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.
The A's have just got back from another long weekend, taking advantage of what the British call the "May Day Bank Holiday", which is a bit of a swizz really because we didn't see one Maypole, nor any Morris dancers, nor even a winding procession of the starving and down-trodden proletariat. However there were lots of banks closed, but that seems to be normal over here. The only banks that seem to be open are the internet banks, but that's because it's already tomorrow in Jakarta or New Guinea or some such place.
While I shake the cobwebs off the keyboard and get back into blogging mode, I thought it would be useful just to talk a bit about mail. I'm getting quite a lot these days, which is very rewarding, and I do read them all, but if I could just set some expectations about what I can do in response. I'm averaging 30 - 40 a day, but of course after a weekend like the last one I come back to a mailbox with over a hundred, and while that is one of the nicest things about writing a blog, it can also be very daunting. As I was always taught in my English school, you should always reply to mail that you get, but as you can imagine, that can become a bit of a burden. So I'll just set out here what I can normally do in response to the different types of mail.1.
The largest category, thankfully, is people just writing to say "Hello", and / or how much they enjoy the blog. Often there's a bit of a story about their related experiences, perhaps in Saudi, perhaps elsewhere. It is of course very nice to get these, and they confirm that I'm on the right track. Generally, though, I can only manage a one-liner in response. Occasionally I am able to do a little more, like put some people in touch with each other, where they appear to have something in common, but that's unusual.2.
Sometimes I get mail that is critical, but in a polite and positive way, and I welcome these equally as feedback. Often they say that I should concentrate less on something or more on something else. I do take note of what they say, and may act upon them, although of course there is no guarantee. However I would just point out that I do concentrate on Saudi Arabia, where I come from, and the United Kingdom, where I now live. I have so far managed to steer clear of Palestine and Israel, and Iraq, in spite of the temptations. Equally, I could blog forever on "Mad Ahmad" of Iran, the only loony in the asylum who's going to get his own nuclear weapon, but there aren't enough hours in the day. So it's mainly those two countries.3.
A lot of times I get sent material that could be used in the blog. This of course is meat and drink to any blogger, so please keep them coming. If I use them, I'll acknowledge the sender. If I can't use them, thanks anyway, perhaps they were slightly off-topic, or their time had passed, but I'm grateful nevertheless. Also, please always quote the relevant URL, because I can't publish unsubstantiated news; it should either be a published news article or a personal story.4.
I probably have the most difficulty with emails asking for or expecting some complicated response. These are usually well-intentioned, and if I didn't have a job or a family I could perhaps devote more time to them, but I really don't have the time to debate the Iraq war, or which bits of Islam are more valid, or a number of similar issues. If you ask a question requiring a yes / no answer I can probably manage that, but nothing open-ended. Similarly, for students needing 500 words, it's your school assignment or your thesis, so you write it, not me.5.
For the (very rare) truly offensive insulting emails, be aware that you will probably feature in a posting, and that I get the last word, so you'd better not provide me with more material than you intend. Also please enclose a photo of yourself, so I can publish that as well; we all form a picture in our mind's eye of what a ranting bigot looks like, and we would like our prejudices to be confirmed.6.
There is a less offensive type of email, but still deeply critical. I would characterize it as the "Disappointed Fellow-Muslim" type of email. It usually expresses concern for the ultimate fate of my soul. While I realize that this is well-intentioned, it is an unfortunate feature of many in our religion that they like to comment on the piety of others whilst ignoring their own. Western culture has several sayings for them, using the analogy of glass houses or specks in eyes, but they somehow seem not to have seeped into our language. And as a general rule, I'll look after my soul, you look after yours. To those who tell me off for writing about eating lunch during Ramadan, please bear in mind that I am human, was possibly a traveller on that day, am possibly diabetic, or possibly just a very hungry sinner; whatever, it's none of your friggin' business.7.
Finally, where would I be without the emails from Nigeria or Russia, usually addressed to "My Brother in Islam", occasionally "My Brother in Christ", offering to cut me in on some forgotten multi-million account? Whilst I applaud your judgement in choosing me to be your financial partner, can I just point out that:
- If you're planning to offer me 10% commission, forget it, I don't get out of bed for less than 70%.
- as a pledge of goodwill on your part, I need $10,000 deposit in a Swiss bank account that I will nominate; when I and the A's eventually get back from our vacation-of-a-lifetime, maybe then I'll let you have my fax number.
Keep those emails coming!