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.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Saudi Share Purchase Made Easy 

The scene is again the Ministry of Finance, Ibrahim's office. AbdulAziz, the royal relative, MBA from the US Business College, is sitting upright, looking very pleased with himself. Saeed, the Bedu, is lying back in his chair, yawning and picking bits of wax out of an ear. Ibrahim, the manager, is slumped forward over his desk, looking depressed. An Indian guy, in light brown overalls, is invisibly watering the office plants.

Ibrahim is depressed because he's been looking forward to a comfortable retirement on his farm with his date trees and his camels, but he's just had a bollocking over the phone. A right royal bollocking, in fact. From a very senior royal person, who complained that his bright young royal relative, AbdulAziz MBA, had this brilliant idea for selling shares to expatriates, so restoring the fortunes of the stock market, but the whole exercise "has gone belly up like a dead cat", (Ibrahim winced at those particular words) and he, Ibrahim, had better do something about it, otherwise he's going to find some obscure Prince making an offer for his farm "that he won't be able to refuse", (for such is the way of things in Saudi Arabia*).

So Ibrahim has got the team together, to see if they can work out what the problem is. He turns first of all to Saeed for his thoughts.

Saeed contemplates a small ball of ear-wax between two fingers. He knows what the problem is, or rather who, it's just a matter of getting him to admit it, and he trusts members of the Royal House of Saud about as far as he can flick this ball of wax. Which he now does. And it's not very far indeed.

"We're dealing with expat men and women who don't have a lot of money and don't speak Arabic well. So we need to make the whole thing as simple for them as possible. AbdulAziz, you came up with the rules, what are they?"

AbdulAziz sit up and smirks even more. "Well, I've put processes in place that address the personal investment aspirations of the demographic segment in question whilst simultaneously affording the banks a due diligence capability to profile the potential customer segment's lifetime net worth, if you will."

Saeed imagined him trying to survive out in the desert for more than an hour, if his 4X4 broke down; or even just the air-conditioning. Ibrahim meanwhile slumped a bit lower. "So tell me", he asked, "how it works. Let's start with the "female expatriate demographic segment"".

"Oh, that's easy", smiled AbdulAziz, "the women can't invest themselves. Should they want to, although their responsibility really should be their home and family, they must do it thru their husband. We must respect the cultural norms of our traditional society, as you appreciate".

Ibrahim groaned inwardly, as he realized that 50% of his potential investor base had just been barred for life. "OK then, let's talk about the men. Presumably they go to the bank with their Iqama (expatriate identity card), hand their money over, and get the share certificate a few days later."

AbdulAziz nodded and smiled at Ibrahim, as though encouraging a slightly backward child. "Oh yes, identification is absolutely vital, there are international rules to prevent Money Laundering, as well as our internal need to make sure they are not illegal imigrants. So we need to see their Iqama. But of course, that could be a forgery, so we need to see the passport as well, just to double-check."

Saeed removed a digit from his other ear and interjected, although he already knew the answer. "But they get them back right away, don't they? Because if they're caught out in the street by the cops or the religious cops, without passport or Iqama, without any id at all, they'll be in deep trouble. Especially if they're a "Darkie"!"

The Indian invisibly stiffened for a moment, but the water continued to flow into the container of the rubber plant.

AbdulAziz looked indignant. "It's only for two working days! Or perhaps three. Maybe four. So if it's over the weekend, that's six days maximum. It's only a slight risk. And anyway", treating Saeed to a truly royal 'Look how gracious I am when condescending to talk to a grubby little Bedu' smile, added "All they need to do is to explain to the police that they are investing in our dynamic knowledge-based Saudi economy, which explains why they are foreigners with no identification, and the police will be completely understanding. And they will need the time to start on the other paperwork."

Ibrahim felt that he was losing the will to live. "Other paperwork?"

AbdulAziz looked at him, slightly disappointed, as though he was having difficulty with his animal alphabet cards again. "Of course! We can't just let them invest willy-nilly. These are foreigners, after all. We need someone responsible, a Saudi, to say that they are a fit and proper person to be allowed to buy our shares. So before anything else, they get their employer to fill out a form giving permission."

"And they take that to the bank as well?"

"Yes. But not right away, of course. Because that could also be a forgery. So first of all the form has to go to the local Chamber of Commerce, to be certified that the employer's company is a bona fide company."

Saeed examined a particularly large lump of wax. "That's not going to be quick, either", he remarked.

AbdulAziz bristled to himself. He was tempted to snap "Isn't it time you married your cousin and bred a pack of blind albino dwarfs?", but remembered that noblesse oblige, and instead put on his family's patient talking-to-the-backward-Bedu expression. "Three or four working days, at most. This is not a time to be making clerical mistakes out of haste."

"O.K.", said Ibrahim, now showing some signs of impatience, "But when that's done, he can buy his shares?"

"Of course, no problem."

"Just like that?"

"Just like that. Once all the paperwork is processed, he just takes his 100,000 Riyals to the bank, and buys his shares."

Ibrahim is now sitting bolt upright. "He's got to take 100,000 Riyals? THAT'S 26,000 DOLLARS!"

"Naturally", continues AbdulAziz, "We can't let just any any cheap foreign riff-raff buy our shares! These aren't Third World shares, they're Saudi Shares! They are only for men of wealth and standing!"

The Indian, with his back to the group, invisibly put the tip of his forefinger to the tip of his thumb, and made an extremely rude gesture.

"Let me make sure I understand this correctly", articulated Ibrahim carefully, looking as though he was having great difficulty with controlling himself. "If an expatriate sees some shares he wants to buy at a price he wants to buy them at, and so long as he's fortunate enough to be a man of course, all he has to do is wait up to two weeks in total for various items of paperwork to be completed? Then, assuming he's not been imprisoned in the meantime for not having an id, all he needs is a minimum of 26,000 dollars?"

He continued, very slowly and deliberately.

"Could that possibly explain why the banks' trading rooms look like the Imam University canteen on "All-you-can-eat Pork Chop Day?""

"Oh dear", AbdulAziz thought to himself, "Ibrahim's completely lost it. Can't handle the modern world, too much stress. He needs to be put out to pasture. Time for the new blood to come in and take over!"

Saeed's finger sought another orifice to explore.

If you imagine that I am perhaps exaggerating, or maybe wish to learn even more about the prerequisites for expatriates to buy Saudi shares, you can read further about it here.

* There are many tales, from reliable sources, of Saudi entrepreneurs building up profitable businesses, only to have minor royals decide that it's a good market to be in, come in, and buy them out at less-than-fair prices. Why do the businessmen accept? It doesn't take much persuasion when the purchaser belongs to a ruling family with total control over the police force and a legal system where you can just "disappear" for long periods of time. It's easier to sell up, start up again, and hope that next time they don't notice you.

Happy Endings 

I like Happy Endings. Not the contrived Hollywood-style happy ending, because they're usually unrealistic, or not true to the book. For example, in the "Hannibal" book, Claris is so impressed with Hannibal's food preparation and cooking skills, that they end up as an item together in South America. In the movie, she instead dials 911 and it seems like the entire 101st Airborne Division is flying out to arrest him. Contrast that with "Syriana", (which incidentally is the most realistic depiction of the Middle East street I have ever seen, I could almost smell it), I was completely surprised when the credits started rolling, it was so inconclusive, just like real life.

Anyway, there's a happy ending for Abdul Lateef Noushad, whom I reported back in December after, according to official reports, "a court order in Dammam has been issued to terminate vision of an eye". For those not yet accustomed to the language of Saudi Political Correctness, "to terminate vision of an eye" means a Shariah-court-approved eye-gouging. (Just as "to halve the manual dexterity" means to amputate a hand, "to induce an orthopedic imbalance" means to amputate the opposite foot as well, and "to disconnect jugular circulation" means to chop a head off). The unfortunate Abdul Lateef, an Indian gas station attendant, had had an encounter with a Saudi youth who no doubt demonstrated all the racial and cultural tolerance for which we are renowned. (And if you think I sound jaundiced or am exaggerating, go and read this article from another Saudi afterwards, but it's not pleasant reading for either human- or cat-lovers.)

The Saudi youth got into an argument with Abdul Lateef Noushad, a 34-year-old (Indian) petrol station attendant in Dammam, which led to a fistfight causing injury to the youth's left eye.

Anyway, the story now is that he has been pardoned (meaning that he will still serve out his prison sentence, but with both eyes intact), and....

Noushad, in jail for three years now this April, is waiting for his release soon after being pardoned. His sponsor is working hard for his immediate release. He (the sponsor) is also making follow-up for the approval of his re-employment....A letter has already been sent to the Minister of Interior appealing that Noushad be allowed to return to his job. He is very poor and needs to support his family, the sources said.

So it's good to be able to report that news. It's also good to report that

Afghan Christian Given Asylum in Italy

The Afghan man who faced the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity received asylum in Italy Wednesday, despite requests by lawmakers in Afghanistan that he be barred from fleeing the conservative Muslim country. Abdul Rahman arrived in Rome days after he was freed from a high-security prison on the outskirts of Kabul after a court dropped charges of apostasy against him for lack of evidence and suspected mental illness.

Note the "suspected mental illness". It's a little fit of pique from those Wahabbi judges. The court was obviously told by President Karzai to to let him go, and they could have just contrived to let him off for "lack of evidence", that's normally enough to get you off in most courts around the world, but they just had to add that extra bit of spite, probably arguing that being a Christian is prima facie evidence of mental instability anyway.

And there's a quote from a senior cleric in Afghanistan....

"This is a terrible thing and a major shame for Afghanistan," Zabul's top cleric Abdulrahman Jan said.

....but in his eyes, the shame is because Abdul Rahman has not either been forced to return to Islam, or else had his jugular circulation disconnected. I know, Abdulrahman, it's terrible, but stuff happens. Why not go and thump your wife, or get happy on some home-grown heroin, that'll make you feel better.

Happy endings, Wahabbi style. They threaten to do something absolutely outrageous and appalling, and then when they don't do it, it's good news all round. A bit like a happy ending to a "Hannibal" movie.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Fish called Allah 

Great excitement in Liverpool, England. There has been a Miracle!

Muslims flock to see 'miracle' fish

HUNDREDS of Muslims are descending on a Liverpool house to witness what many are calling a miracle.
Two fish are causing huge excitement among the faithful, who say they are each inscribed with holy names.
Worshippers are convinced two Oscar fish bear the names of Allah and Mohammed in their scales.

I am very ambivalent about this. On the one hand, it makes us Muslims as good as all those Catholics who have statues of the Virgin Mary weeping blood and the like, and flock to places like Fatima and Lourdes....

Long queues have been building up outside the terraced house in Mulgrave Street, Toxteth, where the fish are being kept.

....but on the other hand, it bears an uncanny resemblence to that Burger King ice cream top, the one we were getting so upset about all those months ago. This is all very puzzling to a simple Muslim like me, because, back then, my fellow Muslim Mr Rashad Akhtar was saying ....

These people who have designed this think they can get away with this again and again. This is my jihad.

But would Allah himself, displaying a divine sense of humor, deliberately design a fish with His name written blasphemously on it, purposely to offend those Muslims like Mr Akhtar to whom he had not gifted any sense of humor or proportion? What an old rogue that would make Him! But this is all very confusing. I think I'll leave any further commentary to people who know more than I do. I can do no better than to quote the opinion of Al-Jack, long-time reader and commenter on this blog, to whom I defer on all matters Islam. He sees particular merit in fish in general....

Look to the fishes and look no further o my brothers! The fishes swim silently and smoothly, so unlike noisy humans, particularily the heathens of the West who incessantly babble about material goods and possessions. The fishes go with the very flow of nature and do not build towers to false gods like mankind does, towers that rot with time and crumble and provide no spiritual succor to man. They serve a noble purpose and know their place in the grand scheme of design as set forth by God.

....and a particular significance in the fish from Liverpool....

two (2) fishes have appeared bearing the markings of the Prophet Muhammed, May He Rest In Peace, and Allah the Almighty and Eternal. These are signs wonderous to behold! Some are believing they portend the coming of the Mahdi, others more moderate are seeing these fishes as a sign to get clean in thought and deed, for women to cover themselves and quit their lusting for the pleasures of sex and wealth of men and for men to quit their incessant drive for material possessions and power over women and other men. Heed the fishes and get right with Allah. This is what the fishes are saying. Listen to the fishes.

Moreover, miracle upon miracle, a Miracle Fish has set up its own website....

Site of the Miracle Allah Fish, Fish from Allah

Here you will find pictures and videos of the Miracle Fish who bears the name of Allah (swt).
This fish was spotted on 1st Day of Muharram 1427 AH (31 January 2006) in a pet shop in Rawtenstall, Rossendale, Lancashire, UK.
I heard about the fish from the BBC news, and I was so excited, I took my family to see the fish.
We understand from the pet shop owner, Tony from Walker Aquatics, the fish has now been sold. So we decided to publish the photos on the website.

....and, as every good Catholic knows, it's not a proper miracle if someone can't make some money out of it, so Allah (can we call him that?) the fish asks us to donate to his site via PayPal and Visa. He also advertises, amongst other things, "Muslim Singles in UK", showing that he is against arranged marriages, and "Wear the Joy of Jesus" gift badges, showing that he is not a bigot. I'm starting to like this fish.

However, it's not the first miracle fish. There was also the New York Miracle Fish.

Word is made flesh as God reveals himself... as a fish

According to two fish-cutters at the New Square Fish Market, the carp was about to be slaughtered and made into gefilte fish for Sabbath dinner when it suddenly began shouting apocalyptic warnings in Hebrew.

Many believe the carp was channelling the troubled soul of a revered community elder who recently died; others say it was God. The only witnesses to the mystical show were Zalmen Rosen, a 57-year-old Hasid with 11 children, and his co-worker, Luis Nivelo. They say that on 28 January at 4pm they were about to club the carp on the head when it began yelling.
Nivelo, a Gentile who does not understand Hebrew, was so shocked at the sight of a fish talking in any language that he fell over. He ran into the front of the store screaming: 'It's the Devil! The Devil is here!' Then the shop owner heard it shouting warnings and commands too.
'It said "Tzaruch shemirah" and "Hasof bah",' he told the New York Times, 'which essentially means that everyone needs to account for themselves because the end is near.'

Blasphemously, the Jewish Rosen tried to finish the carp off, and got his just rewards...

Rosen tried to kill the fish but injured himself

....but the for the Gentile Nivelo, "Business is business"....

It was finally butchered by Nivelo and sold.

Not that anyone will be selling "Allah" or "Mohammad". They're far too small to eat. In this part of the world, they prefer "Haddock and chips, with mushy peas, salt and vinegar, and a bag of scraps". Wrapped up in newspaper, of course.

Time for lunch. Then, perhaps, a movie.

(Many thanks to reader "timewarp", who, when not deconstructing Camilla's outfit, is busy scouring the blogoshere for fishy stories.)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Mug's Game 

The Scene: Ibrahim’s office in the Ministry of Finance. Ibrahim is approaching retirement and looking forward to life on his farm, breeding camels, and harvesting dates. With him is young AbdulAziz, recently returned from college in the USA and “connected”, meaning that his uncle is a Prince; and Saeed, whose Bedu family live in a cluster of black tents off the Dammam road, a bit rough but quite savvy. An Indian cleaner in light brown overalls is invisibly emptying the waste bins and ashtrays.

Ibrahim outlines the problem. He has been tasked with making the Saudi Stock Exchange attractive to Saudis once more. He explains the problem. “It was OK when just a few of us invested. It’s only a small market, and with a small number of investors, prices grew slowly but steadily. Then some Jack-the-lads discovered it, thought it was easy money, and started piling everything they had into it. So the price went up. So they told their friends, “Look how it keeps going up!”, so their friends put all their money into it as well, and sure enough, prices went up even more. So everyone reckoned this was just like oil coming out of the ground, it’s just money for the taking, and when they ran out of their own cash, they took out personal loans from the banks, and invested that, and Lo and Behold!, prices went up even more. And all the papers were writing stories about what a successful economy we had, look how the stock prices are rising, lots of people are getting very wealthy.”

“Then it went belly up”, said Saeed, whose family keep all their savings in saddle-bags.

“That’s right”, replied Ibrahim, “As soon as everyone had invested all they had or could borrow, there were no more buyers, so prices dropped like a stone. And when people saw how prices were dropping, they all started panicking, and selling, and they went down even faster.”

“Apart from a brief rally”, piped up AbdulAziz, and proudly displayed what he had learnt in Business School. “In these situations of a rapidly falling market, there is often a small temporary upturn, due to technical factors and the reversal of long-dated positions. It’s called a “Dead Cat Bounce”, because even a dead cat, when dropped from the top of a tall building, will briefly bounce”. He smirked at the other two.

Saeed grunted. He wasn’t impressed. The only dead cats he ever saw were the feral ones he deliberately ran over in his Landcruiser, and they certainly didn’t bounce.

“Anyway”, continued Ibrahim, “It’s a problem we’ve got to solve. Everyone’s shouting at the government, saying they’ve been ripped off, speculators and ungodly people have been sabotaging our economy, the banks have now got lots of bad loans, the whole finance sector is looking shaky, all the world and his friend are petitioning the King, and he’s telling us to sort it out.
What do you think, AbdulAziz?”

AbdulAziz puffed up his chest. “Well, what we need to do is to put in place a process that will structure a positive-growth scenario by leveraging the synergies inherent in the zero-sum-game investment paradigm going forward, if you will.” He looked eagerly at Ibrahim, like a Labrador puppy hoping to be patted.

Ibrahim, face impassive, groaned inwardly. House of Saud genes plus Master of Business Administration equals Complete Tosser, he thought sadly. He looked across at Saeed.

Saeed had taken one sandal off, and was picking out bits of dead skin from between his toes. “Darkies”, he grunted.

“Darkies?” replied Ibrahim.

“Yes,” said Saeed, “Darkies”.

The other two looked at him.

“It’s quite simple.” he said. “We’ve got lots of Saudis holding shares that are now worth much less than they paid for them. What we need are a load of mugs who will come into the market, buy up those shares, force the price up so that all the Saudis can get their money back, and then the mugs can get left with a load of rubbish when the price drops again.

Westerners won’t do that, they’ve got their own stock markets that frankly work much better, and they are not stupid. So we need to look much closer to home. The people we’ve barred up until now from the market, the expat workers – Indians, Pakkies, Pinoys, Egyptians, Sudanis – Darkies, in other words. If they are stupid enough to come to this country to work, they must be stupid enough to pay silly prices for our shares. Let them invest in the market. But no initial flotations of course, those are very good value, we don't want Darkies buying them, we'll keep them for the Saudis.”

Ibrahim liked that idea. He sensed a public relations coup here. For a start, Saudis were always moaning about these expats, came here to work, but always sending their earnings back home to their own banks and their families, look at the outflow of money from the country, winge, winge, winge. So opening the market to them would help to stem this flow. Secondly, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the World Trade Organization to have restricted trade even more since it joined, so as well as the illegal boycott of Israel, they had now added an illegal boycott of Denmark. But opening the Stock Exchange to all residents would be a move in the opposite direction, a liberalizing move. Even though expats wouldn't be allowed to buy initial flotations, but they could hide that under the table. With no more ado, he picked up the phone and called the Editor of the "Arab News".

Move to Open Stock Market to Expats Gets Positive Response

March 17 2006. The possibility of Saudi Arabia allowing expatriates to invest in the Kingdom’s fledgling stock market was met with an overwhelmingly positive response among both Saudis and expatriates. ....Ahsan Rashid, president of the Alhamrani-Fuchs Petroleum Saudi Arabia, welcomed Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s decision. “It is a step in the right direction and will stabilize the Saudi stock market,” he said. “Most important, it will stop the flow of money out of the country. In the absence of investment opportunities here in the Kingdom, a lot of expatriates were putting their money in Western markets. That will be checked for the good of the local economy.” ....This is also in line with Saudi Arabia opening up to international investors after it joined the World Trade Organization,

Ibrahim was very pleased, his boss patted him on the back, but the King of course phoned AbdulAziz to congratulate him on his brilliant idea, what a good investment it was sending him to Business School in the USA, he was a credit to The Family, (for that is the way of things in Saudi Arabia). Meanwhile Saeed went home to count the money that was safe in his saddle-bag, running over the occasional cat on his way, but failing to get any to bounce.

So that is how our Stock Market, long the preserve of Saudi nationals, was opened to expatriates. So how successful was it, getting the stupid expatriates to invest their hard-earned riyals in a falling market but with no opportunity to buy new issues? Did we find lots of mugs to unload our shares onto at silly prices?

As the "Arab News" noted

Stocks Fail to Woo Expats

The turnout of foreign residents at banks to open investment portfolios for Saudi stocks was very low yesterday, the first day that the government opened the market to them.
The news of expatriates’ entry into the market failed to halt the downtrend of the market. The Tadawul All-Share Index (TASI) dropped 626.65 points or 3.94 percent to close at 15,268.46. Over SR5.68 billion worth of shares changed hands yesterday. Only seven stocks were in positive territory while all other stocks were in the red.

The "Saudi Gazette" noted a similar lack of activity.

Expats indifferent to involvement in stock market

LACKLUSTER. One word describes the response of foreign workers to the opening of the stock market to them Saturday.

The photo shows the frenzy of activity in one of the sharedealing rooms that banks provide for their customers. Perhaps these two men think there's a movie about to start. It'll be a few years yet, guys.

One of these days we'll wake up to the truth about our expatriate guest workers. They may be poor, they may be invisible, but they also built the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal.

Stoopid they ain't.

A Wasted Opportunity 

Yesterday's March was a washout, and that wasn't just the weather.

Hundreds join free speech rally

Hundreds of people have peacefully demonstrated in London's Trafalgar Square to stand up for free speech, rally organisers have said.

Mr Risdon said 600 people had taken part, while police said 250 people were at the rally at its peak.

My guess was two to three hundred, and the police figure is the more accurate. I suspect that Mr Risdon, the organizer, is also counting the pigeons, but they are always there, as long as the tourists keep feeding them.

It was a wasted opportunity because, as I quoted yesterday, the organizers felt that

In practice, Muslims who wholeheartedly endorse our statement of principle,....who abhor the threats made against Danish cartoonists and believe people should have the right to publish things they themselves find offensive or abhorrent, would be UNABLE to come to our rally on Saturday, because to be surrounded by these cartoons, now, in the present context when the BNP are using them as a rallying point, would be intolerable....So I now appeal to people not to bring the cartoons on T-shirts or placards.

Well, it was my observation that those Muslims weren't there in any numbers, so the whole thing was dumbed down in order not to deter the sort of people you wouldn't want to come anyway, and in the event did not turn up. What a waste.

I am pleased to say that my own disguise of a Jewish yarmulka on the back of my head seemed to do the trick, it went with my Semitic appearance, and I wasn't aware of any undue interest. Apologies to Jewish readers, but Mrs A said that I "would make a good Jew". However, to paraphrase another famous Jew, I wouldn't want to join any religion that would have someone like me as a member.

Perhaps in a few months, the March could be re-staged, but along the initially-planned lines. For while people will happily go to the barricades for a slogan like "Free Expression", when you water it down, people will find other things to do on a Saturday afternoon, even shopping.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Charles and Camilla arrive 

The Royal couple are in Saudi Arabia at last. Obviously Camilla is getting the "Honorary Male" protocol, hence no need to wear an abaya, and a head covering that reveals large amounts of blond hair. The Muttawa would go bananas if they saw her, but of course they'll be kept well away.

Prince Charles, who has a particular interest in architecture and the preservation of historic buildings of cultural merit, will attend the presentation of prizes at an architectural event.

Many of us would love to hear his views on the destruction of historic sites in Makkah, because of possible idolatrous connections, and incidentally to make a few more dollars building sub-standard hotels that collapse and kill sub-continentals in double figures. But don't expect to read about them in Saudi newspapers.

The Duchess of Cornwall will be meeting women involved in charities in Riyadh and have discussions with women community members here. It is her first visit to Saudi Arabia.

But that probably won't include visiting the "safe houses" for battered and / or pregnant Indonesian housemaids.

Prince Charles is his own man, and quite capable of expressing his (sometimes eccentric) views in a forceful way. His sympathy for Islam is well known. But my main concern is that the Saudi press will "cherry pick" his comments so that we just hear one side of what he says, the complimentary side, and miss out anything critical. I just hope that some foreign press are in attendance to give more balanced reports, otherwise he's going to find himself becoming a "useful idiot" for the House of Saud.

Postscript 27 March 2006

For readers coming here from Brian Whitaker's Guardian Blog, here is the deconstruction of the royal apparel, by "timewarp", a reader, taken from the "Comments" thread.

Wow. Camilla's outfit. Don't even know how to begin to deconstruct it, but here is a brief go.

1) It is white, the opposite of the mandatory black abaya which must be worn by every woman in KSA, whether or not she is Saudi or not, Muslim or not. It is white, which is the color of the thobe which all the men wear (I'll leave further discussion on the implications of clothing which is either all white or black alone.)

2) She is wearing PANTS! And they are not loose. I have never seen Camilla in public in pants before. Technically, she is "covered" to the ankles, but this outfit reveals that Camilla has quite a nice figure, better than many of us suspected, I suspect. Some of the dumpy looking dresses (when she was doing anti-Diana glamor) she wore on her recent visit to the US were more practical. Camilla's suit is very well tailored and shows off every single curve without being "obvious". It's really well done.

3) The pink head scarf, which doesn't cover much at all. A nod to the hijab. It looks so good on her that she could start a new fashion trend for us post menopausal types who have more than our fair share of bad hair days. It is pink however (a color Saudi woman can't wear in public), it is hyper-feminine (sort of say, damn straight I am female), and in its own way quite sexy.

4) The revelation of skin around her neck and chest (er decolletage) and a neckline low enough to hint at some cleavage. The muttawa will be up all night long blacking that out with their black magic markers.

5) And lastly and most amusingly, is the way her outfit's colors "echo" that of her royal saudi escort, except she is the one who is wearing the pants (I can't quite get over the pants. Condi has worn pants -- with a bit of naughty ankle displayed above her dominatrix heels -- but they have always been black like an abaya). Her pink headscarf kind of echoes the royal head gear (red & white makes pink).

Great make up (which mutts hate) and great accessories. All in all, I would say that Camilla's outfit merits a 9, Charles a 7 (I am not sure about the blueish cast to his suit but I love the double breast adn the scottish tie) and a 3 to the guardian of the 2 holy shrines. Very ho hum.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The March 

The March will be starting in a few hours.

I have publicly expressed support for this march; indeed, my message of support was published on their site.

However, I do now have to say that I am disappointed with the organisers for this recent announcement.

At the outset, we said that displays of the Danish cartoons would be welcome on Saturday. No, let me rephrase that: At the outset, I, Peter Risdon, said the cartoons would be welcome. I am going to take full responsibility for this. I now think that was a mistake.

In practice, Muslims who wholeheartedly endorse our statement of principle,....who abhor the threats made against Danish cartoonists and believe people should have the right to publish things they themselves find offensive or abhorrent, would be UNABLE to come to our rally on Saturday, because to be surrounded by these cartoons, now, in the present context when the BNP are using them as a rallying point, would be intolerable.

So I now appeal to people not to bring the cartoons on T-shirts or placards.

So what, exactly, is the point of the exercise? We were going to demonstrate for freedom of expression, because we believe in it, even when my freedom might offend you, and your freedom might offend me. But now, because some people might be offended at other people exercising their freedom, we're all going to put a limit on our freedom. Excuse my French, but WTF? Is this just going to be a demo talking about Freedom of Expression in the abstract, but gingerly stepping around the most relevant case study in recent months, just like the proverbial elephant in the kitchen?

I will nevertheless be there. Knowing the British spirit of independence and bloody-mindedness, the one that defied Hitler all those years ago, I'm sure they'll come along and "do the right thing". Personally, I'll be circumspect, and if there's no other Arab in sight, or just men from the Saudi Embassy, I'll watch from a distance. To everyone else who can make it, I urge you to come along and express yourself in total freedom.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Nuns on the Run 

The Little Sisters of Mercy escape from their convent by abseiling down an outside wall....

....gleefully set off explosives in the shopping plaze parking lot....

....solicit "charitable donations" from unsuspecting shoppers....

Surprise!....as they hi-jack a shopper's car....

....and go on a "drive-by" spree, looking for Protestants....

Thanks to "Beachhutman" for pointing me to the original video (clip #599) of female police recruits in Iran.

It's great that they can have such demanding and fulfilling jobs. So why do we make them wear such silly clothes while they do them?

It's a Muslim thing.

He's back again.... 

The "Ugly Jew".

Where would we be without the "Ugly Jew" motif in our Saudi cartoons? Let's face it, he's an enduring figure.

Here he is in a cartoon from "Die Brennessel", the Nazi humor magazine, 2nd January 1934, doing what he is very good at, controlling the world's media.

And here he is in a cartoon from the "Saudi Gazette", the Saudi daily newspaper, 23rd March 2006, doing what he is also very good at, controlling the US politico-military machine.

Don't expect an apology from Saudi Arabia anytime soon. We're still "Quite Offended" because of the Danish cartoons, as you can see at the top right. So offended, in fact, that people even apologize to us when we haven't actually demanded an apology.

Church recalls 'Prophet' magazine

The Church in Wales has recalled 500 copies of its magazine featuring a cartoon caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad....The Archbishop of Wales Dr Barry Morgan told the BBC: "The article was perfectly OK, but for some reason, the editor decided to print one of these cartoons which was a gross error of judgement. It no way reflects the policy of the church in Wales and when I saw it I was totally horrified. We recalled all the papers, I personally picked up some from some churches and they have all been pulped. I've unreservedly apologised to my Muslim colleagues and they've been very gracious and I've said to them this in no way reflects the policy or attitude in the Church in Wales". Dr Morgan also personally contacted Saleem Kidwai, the Muslim Council of Wales' general secretary, to apologise and to assure him that no offence had been intended.

The magazine in question is written in Welsh. However, knowing the local Muslim clerics' habit of reading Welsh-language church magazines in their spare moments (they look for the knitting patterns), a personal apology from the Bishop was not only in order, but also not a moment too soon. And the British are just so good at apologizing, they have no equals.

In keeping with good British journalistic practice, I will not of course publish the Welsh cartoon, originally from the French-language "Le Soir" newspaper, in case it might cause offense to any fellow-Muslims who might wish to be offended. Apparently it depicts Mohammad and Moses and Buddha and Jesus, but it would be too offensive to reveal any more.

Whoops! Too late, "finger trouble". Terribly sorry about that; no, I really am most sorry, my fault entirely, won't happen again, please can I express my most profound apologies, especially to the Buddhists, I really am most contrite about the whole thing, I don't know how to apologize enough.....

Tuesday, March 21, 2006



n 1: the state of having rejected your religious beliefs or your political party or a cause (often in favor of opposing beliefs or causes) [syn: renunciation, defection]
2: the act of abandoning a party or cause

That, of course, is the Western definition of "Apostasy". You know, all balanced and objective. The Islamic definition, however, is "someone who leaves Islam". But what, you ask, is the word for someone who comes to Islam from another religion? Well, that word is "Reversion", meaning that all humans were born as Muslims, but many were tricked by cruel fate into being Hindus or Mormons or Southern Baptists, and those who "come back" to their "natural religion" have thereby "reverted". I know, sounds pretty arrogant.

Now there's arrogance, and then there's extreme arrogance. And when we talk about Wahabbi Islam, as invented in Saudi Arabia, we are always talking about extremes, we are right at the Pat Robertson end of the spectrum, if not beyond. We are way out in Tooty-Frooty Land, the Land where the Bong Tree grows.

So what happens to Apostates in Saudi Arabia? Well, we don't seem to have many, if at all. When there's a group of guys sitting together having coffee, you won't see someone suddenly jump to his feet and say "There's something I need to share with you. I've taken Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Saviour. I am saved, Halleluja!"

There are no doubt a few Saudis, particularly those who have travelled abroad, who may feel that. There are certainly quite a few who have absorbed the teachings of other religions into their own religious world view. But Saudi Arabia is not a safe place for some wannabe Ned Flanders. Because, under Shariah Law, Apostacy is not only a Sin, it is also a Crime, and a Crime punishable by Death. So that's why you don't come across many Apostates, and why discretion is the better part of valor for those who are. Our clerics and lawyers will justify this situation as being perfectly acceptable; for them, it's just the same as the Spaniards did four hundred years ago. You know, those good old days, when you were most likely to die of Bubonic Plague before the age of thirty, having had three out of thirteen children survive.

But, Joy Oh Joy, it gets better. Because we don't just keep this bit of Muslim Brotherly Love to ourselves. We export it! And Afghanistan, thanks to all our zealots and Imam University graduates who went to join the Taliban in former years, is where it has also taken root! A number of readers have mailed me details of the story below. I did start off by replying that I don't cover Afghanistan, if I did cover it and Iraq I'd be here all day, but I'm going to make an exception in this case, because it's absolutely appalling.

Afghan on trial for Christianity

An Afghan man is being tried in a court in the capital, Kabul, for converting from Islam to Christianity. Abdul Rahman is charged with rejecting Islam and could face the death sentence under Sharia law unless he recants. He converted 16 years ago as an aid worker helping refugees in Pakistan. His estranged family denounced him in a custody dispute over his two children.

Afghanistan's post-Taleban constitution is based on Sharia law, and prosecutors in the case says this means Abdul Rahman....should be put to death.

Here's a picture of the judge holding the incriminating evidence, a Bible. But he's a humane man. And he regards Islam, just as Prince Alwaleed told us yesterday, as....

Islam....a religion of moderation and tolerance

....so he has a special message of moderation and tolerance for the accused man.

Trial judge Ansarullah Mawlazezadah told the BBC that Mr Rahman, 41, would be asked to reconsider his conversion...."We will invite him again because the religion of Islam is one of tolerance. We will ask him if he has changed his mind. If so we will forgive him,"

Mmmmm, can't you just feel the Brotherly Love? Doesn't it just wrap its warm arms around you? Doesn't it make you feel so good about the Human Race?

We will ask him if he has changed his mind. If so we will forgive him.

If not, we'll chop his friggin' head off.

Scratch one Christian.

I had always thought that Mohammed Karzai was one of the Good Guys, but the BBC informs us that

Mr Karzai's office says the president will not intervene in the case.

If that's the case, why waste lives and money on a multinational force to go in there in the first place? Instead, couldn't we just pay the billions of dollars into their bank accounts, and let them practice their "moderation and tolerance" all by themselves?

Join me, contact them here or at your local embassy.

Postscript 03.23.06 Thanks to all who emailed or smailed the Afghan government. Hopefully we will, together with thousands at other blogs, make a difference. There is now a suggestion that he might be "declared insane" and released by the court, which would suit them on three counts:
- it would get them off an embarassing hook which is becoming increasingly visible, world-wide.
- it allows them to imply that Christians are, by definition, insane.
- it would demonstrate their tolerance and enlightenment after all, in spite of all that has been said about them.

Whatever. Nobody's fooled. As long as they let him go.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Understanding and Moderation 

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Function: noun
1 : a mental grasp : COMPREHENSION
2 a : the power of comprehending; especially : the capacity to apprehend general relations of particulars b : the power to make experience intelligible by applying concepts and categories
3 a : friendly or harmonious relationship b : an agreement of opinion or feeling : adjustment of differences c : a mutual agreement not formally entered into but in some degree binding on each side

I like Understanding, particularly the bit about friendly or harmonious relationship and an agreement of opinion or feeling. It sounds like a Good Thing.

Prince Alwaleed ibn Talal of Saudi Arabia also thinks it's a Good Thing, he is a great one for understanding. He's the Prince who is endowing two US universities, one even being named the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown, because, as he says....

Bridging the understanding between East and West is important for peace and tolerance

I am pleased to support Islamic studies at Harvard and I hope that this program will enable generations of students and scholars to gain a thorough understanding of Islam and its role both in the past and in today's world

It is vital for the monotheistic religions to reach a common ground of understanding and to gain knowledge about what unites our civilizations

....and in reply, the recipients of his generosity say things like....

This generous gift reflects the commitment of Prince Alwaleed to inter-religious understanding in the Muslim world and the West

Sometimes, however, the Prince's own understanding of things can be a little shaky. In an interview with Deborah Solomon of the NY Times that questioned his motives behind these donations, he did say....

You have to understand that the population of Saudi Arabia has zero Christians.

....which somehow overlooked the million-plus Christians in Saudi Arabia but, hey, they're mostly Filipinos anyway, and if we don't need a nurse or someone to fix our computer, why bother about them? Let's not get picky when we want to promote understanding.

More recently, the Prince launched another initiative to promote understanding.

Al-Resalah Launched

Prince Alwaleed ibn Talal, CEO of Kingdom Holding Company, officially launched yesterday an Islamic satellite channel to project Islam as a religion of moderation and tolerance.
Al-Resalah (The Message) Channel had made its debut informally on Wednesday.

What a worthy motive. I'm all for Moderation

Function: noun
1 : Restraint of violent passions or indulgence of appetite.
2 : Calmness of mind : equanimity.
3 : Frugality

And indeed, the mission of the new channel is all about Moderation.

to project the true message of Islam and its teachings

to counteract the misconceptions of Islam in other societies

counter the negative perceptions of Islam

wean the youth away from the path of extremism

....so much so, that....

This channel represents pure and moderate Islam

Not only youth, there's even uplifting stuff for the children....

the channel would feature cartoons and animated films with a moral content

That was on March 7th, when the channel launched. But wouldn't you know it, those "nosey-pokes" at MEMRI have been poking their noses into Al-Resalah TV! Why can't they mind their own business, and just let the new channel project Islam as a religion of moderation and tolerance by itself, without snooping into everything that it's doing? There used to be a time when we could say nice things to the Unbeliever's face, but something entirely different behind his back, but now MEMRI listen into everything! It's just not fair. And this is what MEMRI saw, only eight days later!

Is this the animated film with a moral content? Perhaps not, maybe it's for the youth and adults instead. So how is our preacher going to counteract the misconceptions of Islam in other societies? Let's hear what he has to say.

Jihad in this case is an individual duty. Someone whose land was lost, whose honor was violated, and whose country was occupied, yet he does not raise his hand violently against the occupier, is not a human being, or even an animal. Even animals wash their hands of him. That's why the pig is reprehensible -because it's the only one who accepts it when someone occupies its land.

When there is no hope for peace, there is no alternative but to resort to the gun.

Therefore, you have to know how to use it (the gun!) in a civilized manner

The West's conflict with Islam and the Muslims is eternal, a preordained destiny that cannot be avoided until Judgment Day - not before the sun and the moon are transformed

In Islam, Jihad is conducted in order to spread its principles, justice, and views.

The term "violence" or "Jihad" - or you could call it "aggression" or "colonialism" - means that you take control of the resources of others, out of economic or political greed. On the other hand, Islam does this to bring people to worship Allah

So that's Islam as a religion of moderation and tolerance. Are you sure you have a good Understanding, now?

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Mrs. A says that after we’ve been out shopping for a while, I develop a Shopping Face. She says my expression goes blank, my eyes glaze over, and I withdraw into a deep and secluded part of myself. When that happens, the only cure is a cup of coffee or, better still, a drive home.

She’s mostly right. Except that in my imagination, it’s not necessarily a secluded place; it could be a mountaintop where I survey the peaks and clouds around me, but it could be watching a soccer match, or even sitting in front of my computer. Anywhere but in that shop.

The onset of Shopping Face varies. In electronics or computer shops, for some reason, it never appears. Also, call me sad, but not in stationery shops, because I can’t resist all those virgin pads of paper, and folders, and marker pens, and all that lovely stuff. When it’s shopping for food, or clothes for the small A’s, an hour is about the limit. But it makes its appearance soonest in shops for “ladies’ things” – you know, clothes, accessories, perfume and especially underwear. It’s the latter that’s the greatest problem for me. I look round and see other men also both bored and embarrassed, wishing they were somewhere completely different.

So why go there? Well, in most countries, we can choose not to. We can go and have a coffee, sit in a bookstore instead. But in Saudi Arabia, it’s different. You see, in the perfume and lingerie shops, the assistants are all men. That’s right, men selling ladies’ underwear. So most husbands will feel they need to go in as well, either to keep an eye on the men intimately discussing intimate garments with their wives, or else because their wives want them to, because they otherwise don’t feel completely safe. And there’s a healthy (or unhealthy) dose of cultural prejudice tied up in all of this.

Because, ask yourself, what sort of man would want to work all day in a lingerie shop, selling underwear to women? We will all have different answers to that, depending on our own cultural prejudices, but they won’t be complimentary. And in Saudi Arabia the answer is, almost exclusively, Lebanese men. Look into any lingerie or perfume shop and you will see Lebanese shop assistants. As we have prejudices about virtually every nation in the world, it won't be a surprise that we have strong prejudices about our fellow-Arabs, the Lebanese. We see them as "smoothies", louche, French-influenced, into all sort of Haram entertainment, particularly belly-dancing and cabaret-singing, although their cooking is quite good. But there has now grown up around these Lebanese shop assistants a whole web of urban folk-lore, often contradictory; they are sex-starved, they are gay, they are eunuchs, they are transvestites, but given half a chance they will grope our women. Not that there has ever been a recorded case of that happening, of course.

But it now looks as though the days of the Lebanese lingerie shop assistant are numbered.

Retailers to Meet Over Issue of Hiring Women

The Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) is planning a seminar on Wednesday to explain the Cabinet decision on hiring Saudi women to work in shops selling lingerie and other products for women….In June 2005, the Ministry of Labor announced a timetable for employing Saudi women in shops selling women’s clothing, underwear and other such items. It stipulated that all lingerie shops in the Kingdom must employ only Saudi women within the next two years.

So it’s finally happening. As part of the Saudization program, the men are to be replaced by women! It sounds almost too good to be true. And even better, because the women shop assistants will be unveiled, men won't be allowed in. It's probably from the worst of motives, to prevent yet another situation where men and women can meet, but the Cabinet have managed to do something good for once, and score a “triple whammy”:

- protect our women from the mythically lecherous Lebanese men

- allow us to have a coffee and read the paper while our wives go inside these shops, from which we’ll be prohibited.

- But, most importantly, provide employment opportunities for Saudi women!

On this single occasion, can I offer my unqualified congratulations to the government?

But that’s enough talk about shopping. I can feel my Shopping Face coming on.

Friday, March 17, 2006

New Advert 

As you can see, there's a new advert for the March for Free Expression in London in a week's time. Click on it (or the version above) and it'll take you to the official website.

Apologies to all the Legomaniacs and flag experts out there, but if you don't know what it represents, it's a set of Lego (a Danish product) characters in front of the Danish flag.

Sadly, a group of British Muslims have taken exception to this, and are now planning their own demonstrations.

The Muslim Action Committee (MAC) have today condemned the Freedom of Expression March due to be held on the 25th March in Trafalgar Square whose organisers have said that they welcome bringing placards and wearing t-shirts depicting the abusive cartoons. Shaykh Faiz Siddiqi said “This is an offence against Global Civility and a provocation to 1.6 billion Muslims. The continued irresponsible actions of the BNP in distributing leaflets with the cartoons on across the country are also provoking anger throughout the Muslim community

Shaykh Faiz Siddiqi sounds like a self-appointed Imam who is, I would guess, of Pakistani origin, and has a name similar to a well-known clandestine Saudi drink, but it also ironically means "truthful". Well, my friend, you unfortunately display the dishonesty common to so many of your calling, by trying to link the name of the British National Party (A UK anti-immigration party) with this demonstration. As you well know, there is absolutely no link, and the demonstration is being jointly organized by a Socialist and a Libertarian. But never let the truth get in the way of your quest for self-pity and your victimization agenda.

In fact, Shaykh Faiz Siddiqi, of the organization "Global Civility", I have an offer for you. Because you are so victimized and oppressed in the United Kingdom, why not go and live in the spiritual home of all Muslims, Saudi Arabia? Indeed, if you need a sponsor, I will personally sponsor you. Feel totally fulfilled as you drive a taxi round Riyadh, a profession that we exclusively reserve for all your fellow Pakistanis. I agree that the British are renowned for their lack of civility, their appalling manners, their boorish rudeness to one and all, and I want you to feel the Muslim warmth and love that most Saudis reserve for their Pakistani brothers.

OK, rant over. I'm calming down. In fact I'm chilling out with this cartoon from the "Jesus and Mo" site.

Click on it to see the full thing.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

This is NOT the Official Religious Policeman Site 

Can I just make that clear? The reason I'm saying that is that I've just received this email message (certain names deleted to protect the innocent).

Sri Lanka ****** selling sadiqi in Jubail Camp too much sadiqi many times fiting men friday drinking sadiqi too much. ******* *. ******** *** **.

The basic meaning of this is that there is a certain Sri Lankan gentleman selling "sadiqi" (or "sid", an almost pure alcohol bootleg distillate) in Jubail camp (a rudimentary set of residential huts for Third World laborers in Jubail on the east coast) and that men are drinking on Friday (our holy day, but also the only day these guys will get off work) and drinking too much.

To the person who sent me this, and anyone else who wants to inform on their fellow-humans:

1. I am not the official Muttawa site, so there's no point telling me about Sadiqi sellers, I'm not going to do anything about it.

2. There is an official Muttawa site somewhere, but I'm not going to go out of my way to tell you where it is.

3. If you find it, it's in Arabic, so you probably won't be able to find the bit where you can inform on people.

4. I have every sympathy with the guys in Jubail camp. If I were one of them, doing an absolutely crap job in unbelievable temperatures, I'd be pouring "sid" down my throat at every chance, not just Friday.

5. As the English say, "Live and let live". They're not doing you any harm, so why do you want to cause them trouble? If they are drinking too much, that's their problem, not yours, you worry about your own body and soul. In fact, why not relax, join them, try it with Coca-Cola and ice cubes. Life's too short otherwise.

To the guys at Jubail camp, keep your heads down fellas, and warn the Sri Lankan that someone's out to cause him trouble. Sorry that we Saudis treat you so badly, but save as much as you can and have a great retirement back home.

Monkey Business 

There's Baboon Trouble down in the south-west of the Kingdom.


The increasing numbers of baboons in the southwestern area of the Kingdom is turning into a real menace for the residents of the area, said an official of the National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD).
Saeed Jama a, a public relations officer at NCWCD in Riyadh stated that residents in Taif, Al-Baha, Abha and Jizan have started to complain about the nuisance these animals create.
Large numbers of baboons are becoming more and more daring. They enter houses, open refrigerators and sometimes attack the children in villages, said Saeed.
The NCWCD recently conducted a research study, which revealed that the baboon engages in an often destructive behavior, destroying vegetable gardens and fruit crops.
Baboons are fearless fighters, they are not intimidated by bigger animals, including humans.

I can confirm the last sentence. When the A's went on a vacation to South Africa, we made the regular tourist trip right down to the Cape of Good Hope. At the parking lot for the Cape itself, there were baboons wandering around, and even sitting on cars, like the one I photographed here. We thought they were very smart, with lots of attitude. There must have been a band of about 20 in the area.

After we'd done the walk up to the lighthouse and then down to the very tip of the Cape, we made our way back to the parking lot. "Oh look," said a small A, " there's a baboon near our car!". And indeed, it was near our rental car.

To be precise, it was ON our car. Or rather, ITS car. You see, it had taken possession. It looked at us quite arrogantly as we made our way gingerly towards it, but there was no way it was going to budge. It had a great view up there, it could see all the comings and goings, not to mention the Cape, the lighthouse, and the sea where two oceans meet. As it looked at us it seemed to say rather sarcastically, "Sorry, am I keeping you from your four o'clock meeting?". I also had the surrealistic feeling that perhaps we had ourselves been lured into some sort of zoo, where baboons pay to come and observe Homo sapiens in its natural environment - "Oh look, Chuk Chuk, look at those little ones, aren't they cute? But that big male looks completely stupid, obviously slipped and fell off the evolutionary ladder, ho ho ho".

We didn't have any food left to bribe it with, and the thought briefly crossed my mind that perhaps we could drive away slowly with it in place, like forgetful people with their shopping on top, and hope it would take the hint and jump down; but we'd probably end up surrounded by the whole band, pointing angrily at their cousin clinging to the top of the car, and making insulting "What? Are you completely stoopid?" gestures with their fingers. In the end we adopted the tactic of total indifference. So, there's a baboon sitting on our car, so what? Happens all the time where we come from. We didn't want to drive anywhere, anyway. Just look at the view. Oh there's an interesting plant, what is it? And in his / her own time, it descended in leisurely fashion, and wandered off to find more interesting humans to study, possibly ones with food.

But on to other matters. Because coincidentally, there will also be a Simian invasion of our neighboring country of Bahrain.

300 Islamic Scholars to Attend Manama Meet on Prophet

In the wake of recent attacks by the enemies of Islam, five leading Islamic organizations have organized an international conference in defense of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The conference will be in Manama, Bahrain, from March 22 to 23.

I'm sorry. I know, that's a cheap shot. Comparing 300 Islamic scholars to a tribe of baboons. Most unfair. But you see, one thing about baboons is, they recognize their females as the protectors of the future of the tribe, so they treat them with all due respect, not as some sort of inconvenient biological necessity. And the other thing is, baboons don't keep going on about the need to apologize for something trivial that happened last September. "Hey, Ook-Ook, September 22nd, remember, you stuck your bottom out at me and wiggled it, thereby insulting the memory of the long-departed Wuk-Wuk, don't think I've forgotten it, and I'm still waiting for you to roll over on your back and stick your limbs in the air in a gesture of apology". So yes, it's an unkind comparison, 300 baboons are much more sensible than 300 Islamic scholars, much further up the ladder, especially when the latter are still coming out with this stuff....

He said the conference will send a message that Muslims are demanding not only an unconditional apology but assurances that all European governments show respect to Muslim minorities by not indulging in anti-Islam campaigns and that their rights are well protected.

He said Muslims are not satisfied with the ambiguous apology by the Danish paper largely published in Arabic newspapers.

Muslims don t want any apology on a piece of paper, but a program, that translates the apology into practice, he emphatically said.

The apology largely published in the Arabic newspapers was invented by Danish Embassy in Riyadh and it was not an apology at all. The Danish government so far refused to submit any apology to Muslims, he said.

"The apology....was not an apology at all". This is:

(i) An ironic contradiction, tracing its roots back to the traditions of Aristotelian dualism?
(ii) An apparently nonsensical statement that, when explored deeply, reveals some fundamental truth about the nature of our existence?
(iii) A semantic structure known as a "Reverse Tautology"?
(iv) Complete Bollocks?

(Imam University, Riyadh, Final Honors paper, "Islamic Semantics and Advanced Obfuscation")

Too difficult? Yes, it was for me too, that's why I never became an Islamic scholar. That, and I never liked the uniform.

Here's an easier one. In the photo above, taken at the Press Conference announcing the event, one of the four is the Secretary-General of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). Which one?

What, you can't spot any youth, they all look quite old? Look harder. Just for a laugh, pick out the oldest-looking. So you picked the second from the left, the one with the greying beard? Well done! Yes, it's Dr. Saleh Sulaiman Al-Wohaibi, Secretary-General of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). Give yourself a pat on the back!

Here's a question for the baboons. You all manage to get along together, there's the occasional fight over a bit of food or a female, but it's soon "forgive and forget", so you're good at Conflict Resolution. What do you think of these people, the brightest and most intelligent in our religion, when they say this....?

He said the conference is also aimed at promoting understanding through dialogues between the two civilizations.

However, Al-Wohaiby categorically said that in the absence of a clear-cut apology from the Danish government or its criminal support that encourages defamation of Islam and its Final Prophet, WAMY or other non-governmental organizations are not ready to calm down the current Muslims passions.

Yes, I had a feeling that's what you'd say.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Kittens, again 

A bit of a technical experiment, this.

I get asked quite a lot to post more kitten photos. What I've decided to do is instead to post some short (10 second) movies I made. They feature a feral cat who used to hang around our yard in Riyadh. To be precise, she used to turn up whenever she was pregnant, have her litter, wean them, and they would then all disappear back to their real territory, presumably around some neighborhood garbage skip. Then she would get pregnant, and turn up again.... We therefore called her "Serial Mom".

Here she is with one of the kittens. The temperature, as I recall, was about 120F. The sound you can hear is the sprinkler system. It's too hot to be maternal....

As you can tell, I'm not a great cameraman - hence the wild camera movements.
Here, "Serial Mom" is being left in peace.

But in this last one, it's definitely too hot to put up with the youngsters' fun and games, she's off!

If yoou can't see anything, maybe you need the latest version of Flash?

A demonstration and a rally 

Finally, the British police have acted against some of these twisted specimens who demonstrated the loving and compassionate side of our religion.

Five held over cartoon protests

Five men have been arrested over their alleged role in protests against cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad, Scotland Yard said.
The five were alleged to have taken part in the 3 February demonstration which took place in London.

It's not as if there is any shortage of photographic evidence. But even when convicted, they'll never understand the difference between freedom of speech to criticize and satirize, and "freedom of speech" to threaten and intimidate.

Thankfully, some people do. I'm happy to publicize this forthcoming event in London. Here's the letter I got from an organizer.

"We are organising a rally in Trafalgar Square for the 25th March.

Details can be found at this website:http://marchforfreeexpression.blogspot.com

This is a non-partisan, non-political grass-roots movement that simply advocates a society in which we can debate, agree, disagree, annoy and even offend each other without anyone being threatened, hurt, killed or imprisoned.

We are endorsed by:
Free Muslims Coalition
The Freedom Association
The Libertarian Alliance
Little Atoms
Lord Alton
Maryam Namazie
National Secular Society
Oliver Kamm
The Rationalist International

Confirmed speakers for the day include:

Evan Harris, MP. Lib Dem human rights spokesman
Maryam Namazie, Broadcaster & Human Rights Campaigner
Keith Porteous Wood, National Secular Society
Mark Wallace, The Freedom Association

We would very much welcome your support, and a statement of endorsement you are happy for us to use in publicity material. In addition, I would be grateful if you were to consider speaking at the rally (I know you are basically anonymous, but there's no harm in asking).

Our statement of principle reads:"The strength and survival of free society and the advance of human knowledge depend on the free exchange of ideas. All ideas are capable of giving offence, and some of the most powerful ideas in human history, such as those of Galileo and Darwin, have given profound religious offence in their time. The free exchange of ideas depends on freedom of _expression and this includes the right to criticise and mock. We assert and uphold the right of freedom of _expression and call on our elected representatives to do the same. We abhor the fact that people throughout the world live under mortal threat simply for expressing ideas and we call on our elected representatives to protect them from attack and not to give comfort to the forces of intolerance that besiege them."

To which I replied

Dear Peter

Thank you for your kind invitation. I will be there on the day, but, I regret, anonymously, as sadly there are some of my fellow-Muslims who see violence as a solution to their own problems, and may choose to turn their email threats into reality. However I fully endorse this demonstration from people of all faiths. Wherever there is full freedom of expression, truth thrives, but tyranny and bigotry try to find a dark corner to hide in.

Best Wishes

Alhamedi Alanezi

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

What goes up.... 

....must come down. And that's usually the case with share prices that outrun their true value. Most countries with mature stock markets have already learnt that lesson. Our stock market is immature, and we're only just beginning.

Back on the 25th of February, it was all good news

Saudi Stock Index Gains 1,193.52 Points in a Week

The Saudi stock market continued to attract the limelight last week with investors reportedly withdrawing from other Gulf markets and turning to the Saudi stock exchange.
The Tadawul All-Share Index (TASI) climbed 6.1 percent on Thursday

It had been going like that for a while. By international standards, it's not a big market, and there are relatively few institutional investors with pension funds or mutual funds. (Most pension funds are government-held and -invested.) So it's a smallish market with lots of private investors without too much experience, and no good financial press or network of advisors. Add to this, a few recently-privatized companies that looked like a "good buy", and there you have a volatile market with problems on the horizon. The index kept going up, so people bought , told their friends who in turn bought more themselves, so lo and behold the prices kept rising, then when they ran out of cash they borrowed to buy even more shares, so the price still kept going up, and with this frothy brew bubbling away still, some people sold up all their assets and bought even more.

But then on February 27th the market finally ran out of buyers, and the buyers ran out of money, and gravity inevitably took over....

Stocks Dive for Second Day

After a period of unjustified rise in stock prices, the Saudi stock market continued its plunge yesterday. The Tadawul All-Share Index (TASI) lost a massive 1,894 points in two days after hitting a record high of 20,634.86 on Saturday. Yesterday, the index closed at 18,740.20, down 914.48 points or 4.65 percent.

....and we started to hear some very sad stories....

The recent and sudden downturn in the Saudi stock market left a groom over SR35,000 poorer, the daily Okaz reported. The groom thought it would be a good idea to put SR50,000 (approx $ 13,500) of his money intended to cover his upcoming wedding expenses into the stock market. His decision couldn’t have come at a worse time, as the market took a dip following a bullish run. By the time he pulled his investment out, he had less than SR15,000 of his principal funds. The man was taken to a hospital after the loss left him speechless — literally speechless. The wedding was called off due the groom’s inability to cover the ceremony’s expense, not to mention his inability to articulate.

A Saudi father never suspected that he would lose more than half of his daughter’s dowry money in less than two days, Al-Madinah daily reported. He wanted to invest his daughter’s dowry money in the stock market and double his profit. Instead with the market crashing last week, he lost more than half of the SR50,000 stake. Having learned a hard lesson, he sold one of his cars to make up for the loss and continued his daughter’s wedding.

....with the fall taking over people's working lives....

Employees with Internet connections are constantly in front of screens even if they are in the middle of a meeting or a conference. If you find a person attending a meeting with his attention focused on his cell phone, chances are he’s linked up to his stock portfolio. You can read it in his face, sometimes contorted with gloom and confusion.

....and on occasion, tragic results....

Last week’s 10.36% drop in the Saudi Stock Market (Tadawul) resulted in at least four fatal heart attacks and one shooting, the daily Al-Riyadh reported. The shooting incident was a result of a dispute between two friends, one who invested his money at the advice of the other. Two bullets later, the victim was dead and the perpetrator was in custody.

Now one reason that I'm commenting on all of this calmly and dispassionately, is that I'm not suffering personally. I do have some modest investments, but I’ve had them for a few years, and over that time they’ve grown in line with the Saudi economy, so I have no real complaints. I suppose that in the last few days I have “lost” some money, but it’s electronic money I never really had in the first place, it’s been like the froth on the top of a cup of latte, blown off by the wind.

It’s a tough learning experience for some of my fellow-countrymen, but I hope they start to wise up to four things:

1. Stock market investment, like a career, is all about slogging away in the long term. The “quick killing” is an illusory gamble.

2. Never invest money you don’t have, like someone else’s money you borrowed.

3. Buying into a rapidly rising market, anywhere in the world, is a mug’s game.

And the fourth? Well, that’s one that our Shoura Council need to learn.

Shoura Members Want Govt to Halt Stock Crash
Saudi stocks plunged to new lows yesterday, sending shockwaves among investors as Shoura Council members urged intervention by the Finance Ministry and the governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) to prevent a market crash…..“Such a move is essential to allay fears of the public over the unjustifiable stock market crash,”

The lesson for them is that stock markets follow the cruel rules of the free market, so there’s no such thing as an “unjustifiable stock market crash”, just naive optimism smashing into brutal reality. Welcome to the real world, fellas, the one where ordinary people live, where you don’t just turn up the oil tap to compensate for your financial mistakes. And the other half of this lesson is that when we are three years old and fall over on the sidewalk, our Mummy or Daddy will pick us up and make it better; but when we are grown-ups we shouldn’t expect our government to be our new Mummy and Daddy and make it better the same way.

OK, lecture over. I’ll just end with something from a syndicated press release supplied by a journalist reader. There are all sorts of medical reports of stock-market-induced maladies being published. And in this case, whilst “what goes up, must come down”, the converse is not necessarily true.

From sexual problems to heart attacks, Saudi society is feeling the pinch of a sharp drop in the stock market index after it recorded spectacular gains. "My husband has become depressed since losing half a million riyals (133,000 dollars) in the borse and cannot perform his marital duties toward me," said a Saudi woman who identified herself as "Um Rashed."

What goes down, may not always come up.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Busous War 

As promised, here is the story of the Busous War, the 40-yar war fought over the dishonoring of a female camel, as relayed from generation to generation, and as recounted to me by my Grandfather as I sat at his knee.

It all started with an ugly one-eyed Viking chief called Olaf. "One-eyed Olaf the 'orrible" as he was widely known, but when speaking to him it was just less of a mouthful to call him "Boss" instead.

Like many Viking chiefs, he voyaged far and wide. He discovered North America before Columbus, and when over there fielded a football team called "The Vikings" , but the locals didn't want to play because they'd have to call themselves "The Redskins" or the "Braves" and that was racially-offensive and politically-incorrect, and nothing came of it. So Olaf decided he wanted to go somewhere where it was warmer all-year-round and the locals were more fun.

Anyway, off he headed in his longboat filled with warriors and camp-followers and a great big horn (whose purpose will be revealed later), and of course copious vats of beer. He headed south and then turned left thru the Pillars of Hercules, along to the end and then turned right into the Suez Canal. This Canal had of course been built originally by the ancient Egyptians, the only problem was that it was tidal in those days, not that the Israelites minded when they nipped across ahead of Pharoah's chariots at low tide, but you know what it's like when you're driving a chariot at full tilt and shouting "Last one to get to the Jooos is a cissy!" and trying to read the tide tables all at the same time, but that's another story.

So "One-eyed Olaf the 'orrible" and his longboat emerged from the Suez Canal, carried on south, and eventually came upon an anchorage that they learnt was called "Jeddah" by the locals. The weather was nice and warm, there were lots of places to swim, so they decided to anchor, build a small castle, and have some well-earned R and R.

And it wasn't long before the locals came to have a look at them, led by their own chief, called "Saeed the Sad". Not that the name really distinguished him from the others, because all the locals seemed terminally depressed, a fact that the Vikings blamed on too many wives and not enough alcohol. They resolved to remedy both of these imbalances as soon as possible.

Olaf immediately took a shine to one of Saeed's wives, Jamila. And in spite of his empty eye socket and his beery breath, she quite fancied him. Compared to "Saeed the Sad", he had a huge lust for life, not to mention a huge lust for her, that she found irresistably attractive, and it wasn't long before he swept her off her feet and you know what happened next, you're all big enough, anyway I'm not telling you and besides I'm not that kind of writer.
But the strange thing was, "Saeed the Sad" didn't seem to mind. After all, she was only a woman, and the only thing in his life that really mattered to him, the true love of his life, was his pedigree camel, Muna. And who wouldn't want a camel like her, isn't she absolutely gorgeous? It was said that she meant more to him than all his wives put together. So, as long as he had Muna, he wasn't too bothered about the rest.

Now "Boss" Olaf, having dealt with the "too many wives" issue, decided to address the "zero alcohol" one. Indeed, had he been a thoughtful man, he might have pondered the irony of a people who originally gave al-cohol its name, yet never drank it. But he wasn't, and he didn't, so neither will we. He was instead a man of action, and he decided that he needed to give the locals a Party!!! Food, booze, music, all those jolly rumbustious games that Vikings enjoy, that'll take the miserable so-and-so's out of themselves.

And indeed, all the locals came to the party, if only out of curiosity. Saeed rode up on Muna and tethered her at the castle gate. Inside there was roast lamb, and roast goat, and roast chicken; tear the meat off with your teeth, throw the bones behind you. And bathtubs full of foaming ale. Eat all you can, drink all you can. And the Vikings certainly could drink and eat all they could.

It took the locals a bit longer to get into the swing of things. First they wanted to talk about religion.
"How many gods do you Vikings have?".
"Oh lots", they said, "we've got Mona and Tiu and Wodin and Thor and Freyje and Sunne..."
"But that is idolatrous and sinful!", exclaimed the locals, "We only have one God, and his name is Allah!".
The Vikings weren't very impressed with that. "If you only have one god, what do you call all your days of the week?"
"Day one, day two, and so on", replied the locals.
The Vikings were even less impressed. Especially because they couldn't count. But they also thought the locals were pulling their legs. "Hang on a minute, Pal!" said one, "I've heard you people say that you love Mohammad more than your own parents, so he's obviously a god as well, then there's that big rock up the road in Makkah that you keep walking round, that must be another god. Then, whenever there's an eclipse of the moon, you have special services in your mosques in the evening (and still do to this day - A.A.), so you obviously worship the moon just like us....."
At this point a fierce argument broke out, so "Boss" Olaf and Saeed told them all to shut up and get some serious drinking in, before the fun and games started.

And so they did. Soon the party was in full swing, with lots of hearty butch laughter and male bonding and burping and slapping of thighs and throwing of bones. So much so, in fact, that "Saeed the Sad" became marginally less so, but definitely drank more than was good for him. It wasn't long before he was heading for the ramparts, to lean over and perform what these days would be called a "technicolor yawn".

Now it was time for the games to start. First game was "Chop the pigtail". One of the Viking wenches stood against a board, her pigtails were pinned out at each side, and the object was to throw a hand axe and chop off each pigtail without decapitating her. Talk about fun! First up went "Boss" Olaf. The locals looked on in horror, because here was a one-eyed guy with poor depth perception, not only that but he was well into his third gallon of ale, and now he was wielding a couple of hand axes, but no-one was going to tell "Boss" that it could end in tears. And "thunk..." "thunk...", two pigtails neatly severed, one relieved Viking wench, cheers all round.

But then it all went a bit wrong. One of the Viking lieutenants shouted, more in jest than anything else, "Hey, Boss, I bet you can't do that with Saeed's camel!". Bad move. Never issue a challenge to a Viking chief who's into his third gallon of ale. Before anyone knew what was happening, Muna was led in and parked in front of the board. "Boss" Olaf swung his hand axes, "thunk..." "thunk...", and her two little ears had been neatly severed from her head.

Everyone was aghast. The silence was palpable. Just at this point, "Saeed the sad" came stumbling back into the hall, and was surprised to see his beloved Muna standing there. Gradually his eyes focussed, and the awful realization dawned on him that her two ears, now lying on the floor, had just been removed from her head. As his little face puckered into a paroxysm of misery, he turned to Olaf and blurted:

"Oh....oh....oh....oh..Boss, who's chopped the ears off my Muna?".

At this, the cruel Vikings fell about in helpless laughter. With one hand held forward in a limp wrist, and the other placed on their hips, they minced around, mimicking his words and tears in high-pitched voices and rhyming insults.

"Oh Boss, who's chopped the ears off my Muna?"..."Boo, Hoo!"..."Boss, who's?"..."Boo, Hoo!"..."Boss, who's?".....

They'd not had such a good laugh since "Bjorn the Brainless" forgot to let go of his hand axe and it came swinging back between his legs!

But Saeed and the other locals didn't "get it". And that is how the Bosous ("Boss, who's") War started, all because of the dishonoring of a female camel.

It was fought as all such wars were fought in those days. The Vikings would go over to Saeed's camp, and plunder, rape and pillage. Then the locals would return to the Viking castle and try to batter down the door with a ram.
But what the locals hated and feared most was when the Vikings got out that big horn and started blowing that four-bar tune thru it, over and over again. They couldn't stand it. Not only was it music, and therefore forbidden, but it was also infinitely cheesy and repetitive. It was gradually wearing them down.

But 40 years passed, with no decisive outcome, and they were all getting a bit past fighting and that sort of thing. What seems like fun when you are 30 and fit and healthy can be a bit much when you're 70 and wearing eyeglasses and drooling onto your zimmer frame. Not only that, but the Vikings' beer finally ran out. So reluctantly they loaded up the longboat, and set off on that long journey back to the north of Europe. But as they made their way up the Red Sea, Olaf was heard to say:

"The problem with those guys is that they've got no sense of humor, they take themselves far too seriously, and they get really hung on about trivial things. What we ought to do is draw a set of pictures of one of their gods, it'll wind them up no end, they'll go completely ballistic.
But not yet, we'll leave it a few years........"

(To see the film, go here.)

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