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, August 31, 2005

Much more comfortable.... 

.....than swallowing a load of condoms.

Girlfriend Used Saudi Prince's Boeing 727 To Smuggle Cocaine

According to trial testimony, the Colombians were looking for new ways to smuggle cocaine when Lopez suggested to Usuga that they approach the Saudi prince, who could travel the world in a Boeing 727 outfitted with extra tanks for long flights. He could also travel under diplomatic immunity, thereby avoiding most customs inspections.

He wasn't directly involved, you understand.

The 2-ton shipment, valued at $30 million, was transported in May 1999 from Colombia to Caracas, Venezuela, where it was loaded onto al-Shahaan's jet, according to testimony. The aircraft flew to Saudi Arabia and then on to Paris, where the cocaine was stored in a suburban stash house.

All of the cocaine went to Paris, apart from the Prince's "commission", which was no doubt dropped off en route in Saudi. Or perhaps the 727 just flew that dog-leg because they'd run out of the in-flight chicken dish.

Prince Nayef bin Sultan bin Fawwaz al-Shaalan, who married into the Saudi royal family, is believed still to be living in Saudi Arabia, but never apprehended.

Whoops there goes another.... 

....historic monument. This time it's the Hijaz Railway Bridge in Madinah.

Meanwhile, having read the story in the London "Independent" about Saudi Arabia's destruction of monuments, the Saudi Ambassador to London, HRH Prince Turki Al-Faisal, wrote to the "Independent" to say

What rubbish.

Oh, dear, he hasn't quite got the nuances of English usage here. "Rubbish" is what Soccer playes say in tabloids like the "Sun", when they're accused of a torrid night's passion with a female supporter in some cheap hotel. The "Independent" and its readership is much more up-market, they prefer phrases like "factually incorrect".

But then what would you expect if you use two completely unreliable sources: Ali Al-Ahmed, a disgruntled one man ‘organisation', whose modus operandi is to spew out anti Saudi material of any kind (its basis on fact being fairly irrelevant) and Sami Angawi, the equally disgruntled former director of the Pilgrimage Research Centre who was fired for the mismanagement of affairs and wants to attack all those that now have responsibility for the Two Holy Places.

That's what's called an "ad hominem" attack. Or, if you prefer the Soccer theme, it's kicking the man, not the ball. Why doesn't he start talking about the subject?

Perhaps your readers would be interested in what is really happening. Every artefact discovered has been preserved and protected and will be displayed in new museums in Makkah and Madinah - indeed some artefacts are already on display. In all, more than $19 billion has been spent on preserving and maintaining these two Holy sites.

Well, that'll be news to the residents. And where exactly are these "museums"? I've never seen any sign of them. And $19 bn? You've got to be joking. Perhaps that sum has been spent on tent cities for pilgrims and multi-story parking lots, and new tunnels and overpasses so that pilgrims can get crushed to death in a different place each year, but on archeological preservation? Gimme a break!

Perhaps the Ambassador should read the newspapers back home. Or just look at the headlines. How about

Madinah Municipality Razes Hijaz Railway Bridge

That's in today's "Arab News", amongst others.

Historians and Madinah residents are outraged with the municipality’s decision to raze a section of the well-known Hijaz Railway, which was constructed in 1900 by the Ottomans.

Therein may lie the problem. Some monuments are a reminder of a time when "Arabia" was just that, before it became the personal fiefdom of the Saud family. There are three "issues" with this railway.

So I'll be very surprised to see any parts of this railway preserved as part of some mythical $19bn program. When you come on your "Vacation of a Lifetime" to Sunny Saudi Arabia, don't expect the Hijaz Railway Preservation Society to be offering "Murder Mystery Dinner Train" specials!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The correct way to eat an Ice Cream 

We had a great day out at the Carnival yesterday. So many people were having so much fun dancing and singing and smiling, it was clearly sinful on a galactic scale.

The only problem we had, the Alanezi tribe, was that it was a warm day, and our ice creams started to melt before we could finish them off. Result - sticky hands, chins, clothes, everything.

Which reminded me of this item I came across a little while ago. It's the tale of a lady and her friend who were enjoying ice creams in Riyadh's newest and most upmarket mall, the Kingdom Mall.

The muttawa—or religious police—are a self-elected goon squad of fundamentalists who surveil the Magic Kingdom's inhabitants, particularly its expatriates. The purpose of their scrutiny is to ensure conformity to their own warped, narrow-minded interpretation of Islam. Their scrutiny is often asinine and always absurd, as the following mundane example illustrates.
A woman and her female friend were sitting on a bench in the Kingdom Mall, eating ice cream cones, when along came a muttawa, accompanied by a police officer. (You can always spot a muttawa by his beard, his thobe—the white gown worn by local men—that is always four or five inches too short, and a mien of profound hatred of all things different.) The muttawa approached the women, pointed a menacing claw, and hissed, "Don't lick it that way!"
Not being an authority on the subject, I can't with any confidence say there isn't a sura buried somewhere in the Qur'an covering the moral etiquette of licking ice cream. I suspect, though, the muttawa had wandered a bit beyond his moral jurisdiction.
"We just looked at each other," the woman told me. "I mean, how else are you supposed to eat an ice cream cone? You have to use your tongue, right? We just sat there and watched our ice cream melt until he wandered off. Stupid muttawa."

"Stupid Muttawa". How unkind. They are public servants, just trying to do a thankless task in the interests of our moral purity. Some people think that the Muttawa live on a constant diet of fast food and confiscated porn, so that any lady who extends her tongue beyond her lips, especially to lick something, is going to evoke guilty and lascivious thoughts, provoking a sexually-repressed and puritanical reaction. But nothing could be further from the truth. Quite simply, there is a wrong way to eat an ice cream, and there is a right way.

Just to clarify things, and for the guidance of the pious and right-minded citizens of Saudi Arabia, the Muttawa have issued another book in their "Muttawa Guide" series. Following on from the runaway success of ""Hide those Bruises"; the Muttawa Guide to Extreme Cosmetics", this one's bound to be an even greater success.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The poignant tale of a blind Saudi kitten 

...and if that doesn't grab the attention, what will?

The cricket's over, one day early, England won although it was close at times. So I have a free Bank Holiday, and the A's have prevailed upon me to take them to see the Notting Hill Carnival in London. It's like Mardi Gras in New Orleans (perhaps an ill-timed comparison), and with its combination of music, costumes, and sheer fun, is about as distant from Riyadh as possible. Am I being a bad Saudi parent, exposing the young A's to something they will regret never seeing back home?

Anyway, I don't have much time for posting, so I'll just include this sad tale with a happy ending, thanks to reader Shari. As you probably know, we do have cats as pets in Saudi, but there are also many tribes of feral cats, usually centered round rubbish skips in the neighborhoods or behind restaurants. Skipper, as he is now known, seems to have been a pet kitten that was discovered to be blind, and possibly put out with a feral tribe, in the hope that they might adopt him. Fat chance. Cats are not pack animals like dogs, and the tribes are extended families, not cooperating individuals. Anyway, here's the story.

Skipper, a new cat at Best Friends, may be blind, but he doesn’t seem to have noticed. He’s about the happiest, snuggliest cat you could ever want to meet, and so independent ... he even came here all the way from Saudi Arabia!
Skipper was living in a feral cat colony in Saudi, but he wasn’t really wild. He seemed to be a pet that someone had dropped off into the group, perhaps thinking they would be friends for him. But the colony caregiver, Nancy Hashim, saw that he’d been beaten up, and she didn’t think a blind cat was safe on those streets! Since he was friendly, her thoughts wandered to a place as remote as Best Friends Animal Sanctuary – about as far from Saudi Arabia as you can get! Was there any chance they’d take a blind cat from the Middle East?
Indeed, she lucked out. Best Friends had a space. And blind or not blind, Skipper was welcome to fly over. Talk about a worldly cat!
Since his arrival at Best Friends, Skipper has wooed the staff with his hugs and cuddles. Far from seeming handicapped, Skipper walks around with confidence, sensing the presence of objects and people. He’s handsome and exotic-looking, and seeking a good home! In the meantime, we welcome him to the good old U S of A.
Watching Skipper play with this toy feather, you'd hardly think he was blind! It's almost impossible to tell sometimes.....

And the latest update:

Skipper was a blind, friendly kitty living in a feral cat colony in Saudi Arabia when he was rescued and flown to Best Friends. This charismatic young cat charmed the socks off of the staff and visitors alike. Now, he's a spoiled cat living in Salem, Oregon with Jill and Jaco Haley. "Skipper was the friendliest cat we met at Best Friends," Jill said.
Jaco said they are taking Skipper to the vet soon to talk about the possibility of a corneal transplant which might give him sight. "It’s going to cost a couple of thousand or so but I can either keep that money in the retirement fund or spend it on him, and Skipper is a worthwhile investment," Jaco said.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Cricket's over... 

...for the day, time for a few random thoughts.

Australia did very badly in their first innings, so they were made to "follow on", which is like what happens at school when you do a bad essay, you're kept in and made to do it again. They're doing a bit better this time round but probably not enough to change the final outcome.

I put a new picture up in the corner. The last one wasn't "muttawa" enough. "Muttawa", as well as being a noun meaning a Religious Policeman, is also an adjective meaning the same as "pious" or "zealous" in other religions. So this guy is really muttawa. And no, it's not my photo, I'm not nearly that good-looking.

Remember my post earlier this month entitled "Don't Panic"? Basically:

- the panicky Western embassies in Riyadh had closed down because of a terror threat.

- our Interior Ministry, lead by Prince "Nasty" Nayif, said that this was complete nonsense, there is "No Terror Threat";
"Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman said the Kingdom had no solid information of any threat of terrorist attacks inside the country.
We have no confirmed information about any imminent terrorist threat in the Kingdom."

- Then, a few days later, there were raids on terrorist hideouts - "Saleh Al-Oufi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, was killed in a shoot-out with police and security forces in Madinah yesterday. In a coordinated strike, security forces raided premises in both Riyadh and Madinah after locating armed terrorist suspects. In Riyadh, four terrorists died and one was arrested. In Madinah, two died — including Al Oufi — and one was injured."

- And today, the same Interior Ministry, led by the same Nasty Prince, announces that "they had thwarted terrorist attacks, including one in the capital Riyadh, during a series of coordinated operations against Al-Qaeda suspects last week. In all, 41 suspected militants have been taken into custody. Security forces managed to... prevent vile attacks that were imminent, when they targeted militant hideouts in Riyadh, the holy city of Madina and the northern town of Arar on Aug. 18, said an interior ministry statement."

So, just in case you've lost the plot at this point, which is understandable, the Interior Ministry has now thwarted some terrorist attacks that were imminent, and which could even be described as a "terror threat", but this terror threat was nothing to do with the terror threat that the embassies warned about, because Prince Nayif said that their particular terror threat was not a threat. Instead, we're talking about a different terror threat, one that was a real threat, although it's now of course it's no longer a threat. I hope that's clear. If it's not, you weren't paying attention.

I must interview Prince Nayif some day...

Meanwhile, down in Taif, in the bottom left-hand corner of the country, all is not well. The soccer stadium is empty. The grass grows silently. The "Ooh" of the crowd is no more. According to this article in the Saudi Gazette

"When Al-Watan, the Arabic language daily newspaper, reported that a sheikh has issued an edict in Taif alleging that Islam prohibits football, the entire team Al-Rasheed football team deserted the game.
Since then Islamic scholars scrambled to point out that the edict has basis in the Qur an or Sunnah and encouraged many young men to seek extremist activities.
Hussein Al-Talehi, director of Al-Rasheed team, pointed out that the controversial edict given by some of the online scholars brainwashed some of the promising players in the team to the extent that many of them left for Iraq seeking Jihad, Al-Watan reported in later editions."

I can understand why they stopped playing. There they are, in the dressing room at half-time. The score is 4 - 0 against them and they've just spent 45 minutes being kicked all over the park. Then the Manager starts up at them. He's never seen such a poor performance; they mustn't give the other team time on the ball, they need to get stuck into them. He's never seen such a bunch of girlies since his wife's Tupperware party. The only reason they're not crying is that their Mascara might run. Carry on like this and he's going to buy eleven Zimmer frames.
He storms out, leaving them with the team Imam. At least he'll say an encouraging prayer, boost their spirits. But no. He says he's been reading the Quran and there is no mention of soccer. In fact soccer was invented by the Kuffar, the infidel, who first played it with a pig's bladder, by men who display their knees. Therefore it is evil, is sinful, is prohibited, and will condemn the players to eternal hellfire, unless they repent.
So much for morale. Talk about rock bottom. The Al-Rasheed team falls apart, and heads off to Iraq to become suicide bombers. Meanwhile the Imam collects a tidy sum from the bookies.

Conversation between two mothers in a Saudi supermarket:

Mother 1: Oh hello, haven't seen you for ages*, how's little Abdullah?

Mother 2: Little Abdullah? He's really big now. He went off to Iraq to be a suicide bomber. And little Mohammad?

Mother 1: Same thing. No longer little either. He also went off to be a suicide bomber in Iraq

Mother 2: There you go. Don't children blow up quickly these days?

* (Ironic greeting exchanged between veiled ladies.)

Continuing to plumb the depths, here's a photo of a Saudi Airlines 747 at prayer time.

(No humans were hurt during the production of this photograph.)

Friday, August 26, 2005

Dear Uncle Alhamedi 

I always enjoy reading the comments in this blog. It’s nice to receive the compliments, but also to hear other contributions and viewpoints, even those that disagree. As long as it’s all civilized and polite, long may it continue.

Very many times, a comment makes me stop in my tracks. It’s perhaps unfair to single out just one, but I’m very fond of the Irish, the way they talk and their sense of humor, and this exchange had me choking over my coffee.

The Koran is the direct unaltetered word of Allah. Is should need no interpretatio and anyone who thinks so is a kuffar. If Allah commmands that I need to beat my wife because she is disobedient then I have to by Allah's words through the prophet (swt). Allah knows best. Men and women have equal rights before Allah, but Allah has made men a step above women. That is in the Koran. You are not a Muslim if you cannot see that, and bound for hellfire.Abu Jihad | 08.24.05 - 11:40 am | #

"but Allah has made men a step above women.”       Tell you what, Abu Jihad (Did you really call your son "Jihad", what a great idea, I'll call my next kid "genocide"), if you come over to Galway you can tell my mother that, she still works in the market there, and then when youve spat your teeth out, you can try and figure out why she can punch your lights out when youre a step above her.Padraigh | 08.24.05 - 2:02 pm | #

Next time you’re in Galway Market, better not complain that the apples are bruised, otherwise you could be too.

I was also very touched by this one, from a 16-year-old seeking advice. Now the young A’s see me as a source of finance, transport, excursions and homework assistance, but rarely advice. And certainly not advice about fashion, music, what’s “cool”, or how to behave. So I was really very touched.

Dear Sir;I am 16 yrs. old. My Father caught me whistling and threatened to beat me. He said whistling is forbidden because it attracts evil spirits. Is this a parental fatwa? If I do not whistle loudly, will the spirits ignore me?Faal | 08.25.05 - 10:30 am | #

But how to reply?  The most sensible advice was

BTW to the 16 year old whose father thinks whistling attracts evil spirits:1) get a life and tell your father to do the same;2) leave home and go into the real world where people don't have stupid superstitions; and 3) if you can write English that well, don't you realise that whistling is a happy thing to do, or is this yet another way of Islam ruining peoples' lives? Grrrrr(image placeholder)Sue | 08.25.05 - 11:01 am | #

But as a Muslim, could I say that? You see one half of me still sees the Imam as the fount of all wisdom and knowledge, while the other half of me says I should rely on a combination of the most credible bits of the Quran, plus the knowledge and self-reliance I’ve picked up in a largely Western education.

The problem with Imams is that they can adopt an “Imam knows best” attitude. Ask them why they state something, where’s the reference in the Quran or the Hadiths, and they can get very difficult. “It’s not your place to question the will of Allah”. Well fair enough, but show me the passage where it says that it is his will, and not something you’ve made up just to look scholarly or learned, or something half-remembered from a lecture at the Imam University when you were waking up from a reverie about a donut with pink icing.

Anyway, I was always taught in my childhood that it was wrong to whistle. But aren’t adults infuriating, they’ll never give you the definitive answer, just some stuff about Jinns (evil spirits). Not a big problem in my case, I never could do the necessary with lips and teeth to produce a sound; perhaps that was Allah’s will. However these days we have the internet. Go to an online Quran , type in “whistle”. Nothing, nada, zip. There is nothing in the Quran that prohibits or indeed mentions whistling. Perhaps they hadn’t learnt how to do it back then, and with the prohibition on dogs, why would they need to?

So let’s ask the Imam after all, at a site for just that purpose. Key in “whistle”, what do we get?

Is there a prohibition against whistling with one’s mouth or by using a whistle?

It is not permissible to whistle through one’s mouth or an instrument. However, if there is a dire need, for example, to call out at a distant person or a lost person and there is no alternative, then one will be excused.

Same old answer, but no source reference, so I’m inclined to dismiss it as folklore. Especially when in the other Q and A we get.

Can you tell me something about jinns. When I work midnight shift, I hear noises and whistles. Do they harm you in anyway? Do they do physical harm to humans because humans can't see them? kindly explain in details

Jinns are also like human beings, obedient and disobedient.It is possible that the disobedient Jinns cause harm to human beings. In order to protect oneself from the mischief and harms of Jinns one should stay in the state of Wudhu, perform all the Salaat, recite Aayaatul Kursi after every Salaat and the four Quls before sleeping.

You see, Jinns whistle. That’s why we shouldn’t whistle as well, they may come over and start rubbing up against us, or bring us a stick to throw.

Well it’s taken a long time and we haven’t answered Faal’s question yet. My advice, Faal, go with Sue’s answer, I can’t better it.

The Ask the Imam site is certainly interesting. An Imam down in South Africa runs it. It’s well worth a visit; click “Random” for a random ruling. If you’re into superstition, search “Jinn” and see all the problems those little fellas are causing. If you’re in a vulgar, Chaucerian sort of mood, do a search on “wind”, and see all the problems that people have when they pass wind during prayers or wudhu (ritual washing).

I may not be posting for the next two or three days. It’s a “Bank Holiday” weekend. Not only that, (and I appreciate that this will be as interesting to US readers as the Nebraska High School Basketball Finals are over here), England are playing Australia at Trent Bridge in Nottingham, the series is all tied at the moment, England are currently “in” and  306 for 5, it’s a funny ground is Trent Bridge, if it’s cloudy then the seam bowlers can’t get the ball to reverse swing….

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The British War on Terror 

The British "Interior Minister" has now published his proposals for deporting those who incite terror in the UK.

Clarke unveils deportation rules

The home secretary has published the grounds on which foreigners considered to be promoting terrorism can be deported or excluded from the UK.
Charles Clarke issued the list of "unacceptable behaviour" by those said to indirectly threaten public order, national security, or the rule of law.
The grounds, drawn up after the 7 July London bombings, include provoking and glorifying terrorism.

However, civil rights groups are objecting.

Amnesty's Halya Gowan said: "The vagueness and breadth of the definition of 'unacceptable behaviour' and 'terrorism' can lead to further injustice and risk further undermining human rights protection in the UK."
And the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) says the list of "unacceptable behaviours" is "too wide and unclear".

Amnesty has a good track record in exposing government abuse, not least in Saudi Arabia, so I'll be interested to see what they say as things develop. The Muslim Council of Britain is another case entirely - I'll come on to them in a bit.

The government here is still reluctant to send people back to governments that are, shall we say, less gentle than theirs. My view has always been that if you come here from that sort of country, then you should be grateful to live among the tolerant and civilized British, and if you abuse their hospitality, then you deserve to be sent back.
A particular case in point is the Saudi Dissident, Muhammed al-Massari, about whom I was uncertain earlier. However it is now emerging that he has changed from Dissident to something far more sinister.

Saudi exile runs urban warfare website in UK.

A PROMINENT London-based Saudi dissident, Muhammed al-Massari, is running a website that features a guide to urban warfare for potential terrorists.
In a series of video and audio clips, the Beginner’s Guide for Mujahed gives detailed advice on physical training, the surveillance of enemy targets and operational tactics.
It features footage of an Arab instructor who recommends would-be holy warriors to invest in a knife for self-defence, saying: “Of course, this knife is mainly for stabbing and is not suitable or good for beheadings.”
Referring to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda’s leader in Iraq whose followers murdered the British hostage Ken Bigley by slitting his throat, the instructor adds: “As far as beheadings are concerned, we ask our brothers to seek Abu Musab’s advice on this issue as he has more experience in this.”
What a little charmer. But presumably there's no vagueness or "wriggle room" about whether this is "unacceptable behavior". He should be put on the Saudi Airlines flight to Riyadh this morning. However that won't happen until the British government gets assurances about his treatment out there. But why be so concerned about his treatment? Make him someone else's problem, not yours. You won't hear many ordinary Brits lamenting his fate.

Elsewhere we read that:
Last year he described Tony Blair as a legitimate target for assassination.

Now that resonates with other recent news. Under the same legislation, will Pat Robertson appear on the UK terror database?
The global database will list those who face automatic vetting before being allowed into the UK.
Who knows? Although Robertson has recanted ( an apology that has satisfied only a minority of CNN readers)
saying "sorry, I was wrong" won't let people off the hook.
Articles already published, as well as speeches or sermons already made, will be covered by the new rules.
Which makes sense, but something puzzles me. You see, there is a certain Muslim over here who has been appointed by the government to a post to help "rooting out extremism in the wake of last month's suicide bombings in London"

Top job fighting extremism for Muslim who praised bomber

What I find puzzling is the appointment of Inayat Bunglawala, given what he has said in the past, and said recently. Here one little gem that has dropped from his mouth:

"The chairman of Carlton Communications is Michael Green of the Tribe of Judah. He has joined an elite club whose members include fellow Jews Michael Grade [then the chief executive of Channel 4 and now BBC chairman] and Alan Yentob [BBC2 controller and friend of Salman Rushdie]."

In his eyes, being Jewish is proof in itself of guilt. And then, being friends with Salman Rushdie, need I say more?

I definitely wouldn't go for any of his racing tips, he always seems to back the worst horse.

In January 1993, Mr Bunglawala wrote a letter to Private Eye, the satirical magazine, in which he called the blind Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman "courageous" - just a month before he bombed the World Trade Center in New York......Five months before 9/11, Mr Bunglawala also circulated writings of Osama bin Laden, who he regarded as a "freedom fighter", to hundreds of Muslims in Britain.

But are those the remarks of a naive youth, since retracted? He says so

Mr Bunglawala said: "Those comments were made some 12 or 13 years ago. All of us may hold opinions which are objectionable, but they change over time. I certainly would not defend those comments today."

Which is presumably why he's been picked for the government job. That and the fact that he works for the Muslim Council of Britain. Who? Well, when I ask Muslims over here if they've heard of it, most haven't. It's a self-styled body that purports to represent Muslims in Britain. Presumably that's why Tony Blair looked in that direction for his appointments, there's certainly no other choice. However it certainly doesn't represent me.

The BBC did an excellent expose on the MCB last Sunday, showing how little leadership it gave and how two-faced it was.
It features an interview with Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, who says members of the Palestinian terrorist organisation Hamas are "freedom fighters".
Sir Iqbal compares Hamas suicide bombers to Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi.
You've got to love the tolerance of the Brits. They even give knighthoods to terrorist apologists.
The program also had an example of the two-faced behaviour of clerics from my own country - tolerant and pluralist when talking to the outside world, nasty little bigots when addressing "the faithful".

The programme also shows a leading Saudi cleric, an honoured guest of the East London Mosque, claiming that Islam is "the best testament to how different communities can live together", while back in his pulpit in Mecca, he has referred to Jews as "monkeys and pigs" and also as "the rats of the world". Christians are "cross worshippers" and Hindus "idol worshippers".

So what did our Mr Bunglawala, the now-reformed former racist, have to say about this program?

"Mr Bunglawala said that the BBC had allowed itself to be used by "highly placed supporters of Israel in the British media to make capital out of the July 7 atrocities in London"."

Nice one! It's those Joos again! You just can't get away from them! Let's ignore the fact that the July 7 (and July 21) atrocities were caused by Muslims in the name of Islam, let's not show some leadership here and acknowledge that the Muslim population here needs to do some serious bridge-building, let's switch into victim mode, and blame the Joos, again. I watched the program. Israel hardly got a mention, it was all about Britain. But never let the facts get in the way of a chance to blame the historical enemy.

And this is a man appointed to "a government role in charge of rooting out extremism"? Gimme a break.

I'm sorry, but sometimes I just can't find the humor in some situations.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Fanatical Preacher issues Death Fatwa 

Take your pick...

Fatwa 1

Fatwa 2

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Dear Alhamedi... 

Enough of the heavy geopolitical stuff. I'm starting an Advice Column.

"Dear Alhamedi

My wife won't do what I tell her. What should I do?



Dear "Inadequate from Dammam". The answer is all in the Quran. As it says there

1. Tell her to behave.
...if that doesn't work...
2. Go and sleep by yourself
...and if that doesn't work...
3. Beat her
...because that works every time


No, this isn't black humor, along the lines of Humphrey Bogart's ghost's advice to Woody Allen in "Play it again Sam"
"Dames are simple. I never met one that didn't understand a slap in the mouth or a slug from a forty-five."
Instead it's real life advice, written by Ghada Al-Hori and published in the "Al Watan" newspaper, in 2005 (and that's CE, not BC)

Punishing Disobedient Wives

Really, the title says it all, but sadly, there's far more. It's what you get when you take:
- a book written 1400 years ago
- and an absolutely literal, fundamentalist interpretation
- by someone with no sense of reality or balance
- who was "educated" at the worst Theological College in the world, the Imam University in Riyadh.
The result is the religion as practiced in Saudi Arabia, and many other parts of the world if the fundamentalists get their way.

Don't get me wrong. I am a Muslim, a believer. But, as with the Jewish and Christian religions that are based upon even older writings, all sacred scripture needs to be intepreted in the context of its time and its human as well as divine author. This fundamentalist stuff just gives me the creeps. As our "scholar" says
I find it unacceptable when some people twist the meaning of a particular verse in the Holy Qur’an — especially the one which permits a husband to beat his disobedient wife. Those who do the twisting must understand that the permission is only given under certain circumstances and that the beating is intended as a remedy for specific situations.

Just in case you thought that hitting women was just for psychotics, drunks, inadequates, muggers, losers and of course the Muttawa, you do need to appreciate that it's OK in "specific situations".

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore, righteous women are devotedly obedient and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. And to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first) and (then) refuse to share their beds (and last) beat them (lightly)...
As an anthropological insight into gender roles and behavior 1400 years ago, it's revealing. But our Imam University graduate obviously yearns for those times. He still thinks it's for real.

It is quite obvious here that Islam adopts a gradual approach starting with verbal admonishment of the wife, then seeks a period of refraining from conjugal relations and, finally, if the husband finds the situation very serious, he may strike his disobedient wife.

There's none of your liberal "shared responsibility within relationships" rubbish here. First the wife has to put up with ther husband's verbal haranguing, telling her off like a naughty child. Then when that doesn't work, he departs from the conjugal bed, which I would imagine in this case is an enormous relief to her, at least she gets a rest from his nagging for eight hours, not to mention the gropings of her ill-tempered and selfish spouse. But then, when he's tired of sleeping on the studio couch, he gets to move on a stage, and belts her.

The beating which is only prescribed in the case of disobedient wives is intended to serve as a remedy in an unusual situation. If the husband feels the wife is behaving in a disobedient and rebellious manner, he is required to rectify her attitude — first by kind words, then gentle persuasion and reasoning. Beating as a last resort must never be understood to entail using a stick or any other instrument that would cause pain or injury.

No need to use a stick. Besides, there's never one around when you need one. The fist is handier. You can still do this sort of damage, as in the case of this Saudi TV presenter, who presumably has now learnt her lesson and is much more obedient.

Psychiatrists tell us of people, including women, for whom a cure lies in beating.

Our author, Ghada Al-Hori, obviously feels the need to bring in some academic support for his argument. But I suspect these psychiatrists are imaginary, like those imaginary friends he had when he was a child. Which psychiatrists, exactly? What are their names? Hannibal Lecter, wasn't he a qualified psychiatrist? Humphrey Bogart?

The controversy over the beating of disloyal and rebellious women is part of the campaign against Islam.

Here we go again. Its the old "nobody loves us, they're always picking on us, we're the victims, we are the world's one and only true religion but everyone's just horrid to us" moan. You hear it all the time in Saudi but can avoid it in the UK if you choose your mosque carefully, these whingeing imams make you feel you are in a religion for losers. They'll never appreciate that Islam gets a bad press because certain of our "brethren" fly into skyscrapers and blow up trains and chop peoples' hands off and say it's OK to beat women, all in the name of Islam.

There is a passage in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, (Deuteronomy 21.18-21) that says:

If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard." Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.

The Jewish and Christian religions moved on from this a long time ago, some millenia in fact. You don't see piles of battered corpses of youths in baseball caps and trainers at the gates of Western towns. Their religions have kept the most important parts, and left the historical stuff behind. So have the majority of sensible Moslems around the world. So why do we in Saudi Arabia treat the Quran so literally? And why are we surprised when the rest of the world think we're completely mental?

Now, the good news from Iran 

The new Iranian President has now declared war on that scourge of modern times, liberalism.

Ahmadinejad pledges war on Liberalism

The neocons in the US have problems with "liberals". So do the Islamic fundamentalists in Iran. Maybe they should get together.

Signaling his election would bring a clear break from the previous reformist administration of Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad pledged to fight off liberalism that he argued threatened Islamic values....

.....We should expand a culture that promotes virtue and prohibits vice

"promotes virtue and prohibits vice" Now there's a chilling phrase. It has a sort of familiar ring. Now where did I see that before....?

Of course, on the side of a Suburban containing Mr Acne and his colleagues. It's the name of our own beloved Muttawa, the off-white warriors, the heroes of the Makkah school fire.

So does this mean that Iran are going to institute Religious Police over there as well? Well, why should we Saudis have all the fun, let's spread a little sunshine elsewhere. Maybe they could have their own "Religious Policeman" blog as well.

Just a word though, Mr President. As a believer in "fundamental Islamic values", you will of course be familiar with the following Hadith, (reported saying of the Prophet, PBUH).

"Ali reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) took some silk in his right hand and some gold in his left, declaring, "These two are haram (forbidden) for the males among my followers."

Now that ring on your right hand looks, to my eyes, just a little bit dodgy. I know that silver and metal rings are OK, but when the Muttawa start crawling around your streets, they're not into subtle distinctions, and you could find yourself whisked off in one of their Suburbans for a bit of physical religious education.

Take my advice, ditch the ring. You're trying to look like a hard-line Islamic fundamentalist President, not a ladies' hairdresser.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Thanks a bunch, guys 

I keep looking for the good news about Iraq.

Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991. A group of countries got together and kicked hell out of their army, turfed them out of Kuwait. Fair enough. But since then they've not been a problem for the Saudis. Sure, Saddam Hussein was a problem for segments of his own population. But the same goes for many governments today or in the recent past. How about Uzbekistan, North Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe, Sudan (and indeed for the majority of countries in sub-Saharan Africa), should I go on?

However, Messrs Bush and Blair and Berlusconi etc. decided that this was one situation they had to do something about. They had no problem with dictatorships as such, just dictators who didn't like them, and coincidentally were sitting on top of oil. Never mind that this wasn't a pure military war, this was something that needed an understanding of the mindset and ethnic loyalties and religious groupings in a region where their previous interventions had been, shall we say, less than successful.

However, they needed a reason. But Don't Mention the Oil. So they came up with the Lie of the Century. As Dr Goebbels may have said, "If you're going to tell a lie, tell a whopper, and better still, one that can't be found out until too late". So Colin Powell went to the UN and told us all about those Weapons of Mass Destruction. What a performance. And he did it with a straight face.

So in they went. Surprise, surprise, no WMD. But Don't Mention the Oil. After all, we have got rid of a one psychotic dictator. We've replaced him with tens of thousands of psychotic Shias and Sunnis wiping each other out, taking hostages and cutting their heads off, kidnapping doctors and professionals for money, the ones who haven't fled to Jordan, that is. Soldiers, security forces, civilian population killed in their thousands, who's counting? We've created "Jihad World" for all those stupid indoctrinated Saudi kids, let them be the suicide bombers, there's plenty more where they came from. We could have 24 X 7 suicide bombers, except the power stations keep breaking down, they can't see where they're going at night.

No matter. Don't Mention the Oil (because by now it is regularly going up in smoke and is slipping out of the grasp of the Western oil companies). All will be well when there are elections - no, wait, when there's a parliament - no wait, when there's a constitution.

Did Messrs Bush and Blair and Berlusconi and all the other silly B's really imagine that this collection of self-seeking and opportunist individuals would come up with a constitution like the US or the UK? With Civil Rights and Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Worship. In a region where the only true democracy is, dare I say it, Israel?

Let's see what the London "Daily Telegraph" has to say about that.

US yields to demand for Islamic role in Iraq laws

The United States yesterday finally abandoned the fading dream of turning Iraq into a beacon of secular democracy in the Middle East, as it backed demands for the new constitution to enshrine Islamic religious law.
This raises the prospect of new laws being assessed against verses from the Koran, and risks alienating the country's non-Muslim minorities as well as more secular Muslim groups, particularly the Kurds.

Let me see if I've got this right. You see, I live in a country where everything is based on the Koran, it's ruled more by Imams and Religious Policemen than by the nominal "King"; to see what that means in practice, just keep on reading this blog to find out. To the south is Yemen, where the standard fashion accessory is the AK47, and it makes the Wild West look like the Regency Tea Rooms in Bath, England. To the east is a collection of minor Sheikdoms that are relatively liberal, but too small to have any influence. Further east we've got Pakistan that is only prevented from becoming an Islamic Republic by the will-power of its lonely President, and Afghanistan, say no more. To the north-east we've got Iran, with a new super-conservative-Muslim President who's going to make his own nuclear weapon, which he'll no doubt call "Allah's Bomb".

And now, Messrs B, B and B, you're going to allow the previously-secular Iraq, our northern neighbour, to turn into yet another Islamic Republic paradise. And where will they get their inspiration from? From the Islamic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, of course. They'll feed off us, and we'll feed off them, in a never-ending competition to be the nastiest, most repressive, most intolerant, and most stupid theocracy in the entire world.

Thanks a bunch, guys.

Young, gifted and Saudi...and... 

Here's one of those little snippets from the "Saudi Gazette" that regularly gets me choking over my coffee. It displays the worst of our country in a totally innocent and oblivious way.


Thirty-nine gifted Saudi students coming from all over the Kingdom, between 15-16 years old, completed month-long live-together and study-together intensive courses in robotics and electronics at the King Abdul Aziz University (KAAU) Center for the Gifted Students.
The training involved basics in the fundamentals of robotic and electronic designs, subjects in which most of the students did not have prior background, execution of projects in these fields, and finally competition among the completed projects, said Dr. Ibrahim Olwi, director general of the Center for the Gifted Students.

Great. 39 gifted students from all over the country, brought together for some intensive training, to develop and build robots. So what could be wrong with that?

Well, closer examination of the photo and the article reveals the answer. Not one of the gifted students is female. The 39 most gifted students are, by one of those freaks of statistics, all male. Isn't that strange? When God was handing out the intelligence genes, didn't the girls get any? Or are these genes exclusively attached to the male y-chromosome? Or is it just that, as always, we totally ignore the abilities and talents of 50% of our population?

God help this country if it ever becomes possible to buy embryo screening at the pharmacy. There'll be a 99% male birth-rate, and then we'll puzzle why the population is in terminal decline.

Rant over. It makes me splutter my coffee all over myself, I'm starting to look like a Muttawa. Let's change the subject. I was bemused at the choice of some robots.

Muhaidib and his team had assembled a toy car that does somersaults, which they entered into the competition. We were all excited and graded excellent, he said.

Not very impressive. We have real cars that do that, no problem. You get a Toyota Landcruiser, fill it with a family comprising father, third wife, mother, Filipino maid, and nine children, none wearing seatbelts. Place small child on knee of driver, to cushion any impact against steering wheel. Open windows because a/c a bit dodgy, children can put heads out, it keeps them amused. Give father shawarma to eat while driving. Set off down Dammam Highway, comfortably exceeding speed limit, in so-called "emergency lane" next to concrete central reservation. Father gets call on mobile phone, which he is compelled to answer, even though it's in pocket of trousers awkwardly covered by outer thobe and small child. Result? Car hits central reservation, somersaults, family scattered over six lanes. No problem.

I met great people who like me have the passion to study science, said
16-year old Saad Al-Shehri from Abha. He said his robotic project of a sumo wrestler is one of the best achievements of his life.

A robot of a sumo wrestler? The mind boggles. Presumably it's spherical, and rolls all over the place scattering salt.

There is in the UK a TV program called something like "Robot Wars". Teams build remote-controlled robots and get them to fight against each other. They use weapons like minature pickaxes or hammers or even circular saws. The young A's think it's great. I pretend its a bit beneath me, but watch stealthily from behind a newspaper. It's best when one robot's steering mechanism self-destructs in flames and and the immobile victim is helplessly cut in two by the opponent. Cool.

So is that what our young students did with their robots? Highly unlikely. That would constitute FUN, and as you will appreciate by now, FUN is prohibited in Saudi Arabia. Our version of Islam was invented by Mr Wahabbi, whose motto was:

"Sin may sometimes be fun, but fun is invariably sin. God commands you to be miserable"

or something like that. So the sumo wrestler will never get to beat the crap out of the toy car. Shame.

Friday, August 19, 2005

You looking at me? 

A comment from a reader suggested that the wording on the Saudi Flag actually translated as "This country may contain nuts".

How unkind. We may be a little eccentric. Perhaps we have a "unique cultural identity". Possibly a little "out of sync" with the 21st Century. But nuts?

What the heck, he's probably right. But there are nuts and there are nuts. Just like peanuts and walnuts and coconuts. So it is in Saudi Arabia.

There are those people in Jeddah. They have a Corniche, so they think they're living on the Mediterranean. They tend to smile and laugh. You occasionally see couples furtively holding hands. What libertines.

Then there are people like me who live in Riyadh. We're more proper. No holding hands. Not a lot of smiling either - what is there to smile about in Riyadh?

Then there are the people from Qassim, pronounced Gass-eem. A district centered round Burayda, 200 miles north of Riyadh. Where Wahabbi (who invented our really fun version of Islam) originally came from. Burayda is described in Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide as the "most unfriendly place in Saudi Arabia". And then some. Remember those old movies about creepy New England towns called Spookyburg or Witchville, where some innocent guy wanders in by mistake, it's all knee deep in mist and the silent locals just stare and don't say anything, the guy ends up next morning as a puddle of ectoplasm on the ground? Well Burayda makes those places look like New Orleans. In Mardi Gras.

So the following article doesn't actually mention Qassim, but there's nowhere else on this planet that it could be.


Imagine a husband and wife who have lived together as complete strangers for half a century.

Believe it or not, it actually happens here in Saudi Arabia. There are husbands, brothers and sons who have never seen the faces of their own wives, sisters and mothers let alone cousins and aunts. There are wives who never showed their faces to their husbands since they have tied the knot a long or short time ago.

Bear in mind that these husbands will only have seen their wife's face for about 20 minutes, at their one and only pre-wedding meeting. Since the wedding, they've remained veiled for their husbands, and for their children, for years, even for decades.

Children should wonder how their parents managed to conceive them when their fathers never saw their mothers. But that s probably just as well because, like their fathers, they haven t seen what their own mothers look like.

Children should wonder? I've always had a little trouble with this concept myself. How do you show affection to someone who's always veiled, how do you share those little intimacies, how do you procreate? Perhaps there are people who would get a bit of a thrill from making love to a veiled woman, but after a few decades it's bound to pall. Let's change the subject.

Some don't even let other women see their face.

This tradition has been part of my life since the day I opened my eyes on the world, she said. Believe it or not, I have never seen the faces of even my closest female relatives my cousins and aunts.
She said every member of her tribe believes it is a great shame for women to uncover their faces at any time, thus there is no chance for a female face to be seen by anyone.

There was however one situation that struck a chord. Husbands often ask wives how they look. They do it because they're genuinely wanting an opinion, most males being clueless about what to wear or what matches with what. (And a nice thing about living in the Kingdom (Saudi, not United) is that you always wear white, so life is simple). Wives, on the other hand, are usually seeking reassurance. When asked "What do you think of this dress / hairstyle / outfit", they already know the answer, they just want the male to confirm it. So you're faced with a situation where there is only one correct answer and at least ten incorrect ones. "I don't know" or "I'm not sure" or "What do you think" definitely don't cut it. Similarly any half-hearted response is dismissed as mealy-mouthed; they want a definite opinion. Yet you're being tested on a subject you know absolutely nothing about. It's like that nightmare you have, where you're doing the oral exam for Mandarin Chinese and you haven't learnt a word in your life. So you desperately try to read the body language to see which way to jump. Get the "wrong" answer and you suffer for your lack of taste / tact / interest or loyalty. Get the "right" answer and there may well be the dreaded supplementary - "Yes, but why do you think that?"

So I had some sympathy for the man who accidentally saw his wife's face after probably 30 years. Although an accident, it posed the unspoken question, "How have I weathered over three decades?". This man would have seen her for a few minutes as a youth, and not seen her face, or indeed any other woman's, ever since. He probably had no concept of skin aging. He'd certainly never developed a technique for giving the "right" answer.

She said she only uncovers her face in total privacy, after she makes sure her husband and children are out of the house.
Only then I can feel free to change my clothes and remove my veil, she said. One day I walked over to the living room with my face uncovered. I never knew my husband was sitting there watching the TV. He saw my face.
She said her husband screamed when he saw her without a veil.

I ran to my room and I locked myself up for several hours. When I came out, he was very angry at me.

No, screaming wasn't the best response. If she looked like the Elephant Man, it would perhaps have been understandable. Or if her face had rotted away with leprosy. Or if "she" turned out to be a trans-sexual. But in this case, assuming a wife who had aged normally, I think a little more tact would have been appropriate.

What is of course revealing about the power relationship there, and indeed throughout much of Qassim, is that he was the one who was angry. He wasn't pinned out on the sand. He wasn't made to spend the next month in the camel enclosure. He was allowed the luxury of indulging his anger.

I asked Mrs A what she thought of the idea of a 24 X 7 veil. She said it would be an improvement, but that I should remember to keep it out of my soup. Ouch.

Credit where credit is due 

I know I have been hard on our security forces in the past, in their dealings with internal terrorists. They were forever surrounding the enemy, but never actually capturing or killing them.

Well, all credit where credit is due, they're finally getting their act together.

Al-Qaeda Chief in Kingdom Killed

Saleh Al-Oufi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, was killed in a shoot-out with police and security forces in Madinah yesterday. In a coordinated strike, security forces raided premises in both Riyadh and Madinah after locating armed terrorist suspects. In Riyadh, four terrorists died and one was arrested. In Madinah, two died — including Al Oufi — and one was injured.
It used to seem like the terrorists were getting tip-offs before every raid. Perhaps now they are using the equivalent of "The Untouchables" - a group of security men who can actually keep their mouths shut.

...except when eating their shawarmas, of course. Some things will never change.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The "Khamis Mushayt Girl" update 

I don't know whether it's a case of "No news is good news", but there haven't yet been any reports of the execution that was due to take place today, and would have happened by now (1430 BST).

An article in the Saudi Gazette gives us rather more detail about the death of the man in question.
However, she refused to give details about her story, noting that details are in the government files.
Amal was only 20 years old when a young man, who is a neighbor of her in-laws, broke into her house in the absence of her husband and attacked her. She carried her husband's hunting gun and shot him dead with three bullets to the head.
I begged him to leave me alone and get out of my house but he insisted, so I killed him to defend my home and honor, she said.
As a strong-willed woman who has been raised up on the mountains of Aseer where women share with their husbands the rigors of life, Amal cut the corpse into pieces and burned it. Then she wrapped it in a blanket and threw it in the garbage believing that the story will end at that point.
Like much of this story, the article raises more questions than it answers. Is this the same story as in the government files? What was the involvement of the husband then, and now? Was she really capable of cutting up a corpse and burning it without help?

On the other hand, there is this account:

A source close to the case, who asked not to be named, said according to the investigation, Amal said the man was threatening her with revealing their previous relationship before she got married as he kept photos and cassette tapes of her talking to him. He kept blackmailing her and she pretended to submit to his desire until she dragged him to her house where she killed him, the source said.

For "dragged", read "lured", it's a better translation. So what's the real story? As I said before, we're never likely to know. Saudi "justice" comprises of secret trials and public executions.

However the lady seems to have won everyone over, including the prison staff.

He (the Prison Director) described Amal as one of the best women in Kahmis Mushayt, the area where she lives. He said she belongs to a good family and a well-known tribe. He said that her file is clean since she entered the prison. Aseeri also confirmed the good conduct and behavior of Amal. She said Amal has become one of the prison staff as she helps them to deal with newcomers and calm them down until they integrate with the rest. She also makes Dawa (Preaching) to non- Muslim female prisoners. She memorized the Holy Qur an and most of the Prophet s sayings (Hadith).
She is loved by everyone and she takes good care of her friends not only in her cell but also in other cells, Aseeri said. I am quite sure that if she is forgiven she would be an active and good member of the society because she learned her lesson and now she is ready to help other women in the society to learn from her experience.

There's also a web site built by her supporters, http://www.freethegirl.com/ If you click on the arabic word in the grey block in the middle (that means "entry") you'll find yourself confronted with some very active discussion groups, almost 100% in her support.

So it seems that virtually everyone wants her to be pardoned for whatever it is she's done, or not done, as the case may be. Let's pray the dead man's family come round to that same point of view.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Welcome to Sunny Saudi Arabia 

Our Government suddenly seems to have taken fright that the oil may soon run out, and have seized upon foreign tourism as a source of revenue.

Foreign Ministry to Issue Tourist Visas Starting Next Year

Starting next February, the Foreign Ministry will issue tourist visas to all prospective visitors regardless of their religion, press reports said yesterday quoting an informed source at the ministry.

“The ministry will issue tourist visas to Muslims as well as non-Muslims after Dul Hijjah 1426,” the source told Asharq Al-Awsat, a sister publication of Arab News. The source said it was imperative that the Kingdom implement a visa regime to boost tourism and as part of preparations to join the World Trade Organization.

“Muslim tourists will receive visas for both Umrah and tourism,” the source said, adding that Muslim women must have a legal companion while non-Muslim women should have a sponsor in order to get visas.

Knowing how many readers of this blog have been inspired by the idea of visiting Saudi Arabia as tourists, I thought I would find out more about what is actually involved. So here is the exclusive "Religious Policeman" interview with the Minister for Tourism.

RP: Good Morning, Minister.

M: Good Morning. May I say how much I enjoy reading your blog, and your readers' comments?

RP Thank you. Can I start by asking how many non-Muslim tourists came to the country last year?

M: Yes, 5,537.

RP: Oh that's not many, we don't seem to be very welcoming to non-Muslims.

M: Perhaps not, but we had 7,300,000 Muslims come on Pilgrimage and other visits. Non-Muslims could have converted to Islam and there would have been no problem. However, if they don't want to do that, and I do appreciate that circumcision can be painful in adulthood, we're now going to make it easier for them to come here as tourists.

RP: That's good. How?

M: They'll be able to get visas on arrival at the airport, just like Dubai.

RP: So anyone can fly into Riyadh or Jeddah and just pick up a visa at the airport?

M: Men can, certainly, and married couples, as long as they can prove they're married, so they'll need to bring a Marriage Certificate, four copies translated into Arabic and certified by a lawyer. Not a Jewish lawyer, naturally. Women, on the other hand, will need to be sponsored by someone inside Saudi Arabia.

RP: But suppose they don't know anyone in the country?

M: Well, we can't help them there, can we? We're not a Dating Agency.

RP: And what about couples who aren't married, or gay couples?

M: Well as you know, we behead homosexuals, and stone adulterous or loose women to death, so it's probably best if we don't let them in in the first place, otherwise there'll be no end of paperwork.

RP: OK. So we'll allow single men and bona-fide married couples in. But they already go to places like Dubai in hundreds of thousands, it's a major international resort. Why should they come to Saudi Arabia instead?

M: Well, we have lots of sun.

RP: So does Dubai. Can they sit under a sunshade and have a drink, like in Dubai?

M: Certainly not, and if there's any drink in their suitcase, they'll go to prison. But we're not like Dubai, we offer a unique cultural experience.

RP: So they can go and see a show with folk dancing, the sort of thing Greece is good at?

M: How long have you been in Britain? You know we don't have theatres or cinemas or concert halls. No, what I meant was, there are 6,366 heritage and antiquities sites in the Kingdom.

RP: But aren't we knocking these down as quick as we can drive the bulldozers?

M: That's only for the non-Islamic sites and sites that could be associated with idolatry - so just old monuments and fortresses, historic buildings, houses of famous people, things like that. Certainly not the mosques.

RP: So they can go and look round the famous mosques, like they can in Bahrain for example?

M: Well they can certainly look at the outside.

RP: But not the inside? After all, that's where they'd see the beautiful decorations, get a sense of stillness and reverence.

M Oh no, if they go inside we'll put them in prison.

RP: And of course they can't go and visit the spiritual center of Islam, Makkah, or historic Madinah?

M: If we ever found them there they'd certainly go to prison, unless they were lynched first. But they always have the option of converting to Islam.

RP: OK, lets talk about seaside holidays instead. After all, tourists usually want one of two things; a unique cultural experience, or the four S's.

M: The four S's?

RP: Yes. Sun, sand, Sangria and sex.

M: Well we certainly have sun and sand, and I think you already know the answer to the other two.

RP: Well, one thing we have that Dubai doesn't, and that's the deep water Red Sea with coral reefs. Just the place for snorkelling and scuba diving holidays. What can we offer tourists there?

M: Well, the biggest resort on the Red Sea is Jeddah, but nobody swims there, you must have read all the stories about the raw sewage. However we do plan to build some resorts further up the coast.

RP: So men and women will be able to go swimming up there?

M: Certainly

RP: Together?

M: I didn't say that. Swimming together, as you know, is un-Islamic. Most hotels only allow the men to go swimming. However there are one or two already that are more relaxed, and allow men to swim in the morning and women in the afternoon.

RP: And can the women go topless?

M Certainly not. They must keep their heads covered at all times.

RP: Isn't that a bit difficult, swimming in a full-length abaya and headscarf, particularly scuba diving?

M: No, haven't you seen the new fashions?

RP: What fashions?

M: Look at this website, there are lots of fashions the women can wear.

Saudi Beach Wear

RP: Don't you think that looks completely ridiculous, like a clown in a Circus?

M: Well, I wouldn't want to wear it, but then I don't have much sympathy, women should stay at home to look after the children and do the cooking.

RP: So where will you be going on vacation, Minister?

M: Well, strictly off the record you understand, and like any Saudi who can afford it, I'll be going abroad. I like the South of France. Nothing like a glass of Chablis in a pavement cafe on the Boulevard des Anglais in Nice. Why be in Saudi Arabia when there are so many great vacation spots?

RP. Indeed, Minister. Thank you for the interview.

M: My pleasure. Are you going to do any more photos of kittens?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Kiss Me, I'm Saudi 

I am grateful to JS for drawing this snippet to my attention.

Livestrong, Saudi-style

The enterprising gentleman ( from the Indian sub-continent of course, we Saudis are not such innovators) is selling a neat line in green wristbands with the inscription "Proud 2B Saudi").

There are two problems with that. The first is that not many of us are actually proud to be Saudi. Proud to be Arabs, yes, and Arabs from Arabia, yes, certainly. But the name "Saudi Arabia" derives from the time when the country was conquered by AbdulAziz Al Saud, who then "christened" it (if I can use that expression about a Muslim country!) after his own family name. Conceited, or what? Even the world's most self-important and psychotic egos didn't do that. Did you ever hear of "Kim Korea" or "Ulyanov Russia" or even "Idi Amin Uganda"? But our modest and demure royal family have dreams of grandeur that the rest of us can't begin to imagine. So while the Saud's and their related families think "Saudi Arabia" is a great name, the rest of us think it sucks, big-time.

The second problem is, as you will see from this list of wristbands, its meaning is ambiguous....

Awareness Wristbands

....because there's also a green wristband that says "Kiss Me, I'm Irish". Now there are many Irish in the Kingdom; indeed if they ever left, the major dairy in the Riyadh area, Almarai, would grind to a halt, and all the cows would burst. So there could be lots of these Irish wristbands in circulation, which would of course give the Muttawa a big problem. Therefore we can expect them to be inspecting wristbands soon. A green "Proud 2B Saudi" will be OK, but if it says "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" then you're in for big trouble. Don't expect them to kiss you, although you probably wouldn't enjoy being kissed by "Bad Breath", "Mr Acne" or "Black Teeth". No, they'll make you wear their own wristband instead. It's modelled on the "Support Our Troops" wristband, and says "Support our Religious Police". It's dirty white with coffee stains, and smells like stale sweat. They'll sell like hot cakes on eBay!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Bluetooth and Black Teeth 

I am grateful to MZ who wrote me with this link:

Segregated Saudis Flirt Via Bluetooth

As someone who remains devoted to his 3-year-old trusty Nokia 5110, I am not a Bluetooth user myself. However I am delighted to see Bluetooth being used in the continual struggle to evade the Religious Police, in the cafes and restaurants of the Kingdom.

...the men and women flirt and exchange phone numbers, photos and kisses.
They elude the mores imposed by the kingdom's puritanical Wahhabi version of Islam — formulated in the 18th century — by using a 21st century device in their mobile phones: the wireless Bluetooth technology that permits users to connect without going through the phone company.
I remember writing a year ago that the Muttawa were fighting a losing battle with the latest generation of mobile phones. They wanted to ban them (of course) but couldn't do so, because you can't buy anything else these days. So the younger generation are exploiting them for all they are worth, and becoming very romantic and poetic in the process.

But connecting by Bluetooth is safe and easy. Users activate the Bluetooth function in their phone and then press the search button to see who else has the feature on within a 30-foot range.
They get a list of ID names of anyone in the area — names, mostly in Arabic, often chosen to allure: poster boy, sensitive girl, lion heart, kidnapper of hearts, little princess, prisoner of tears. Some are more suggestive, like "nice to touch" and "Saudi gay club."
Users then click on a name to communicate with that person.
Abdullah Muhammad is issuing a challenge that no self-respecting Muttawa could resist...

On a recent warm night, Abdullah Muhammad sat in front of his laptop at a sidewalk cafe waiting for his computer's Bluetooth to pick up nearby users.
"I use Bluetooth to meet girls," said the 24-year-old businessman. "The religious police cannot catch me."
Fortunately his name does not give him away, being shared with several million other Muslims. But they won't like the implication that they can't keep up with the technology - after all, they can now work most of the buttons on their Playstation consoles. So they'll be all over these perpetrators like a bad rash. Their problem will be the use of subterfuge. In the physical world, you can normally spot a Muttawa at 200 meters, by his bad complexion, straggly beard and thin hairy legs appearing from the bottom of a short and rather dirty thobe. In the virtual world, more guile will be needed. They'll park their Suburbans outside a suspect restaurant and switch on their Bluetooth devices. Problem is, they won't have enough guile to use fanciful ID's, and may just come up with some personal characteristic. But names like "Mr Acne", "Bad Breath", or "Black Teeth" might give the game away.

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