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.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

There is no War in Cuba 

Many thanks to some Commentors who flattered me by asking whether I was indeed Terry Pratchett, the author. Apparently they felt that our writing styles were similar. I had to confess that I was not. Indeed, if I were, then with all the books I had published, I would be too busy going thru my bank statements to have any time to blog. But they did excite my curiosity, and this weekend I went out and bought "Monstrous Regiment". Why that particular one? Well, the cover, with its Napoleonic-era soldiers, appealed to my interest in military history; also, the title is a quotation from a work by a Scottish religious zealot and misogynist of years gone by. In 1558 John Knox wrote the pamphlet "The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women", in which he said "Nature doth paint them further to be weak, frail, impatient, feeble and foolish; and experience hath declared them to be unconstant, variable, cruel, and lacking the spirit of counsel". Yeah, dream on. History does not record what either Mrs Knox (the second was 16 when he married her) thought about this opinion, although it was primarily directed against Mary Queen of Scots. As a fierce Protestant he did not believe in it, but he is one of the best arguments for Catholic purgatory, where souls are purged of their sins before being admitted to heaven. In his case, a thousand bad-morning-sickness-and-backache pregnancies followed by a thousand painful and prolonged deliveries of strapping ten-pound babies would be appropriate. I'm sure God would agree, wouldn't She?

Anyway, I've just started on the book, and Terry Pratchett does indeed have a style that I find familiar. However, he can sustain it for 500 pages, not two or three. And I don't think the world could stand 500 pages of King Abdullah and Prince Nayif doing their "Beavis and Butthead" routine. So that's where any similarity between us probably ends.

I had just finished a 600-page epic, a biography of William Randolph Hearst, the publisher. My interest in him was stimulated by a visit some years ago to his extravagant "Castle" at San Simeon on the California coast. This, presumably, was where our Saudi Princes got the inspiration for their equally tasteful and understated dwellings. Also I have always enjoyed the film based on his life, "Citizen Kane", and the DVD sits proudly near the top of my special collection of "The 30 best movies ever". My favorite scene, based upon W R Hearst's desire to see the Spanish kicked out of Cuba, is this exchange with his editor, having just received a cable from his reporter out there.

Charles Foster Kane: Read the cable.

Bernstein: "Girls delightful in Cuba. Stop. Could send you prose poems about scenery, but don't feel right spending your money. Stop. There is no war in Cuba, signed Wheeler." Any answer?

Charles Foster Kane: Yes. "Dear Wheeler: you provide the prose poems. I'll provide the war."

And that's precisely what happened. Thru his papers, Hearst "did a number" on the Spanish in Cuba. Tales of atrocities, mistreatment of women prisoners, blame for the explosion on board the USS Maine. The whole works. The US public were outraged, and Hearst was instrumental in getting the US to invade Cuba. On the 10th June, 1898, US forces landed on an unknown and remote Cuban bay called Guantanamo. That signalled the end of Spanish rule.

This all came back to mind when I read today's "Saudi Gazette", because that paper is also "doing a number", Hearst-style. Not, this time, an orchestrated government campaign as we had with the Danish cartoons. On that occasion, all the Saudi papers were involved. No, this time, it's just the "Saudi Gazette" doing their own thing. Five articles, all on the same topic. And the target of their campaign? By one of those strange coincidences, that very same Cuban bay.

Here are the various articles. I've missed one out for the moment, we'll get to that later, it's the most horrifying.

Court Suspends Saudi’s Trial

A US judge Friday suspended the Guantanamo war crimes tribunal of a Saudi prisoner until after the US Supreme Court rules next month on the tribunals’ legality.

‘He Wants To Get Married and Settle Down’

ABDULSALAM Al-Shihri was only 16 years old when he was captured by American forces in Afghanistan. In 2001, he was sent to Guantanamo Bay prison making him the youngest Saudi detainee.

Letters Are the Only Link

THIKRA, 22-year-old wife of Fahd Al-Fouzan, patiently waits for her husband’s return. She has neither seen nor talked to her husband for over five years, but thinks about him every hour of the day.

‘I Want to Go to Cuba’

FOUR-year-old Ethar talks to her father every night before she goes to bed. She tells him she loves him and then tells him what she did during the day. But unlike most children, she has never seen her father in real life.
Ethar’s father is 23-year-old Fahd Al-Fouzan one of the 132 Saudi detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.

All heart-rending stuff. Young wives, young children, telling the pain of their separation from beloved husbands, fathers, relatives, who are imprisoned without due process, without trial, without apparent hope of freedom. And, you may say, very cynical, coming from a government-controlled newspaper in a country where people also disappear into a legal system without due process, without trial, without apparent hope of freedom.

And I would agree. Except, sadly, in this particular case, I would also say "A plague on both your houses. In this instance, you are each as bad as the other".

I say "sadly" because that's exactly how I feel. I have long admired the US for its record of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, as has most of the civilized world. The USA was the country that first took the European Enlightenment ideals and based an entire constitution on them. One of my favorite places in the entire globe is the Jefferson Monument in Washington. It's near a busy road, but somehow the interior provides a peaceful, calm and reflective atmosphere in which to contemplate and be uplifted by the various inscriptions. Will I ever live to see one like this in Saudi Arabia?

Almighty God hath created the mind free…All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens…are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion…No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.

And this could have been written specially for the Wahhabis....

We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

This one always gives me a special tingle, I would happily go to the barricades to fight for it.

We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men.

And my favorite, in Jefferson's own words, around the top of the wall....

I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

Thomas Jefferson, whenever I see that, I am tempted to walk seven times round your Monument in a counter-clockwise direction, and I don't care if it is idolatry.

So that is why it saddens me that this nation, the great upholder and protector of freedom and liberty, is in this instance letting everyone down. Remonstrate with the Saudis or Chinese or North Koreans or Burmese or all the other squalid despot regimes about their non-existent legal systems, and they can just turn round and say "Sure, we have imprisonment without trial, just like you do in Gitmo".

I can understand how it started. It was right to invade Afghanistan, to go after the terrorist camps, and in the process get rid of their protectors, the Taliban regime. In doing so a lot of people got scooped up and they needed to be checked out, interrogated, classified, graded as dangerous or innocent or just plain-stupid-went-to-Afghanistan-because-it-was-like-summer-camp-for-religious-wackos. So a prison at the end of nowhere was as good a place as any to do that. But that was four and a half years ago. Time and enough to interrogate and check out and classify and grade. And it's long past "put up or shut up" time. Now is the time to either try them for their crimes, or release them. It's supposed to be only the squalid regimes like Saudi Arabia, where you get locked up for four and a half years without trial. And don't give me that "They are not subject to US law" routine, because that's a cheap and lazy cop-out that merely says "We started this but we don't have a clue how to finish it". Same with the "Enemy combatants" routine - you can't release them at the end of the war because the "War on Terror" will have no defined end. Are you expecting to sit down with Bin Laden in a railway carriage in the French countryside, while he signs an armistice document?

I desperately want the US to stand on the moral high ground and beat countries like Saudi Arabia over the head until they do something about Human Rights and the Rule of Law. But right now, it's not standing on anything, it's standing in something, and it smells real bad. And if world public opinion means anything to it, it should check out what everyone else is saying these days. Even the Government Lawyer of its most faithful ally Tony Blair, the "Poodle's poodle" himself, is now saying....

Close Guantanamo, says Blair's law chief

The US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay is a symbol of injustice and should close, Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General said last night...."Not only would it, in my personal opinion, be right to close Guantanamo as a matter of principle, I believe it would also help to remove what has become a symbol to many - right or wrong - of injustice."

Encouraged by all this, the "Saudi Gazette" senses an opportunity to poke the US in the eye and milk the outraged innocent victim routine for all it is worth, and on this occasion, until it does something about it, the US has no credible response.

But I'll finish on a note that is pure Hearst. His papers were notorious for making something out of nothing, concocting outrageous incidents out of thin air, especially during the Cuba business. And what Saudi citizen will not be outraged by this last story? Especially my own tribe!

Decapitated at Guantanamo

ABDULLAH Al-Anizi, 30, was captured by American forces in Afghanistan five years ago. He was decapitated after being sent to the infamous US prison in Cuba.

“We do not know why he was decapitated; .... we just don’t know,” said Miteb Al-Anizi, Abdullah’s older brother. “But we do know that he was decapitated in Guantanamo.”

What would Hearst have done with that story? Imagine the outrage!

The truth is very sad, but fortunately not as sad as the "Saudi Gazette" makes out. Go to the article to find out, a simple mouse-over of his photo will reveal the real story. Unless the paper realizes its mistake and corrects it before you get there.

I understand they have a vacancy for an Arabic-English translator.

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