if not weeks, of my life in the Jarir Bookstore. It's an oasis of literacy in Riyadh's endless tedium of womens' dress shops and furniture shops and childrens' clothes shops and jewelry shops and ... (yawn). Western expats love it, as well what you might call, pretentiously, the Riyadh intelligentsia. It's a bit like that cafe in Paris, if you stay there long enough, you'll meet everyone you've ever known in your life.

So I know the contents of Jarir pretty well. Now I have been away for a while, so maybe I'm not up-to-date. And in Riyadh shops, sometimes a naive but enthusiastic Pakistani under-manager orders something he shouldn't, and then there's a great run on "it", until the Muttawa hear about "it", threaten the manager with prison, and "it" disappears. So the strangest things can happen. But I've never seen a copy of "Harry Potter". "Harry Potter", with its tale of neophyte wizards and witches, was absolutely Haram. So everyone bought it from Amazon instead, with their nice anonymous parcels. I did once see a copy of a biography of J K Rawling, but that's not quite the same thing.

So I sent an email to Tanya C Hsu:


Hello Tanya
I was delighted to hear that Jarir bookstore are selling Harry Potter. Please could you send me a JPG image of this phenomenon?


I thought that a nice picture would add verisimilitude to her story. She was kind enough to reply.


Dear Mr. Alhamedi,
I’m familiar with you and your website, and I know you would not believe that not only Harry Potter in Jarir, but all the shops: supermarkets, Carrefours, Safeway, you name it.
Erica Jong’s “Zipless F@£$” is also on the shelf, as are books on Jesus.
I wish you’d contacted me earlier though: I’m flying to London this afternoon, then to Atlanta for Christmas, and will be back only by New Year.


What a shame that she's leaving already. She seemed to be having such a great time in Saudi Arabia. Still, celebrating Christmas in Riyadh can be quite miserable. But what a little gem she let slip!

....as are books on Jesus....

Wow! Wowee! Because there's absolutely no way our over-enthusiastic Junior manager will order one of those by mistake. Everyone knows that books from other religions, especially Christianity, are completely banned. In fact, get caught with one in your possession, and you're a special guest of Prince Nayif. And you get the special rate for stays longer than 30 days.

So what could these books be? Now there are books on "The Prophet Isa", but they are Muslim books, and deny Christian beliefs like the incarnation and the resurrection. But she wouldn't mention those specially, there are enough of those around. Or was one of them this book, that I once spotted in the USA, lurking somewhere in the Cookery section?
The What Would Jesus Eat Cookbook ?

No, it must be the Real Deal
The Bible

or perhaps, for younger readers
Who is Jesus? (Childrens' Bible Basics)

Whatever, I had to know more about this radical move towards religious freedom in Saudi Arabia. So I pressed Tanya for more....


Would you mind sending me JPG's of all of those?


...to which I got the reply...


As I said, I’m leaving tonight.
I’m sure you can take them yourself though, or have many friends here who could.


Oh no, I thought, she's let me smell the sizzle, but won't give me the sausage! (Apologies for porcine analogy). Whatever major hotel she's staying in, they are all within 10 minutes of the Jarir Bookstore, and only another 20 minutes from there to King Khalid Airport. Even quicker if you drive yourself. (Not that she's allowed to drive, being a woman, but I know that she welcomes the freedom). She could easily get my pictures. So one last plea.


I was really hoping you could back up what you said, especially a picture of a Jesus (not Prophet Isa) book.


....and the response was....


It is not my responsibility to make a special trip when I’m leaving for England just to take photos for your website. You know plenty of Saudis; ask them.
If you wait until I return I will quote you my consultancy rate, and do your work for you. Otherwise, feel free to research yourself.
Tanya C. Hsu


OK. "Monty Python" put it perhaps more eloquently in one of their scenes....

Ooh get her! Whoops, I've got your number ducky, you couldn't afford me dear, two three. I'll scratch your eyes out!

....but I get the message, all the same. And I'm drawing my own conclusions about the Jarir Bookstore, "Harry Potter", and Jesus, as indeed can you.

Just as well, really. If she'd got me some photos, I'd only have started pestering her for tickets to the Saudi Symphony Orchestra!

Update - Saturday 3 December

Harry Potter has indeed been spotted in Saudi Arabia! Not flying over the rooftops on his Quidditch stick, but at least in one Jarir bookstore in the Kingdom. This marks a significant step in Saudi Arabia's progress towards normality, may there be many more!

Here we see it, (thanks to "Dammami", who hasn't even charged me a consultancy fee), with the familiar Jarir discount label, so I'm happy to acknowledge that my scepticism is no longer justified.

Here's another one:

Not only Harry Potter, but next to it is an Olsen Twins bio with a dangerous amount of cleavage on the left, but not "Magic-Marker'd" out!

Jarir bookstores seems to have got enough Wasta to declare itself a Muttawa-free zone. However, let's be clear, this is a significant step forward, for Saudi Arabia, and I'm glad to be able to provide photographic evidence.

We could, however, wait rather longer for a Christian "Jesus" book. Any "Jesus" photos out there?

There is now also a rebuttal, in the same Atlanta paper where Tanya was also published, (you may need to register for free to see), by a lady who lived there for 5 years and clearly has far more experience of the real thing. (Thanks, "SleepyinSaudi" and "ahcood")

The mutawa (religious police) will continue to be your friends as long as you are a mouthpiece. But try going out without that abaya (black cloak), alone, and kissing a man on the cheek as an ordinary woman, especially one from a country not as powerful as Great Britain or America.
You'll find out real quick that those men are not only not your friends. They are capable of having you imprisoned, beaten and/or deported or killed, depending on what country you are from.

I had an American friend dragged from a taxi, along with her husband, and thrown into prison until her embassy could be contacted the next day. The charge: improper dress. It was at night. She was in an enclosed car. Her husband was with her. It didn't make any difference.

Most of my students would just like to have the freedom to uncover their faces so they don't turn their ankles trying to walk down stairs at night.

There's more; I'd encourage you to go and have a look. Here's the last paragraph.

Crime is only low because Saudis have traded many of their personal freedoms for a facade of safety. I'll take my chances with the muggers and rapists of America and the world. I want my freedom. Many Saudi women want their freedoms, too. Hsu would find this out if she met more of them and fewer mutawa.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?