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, January 29, 2006
Cartoons - "Offense Level" raised
The Saudi-government-inspired campaign against Danish Cartoons continues unabated. I am proud to announce that today, the "Arab News" had no less than four articles
I won't quote from them, they are just recycling the same old pious claptrap and dodgy theology, repeating themselves and each other ad nauseam, on the basis that sooner or later the Danes will cave in and apologize. I've got news for you guys; the Danes don't read Saudi newspapers, any more than 1.3 billion Muslims read Danish newspapers and get offended. But who cares, as long as we don't talk about stampedes where "several" poor Third-World Muslims died.
However, the most important news is that the Muslim "Offense Level" has been raised.
Just to remind you what the various levels mean:
LOW Meaning - We are slightly miffed, although we are not sure why. We think we are not as popular as we would like to be. Non-Muslim response -Tread very carefully and do not offend us Consequence of non-compliance - We will get very cross and stamp our feet
GUARDED Meaning - We are quite offended, because people are generally picking on us. Non-Muslim response - Stop making jokes about us Consequence of non-compliance - We will rant on about "Islamophobia" and "Orientalism", although we don't understand what those words really mean
ELEVATED Meaning - We are definitely cross, because people keep blaming us for 9/11, Parisian cars getting torched, Saudi women getting stoned Non-Muslim response - Pretend that these things have nothing to do with Islam or Muslims, tell everyone how we brought algebra to 9th Century Spain Consequence of non-compliance - We will cause even more mayhem. Did you leave your car out in the street?
HIGH Meaning - We are extremely offended by a particular individual or country Non-Muslim response - That individual or country must apologize Consequence of non-compliance - Individual; Fatwa, assassination, or both. Country; Boycott (unless you export things the Saudi Royal Family are consumers of), and Saudi newspapers write a long string of boring and repetitive articles that you will never read but will drive Saudi readers to distraction.
SEVERE Meaning - We have had enough of your rudeness and ridicule and have gone completely ballistic Non-Muslim response - We demand that the Pope and President Bush go down on their knees and apologize personally for every rude thing that everyone has ever said about us over the last 1400 years, and promise that it won't happen again Consequence of non-compliance - We will cease the export of oil, therefore depriving the numerous Saudi Royal Family of all income, we will cease the import of all cars, tanks, airplanes (military and civil), computers, building technology, infrastructure and general professional expertise, and we will stop visiting Western fleshpots like the South of France, the USA, London..... Honest. We will. We really mean it this time. Just you wait. We really will. You better believe it. We're not kidding. We're telling you. Honest. Don't make us do it.....
Sorry to keep going on about cartoons again. You see, it's a government edict that all newspapers and blogs are to keep on and on, at infinitely tedious length, about Danish cartoons, and under no circumstance mention the you-know-what at you-know-where that killed you-know-how-many. And being an obedient citizen, I can only comply.
Interestingly, a writer in the "Comments" section of the previous post has said that all the Friday sermons in Riyadh yesterday were on this very same subject of Danish cartoons, so obviously the Imams have been given the same instructions.
I am grateful to "Lehihamra" for pointing out the Quote of the Month in the latter article, a poignant comparison of Saudi and Western freedoms.
Abdullah Al-Othaim, executive president of Al-Othaim Holding Company, has said that his company would boycott of Danish products. “As Denmark has freedom of the press, we Muslims have freedom to buy or not to buy their products,” he said.
So what else can I say? It's really hard work writing a post about this every day, what on earth can I fill it with? Oh yes, the Danes also supply NIDO powdered milk that we use a lot of. Here's a recipe for some sweets made with NIDO
Mix the NIDO powdered milk with baking powder. Then add the eggs and 4 Tablespoons of oil. Mix well and form into 1/2 inch balls, by rolling in your hands. If the mix becomes too dry to roll, add a little more beaten egg. In a pan combine the sugar with 1 1/2 cups of water, the cardamom, and the saffron. Boil for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool until warm (but no longer hot). In a frying pan, heat 1 Tablespoon of oil over medium-low heat. Add half of the balls. Cook until the balls are a light brown on all sides. Do this by constantly tilted and turning the pan, so the balls continually roll around from one side to another. Place the balls in the warm syrup. Allow to remain in the syrup for about five minutes or until you have finished frying the second half of the balls. Remove from the syrup and drain on kleenex tissue or kitchen paper. Cover with another piece of tissue or kitchen paper and allow to sit for at least three hours before serving. Enjoy!
Except if we're boycotting NIDO, we can't make them. But we can still think about them.
What else? Oh yes, a Saudi TV Preacher has been threatening Armageddon.
There's a most unholy tantrum being thrown in Saudi Arabia at the moment. The proverbial toys, rattles and dummies are being thrown out of the pram in all directions. And the screaming....you wouldn't think they had lungs that strong.
What's it all about? Well, there are no less than four articles about it in the "Saudi Gazette" and "Arab News", and similar numbers in their Arabic-language equivalents, so it must be something very important.
It's about cartoons.
Cartoons? Yes, cartoons. Not the revoltingly anti-semitic ones that we all so love and appreciate. No, these are different. These are those Danish cartoons, again.
It all started, reportedly, because
In September 2005, Kare Bluitgen, a Danish author, was set to publish a book on the Prophet Mohammed, but he could not find any illustrations of the Prophet for his books. Three artists turned down Bluitgen's request to illustrate the Prophet fearing a backlash from Muslims. At the time, Frants Gubdelach, president of the Danish Writers' Union declared this as a threat to free speech. Then Jyllands-Posten, the most circulated daily newspaper in Denmark, responded by approaching 40 artists asking them for depictions of Prophet Mohammed. The newspaper then published 12 cartoons of the Prophet on Sept. 30 last year, alongside an article about the freedom of speech, focusing on how artists were afraid to illustrate the Prophet from fear of extremist attacks. Since then, reportedly a couple of the artists have gone into hiding.
That was last September. Nobody at the time seemed bothered. There are actually 180,000 Muslims in Denmark, but they appeared not to have noticed or made a fuss either. However, there are always some Muslims on the lookout for opportunities to be offended. They scour the world's press, in its most obscure languages, seeking something to get into a Hissy Fit about. And eventually, four months later, they struck paydirt!
Paydirt indeed, for a Saudi government in late January 2006, anxious to divert attention from its most recent Hajj self-styled "Success", when it demonstrated once more its ability to corral several hundred Muslim pilgrims, mostly from poor nations, to yet another death by stampede. A diversion is needed, and what better diversion than Danish cartoons?
For be in no doubt, when the Saudi newspapers have all these articles on the one day....
....don't be under the illusion that two editors coincidentally thought this would be a Good Idea. Saudi newspapers may occasionally show little acts of independence, but when it comes to the big things, like sacking editors, or targetting other countries, the government is still very much in control. And the government ordered a diversion. So for "We are angry at Danish cartoons" read "Don't talk about the Hajj stampede".
Anyway, to explain to Western readers who may be puzzled at all the fuss, what is the basic problem?
Is it cartoons themselves? Well no, all the Saudi papers carry cartoons every day. They are a tool used to make a political point, against a variety of targets. So it's not cartoons.
Let's get the advice of a cleric.
It is as stated in the Qur ân: And if you ask them, they will surely say we were only conversing and playing. Say, Is it Allah and His verses and His messengers that you were mocking? Make no excuse; you have disbelieved... [Surah al-Tawbah: 65-66]
Well that doesn't really apply. If you look at these cartoons, no-one is mocking his messengers; all they are mocking are the extreme latter-day followers, with their bombs, and nonsense about virgins (or raisins), and treatment of women.
It is therefore proven that whoever insults the Prophet (peace be upon him) is an unbeliever and an enemy of Allah. Therefore, it is proven that anyone who blasphemes against Allah, insults an angel, calumniates a prophet or mocks him, or makes fun of the verses of the scripture or the divine legislation is an apostate.
All this says is that the cartoonists are therefore unbelievers or apostates, not true Muslims. But we already know that! They are Danes, therefore presumably Christians or Agnostics or something else. And we can't expect to apply the rules for Muslims to non-Muslims; that would be like Catholics expecting Muslims to follow their rules, and go around crossing themselves and genuflecting. So you are excused if you are still puzzled.
The outrage has been caused by the fact that drawing or depicting a physical image of the Prophet is against Islamic law.
Yes, but Islamic law applies only to Muslims, not non-Muslim Danes. We are not really getting anywhere here. Let's try another scholar.
Ridiculing the Prophet is truly the way of evil-minded people, said Khalid Al-Shaya an Islamic scholar who has been very active in condemning the cartoons. The Western media, through the Zionists aid, support and their extremist Christian helpers had exerted every possible evil effort to distort the religion of Islam and the life of our beloved Prophet, he said.
I wish I'd not bothered. We've picked a Grade A bigot, who sees a Jooo behind everything. Is there instead anyone sensible out there?
(The WAMY) firmly believes that all prophets (peace be upon them) should be kept away from derogatory and slanderous attacks, because these were the chosen lot of the Almighty to guide humanity on the right path,” said Wohaibi. “Therefore, mocking at the prophets (peace be upon them) is highly degrading and subverts the call for human values and freedom of faith advocated by the United Nations Charter. Well, that's the World Association of Muslim Youth for you. I used to pass its HQ on King Fahd Highway in Riyadh regularly. I saw lots of elderly men go in, but never any youth. So it's "highly degrading"? To whom? Not to the good souls in Paradise, surely; aren't they beyond all those petty human feelings, up there? Degrading to the people who drew the cartoons? Well, if it is, that would be their problem, not yours, you worry about yourself instead. But now you happen to mention the UN Charter and "freedom of faith", when is "Father Jim" going to be able to build his Christian church in Riyadh, to demonstrate the "freedom of faith" in Saudi Arabia? I've found him an excellent site, by the way. On the King Fahd Highway, where the WAMY building is just now.
Still puzzled? Time for just one more.
Muslims will never accept this kind of humiliation. The article insulted every Muslim in the world.
At last. Someone is being open! It's not about the Prophet (PBUH) at all. It's all about us. Me, me, me! We are insulted. Why? Because we choose to be, it's our right. The cartoonists are mocking the present-day distortions of true Islam by the bigots and zealots and terrorists, and the bigots and zealots and terrorists don't like it. And they are telling the rest of the 1.3 billion that they feel insulted as well, even if they don't.
So what do they want to happen? This is where the toys and rattles and dummies go flying.
We demand a formal apology, said Hlayhel....The Saudi government recalled its ambassador for consultations in light of the Danish government's lack of attention....Saudi Arabia's top cleric has called on Denmark to punish a newspaper that ran cartoons portraying Prophet Mohammad....The two publications should apologize to Muslims around the world....WAMY also sought an unconditional apology from the governments of Denmark and Norway .... and punish the culprits who deliberately provoke over one billion Muslims as part of their hostile propaganda against Islam.
Wow! You get the picture. We expect punishments and apologies, in whatever order. And we ourselves are great believers in apologies, of course. Look how we apologized for all our citizens who flew into the World Trade Centre. And the great expression of regret to the "so-called "Booze Bombers" for their false imprisonment, torture, and extracted "confessions". Not to mention the apologies to the families of fifteen Makkah schoolgirls, killed in a fire by the actions of the Muttawa. And soon there'll be an apology to the families killed in.....
Sorry. I forgot. We're not supposed to talk about the Makkah stampede.
I'm sure I've mentioned before that I'm fond of camels. They are good-natured, hard-working, intelligent, and if you want them to do something, they'll generally help you out as a favor. I'm sure that if God had designed them a bit more elegantly, and enabled them to speak, they'd be running the place by now.
In other parts of the world, especially India, camels really have to work hard for a living. In Saudi Arabia, we keep them as pets. They are generally treated very well; indeed, I know some people who treat them better than their own wives and certainly better than their domestic help.
A man who committed animal cruelty got his come-uppance when he untied the angry creature, Okaz daily reported. The man locked his camel in a stable and bound its legs for three days. When he untied the creature it immediately attacked him, biting him in the head causing a severe fracture. The man had to be taken to a hospital for treatment. It is not known what the man did to the camel after being released from the hospital. If he had any sense, he'd go back and apologize to it, then give it something really special for supper. You don't mess around with camels. They only do what you want out of the goodness of their hearts, and if you abuse and disrespect them, they'll soon show you which is the superior species.
The "Saudi Gazette" has a regular crime column, which I always go and look at, if only out of morbid fascination. It's full of the doings of the criminal classes in the Kingdom, which are actually pretty tame by world standards, because we're not very good at crime. (I once heard the statistic that Washington DC has more murders in a year than the Kingdom has had since it was formed early in the last century; I haven't verified that, but I can believe it.) Anyway, it's full of things like
A pickup truck, parked in front of its owner s home at Al-Jabour District in Madina, was stolen
A fight broke out at a food supply store between several female shoppers, when one of the women discovered that her handbag was missing
Dhamad Police in collaboration with a Mujahideen team under the command of Sergeant Marwa iy Ja fari arrested a smuggler with 315 bundles of Qat ( a "poor man's drug", local to this region, chewed) in his possession.
Police succeeded in nabbing the individuals who broke into the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice s headquarters.
I love that last one! Why break into the Muttawa HQ? I would guess, to steal from their cache of confiscated women's magazines, Valentine cards, Barbie dolls, not to mention, if they are lucky, porn, booze and soft drugs.
There's always something very quaint about the English used by the reporter on that column. I suspect he learnt his trade in England about 30 years ago. Police are always "swooping", or "pouncing", before "nabbing" the criminals. If they ever reported the conversation upon arrest, it would no doubt be something like "Oy Lofty, you're nicked", with the reply, "Cor Guv, it's a fair cop, you've got me banged up to rights and no mistake".
Another curiosity is the photographer. He either takes photos of the criminals, just having been arrested, looking down in the mouth, or alternately, of crime victims in hospitals. He reminds me of that "Sneaky Pete" photographer who was supposed to operate in honeymoon hotels in Las Vegas and Niagara, commissioned by couples to take surreptitious photos of them in the foam bath and other places, so they could dribble over them together when they eventually got to ninety.
Anyway, this "Sneaky Pete" doesn't ask anyone's permission, he just sneaks into the ward when the victim is sedated up to the eyeballs and hasn't a clue what's happening, and clicks away. In this case, it's a policeman who was injured in a shoot-out, thankfully not severely. So he gets his picture taken, tubes and tissues and all, when he's fast asleep. No chance to fix his hair and have a shave. Anyway, let's be thankful he wasn't having a bed-bath or an enema at the time.
The other curious thing about this column is that they always put the photo at the top, regardless of what the first item is about. The result can often be eerie or macabre; look here and you'll see what I mean.
I enjoy reading history books. One of the things I learnt about English history is that royals like Elizabeth I used to enjoy going on "A Progress". The basic idea was to keep an eye on the various nobles, but it also served to cut down on her food bill. She and the Court, who could number dozens, used to travel to castles and stately houses in sequence, eat all the food, wipe out all the game birds and animals, and then move on to the next one. So Lord Cholmondeley would be out hawking with his pals one day when he spots Elizabeth and retinue heading for Cholmondeley Castle. Muttering "Oh, bugger it" to himself, he orders the servants to slaughter every farm animal in a ten mile radius and roast them, while he heads over to greet Her Royal Highness thru gritted teeth; "Your Majesty, my family and I are deeply honored to have you and your Court as guests at our humble abode". Then the Court would spend several days eating every bit of food until it was all gone, leaving behind a huge pile of animal bones, and two pregnant serving-wenches.
Thus it is with our own Royal Family. They are on "A Progress" around Asia. Any country that's going to need some oil for its growing economy, they're going to have to feed....
The King's entourage includes his sons and the ministers of Finance, Oil, Foreign Affairs, Trade and Information.
....which is a lot of mouths, especially when you include "his sons". So many, in fact, that they need a whole Boeing 747-400.
They've been for a Chinese, and have now left Beijing, the cargo hold of the 747 groaning under the weight of stones from the Great Wall, and assorted Terracotta warriors (What else would the people "who have everything" want for their rockery?). And you know what it's like when you take your family for a Chinese; even if it's very good, you don't really want to go back another night. The A. family would say "Let's have curry tonight for a change". And that's just what the Sauds say. Where is the best curry? "Pilot, plot a course for Delhi!"
Now I can guess that as an endless stream of Saudi princes, some 260 in all, come shuffling out of their 747, hungry as hell, the reaction of the Indians would be pretty much like that of Lord Cholmondeley. Still, needs must. For, in spite of the usual "Saudi Gazette" nonsense about the purpose of the visit....
The visit, the first by a Saudi monarch in 50 years, is expected to lead to a new and strategic Saudi-Indian bilateral relationship focused on cooperation in energy security, infrastructure building and Information Technology.
.... the real game is that India, as a developing industrial nation, needs more oil. So the family have come to find out what India can offer in return. (Apart from some antique temple gods of course; a Goddess Kali will look great in the rockery, and with all those arms, can give pleasure to six Terracotta warriors at once). My personal guess is IT and other things that will reduce the long-term dependence on US technology; not that I'm expert in these matters.
So that's the latest stage in the Gastronomic Grand Tour. Where after this? What particular aromas and flavors will next tempt the palates of our ruling elite? Stay tuned.
The Saudi Arabian Council of Ministers and Shoura Council ("Poodle Parliament") discusses matters of great import. Obviously the Makkah Hajj Tragedy. But not yet, there's something even more important on the agenda. Cartoons. Yes, cartoons are a very important State matter.
Saudi Arabia yesterday denounced European newspapers that published cartoons denigrating the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and said such spiteful actions would spread hatred and animosity among people of different faiths.
OK. Point made.
“The Council of Ministers expressed the Kingdom’s condemnation of what is published by certain European newspapers defiling the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh),” the Saudi Press Agency said. The Cabinet was referring to the caricatures published by some Danish and Norwegian dailies.
Yes. We know. You just told us.
The Cabinet meeting, chaired by the Regent Prince Sultan at Yamamah Palace in Riyadh, expressed anguish and surprise at the inadequate reaction from governments and people in those countries against such vilifications, despite their economic, political and cultural relations with the Islamic world.
I know. But perhaps they have other priorites. Diseased chickens. Russia cutting off gas supplies. Iran being run by a raving lunatic.
In a similar statement, the Shoura Council also condemned the attacks of Danish and Norwegian newspapers on the Prophet and said such publications would unleash communal hatred. Maybe so. But the stuff was actually published months ago, and nobody really took any notice, apart from papers looking to fill the odd column.
“The acrimonious cartoons on the Prophet hurt the feelings of Muslims across the world and gave false information about a great personality, who was selected by God to become His last messenger,” the statement said.
Hell's teeth, man, they are only cartoons! Get a grip! Chill out!
“Those who publish such cartoons do not know the consequences; they will spread hatred and division and create animosity between communities and religions,” the Shoura said.
Yeah yeah yeah, you already said that. When do we get to talk about the Makkah Hajj tragedy?
The statement rejected publication of such obnoxious cartoons in the name of freedom of expression. “All constitutions and laws in the world call for the respect of Prophets and divine religions,” it added.
No they don't. That's absolute bollocks. Only extreme Muslim countries have laws like that. Are we on to Makkah yet?
Shoura Council Chairman Dr. Saleh Bin-Humaid urged intellectuals and peace-loving people of the world to stop such vilifications against the Prophet of Islam and punish its perpetrators.
Punish? How? Smack their bottoms? Send them to bed early? Come on guys, is this all you can talk about?
The Shoura urged the Danish and Norwegian parliaments to stand against the anti-Islam campaigns in their countries.
What campaigns? Guys, you are losing touch with reality! Come back to Earth!
The 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, the European Commission and many international Islamic organizations have condemned the printing of the provocative cartoons.
The European Commission? Really? (Though sadly, that wouldn't be a complete surprise to many of the ordinary citizens of Europe) But when do we get to talk about Makkah?
The Cabinet meeting expressed hope that the current four-nation Asian tour of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah would help strengthen relations with these countries.
Maybe it will, maybe it won't. But at least some other country has to feed the Royal Family for a while. All 260 of them. Makkah?
The Cabinet meeting, which is first after Haj, commended the various government and private organizations for their efforts in the successful organization of the annual event. It expressed deep sorrow over the deaths of several pilgrims in two accidents: a stampede in Mina and a building collapse in Makkah.
Excuse me. I just had to go out and vomit. I'll be myself in a minute.
There were only supposed to be 2.5 million there, but another 1.5 million managed to slip in when no-one was looking; a total of 4 million in an area the size of London's West End or New York's Midtown. The security forces themselves admitted that they were helpless and reduced to being onlookers. Squatters were allowed to wander around with bulky luggage in tow, accidents waiting to happen, and a stampede took place yet again in the location where the stampedes always take place, killing 360. Meanwhile a hotel collapsed, killing 60, and the ministries are still arguing over who should have inspected the building. And that is a Success? God spare us from a failure!
420 died. That's what we call "Several". 420 human beings. "Several". Mostly foreigners, from Africa, the Indian sub-continent, places like that, but only a few Saudis. Is it because they were mostly "darkies", that "Hundreds" turn into "Several"? The arithmetic of our callous leaders.
Anyway, let's go on and discuss the issues more.
The Cabinet conveyed its condolences to the Kuwaiti government and people on the death of Emir Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah. The regent briefed the Cabinet on the outcome of King Abdullah’s talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Syrian President Bashar Assad and US Vice President Dick Cheney.
No, that was it. Move onto the next item. No more Makkah Hajj discussion. Scratch 420 dead pilgrims. Sad for them and their families, but they're history. What's done is done. Draw a line in the sand. Move on.
After all, foreign pilgrims are not our priority. Cartoons are far more important. So here's another one for them.
What do you do when you fancy a Chinese? Drive down to the Lucky Dragon? Ring up for a home delivery? That's what we mere mortals do, isn't it?
But King Abdullah knows how to do things in style. Mind you, he's filthy rich. Every time you fill up with gas, he gets even richer, which is a nice thought to occupy your mind as those numbers whizz round at high speed. Anyway, yesterday his family said that they "felt like a Chinese". So they went down to the airport, turfed a load of homeward-bound Bangladeshis off a Saudi Airlines 747, and flew to Beijing. Here they are arriving. When I said his family, I meant his whole family. There they are, stretching in a queue 100 yards back to the aircraft, then up the stairs, and there's about 150 of them still inside waiting to get off. They are desperate to get at the Crispy Duck, but here's some guy blocking the way with a bunch of flowers. Look, Pal, if the King wants flowers, he'll buy friggin' Holland. Now put them down and take our order. One Chinese Banquet for two hundred and sixty. With Prawn Crackers to start, and Tiger Beers all round.
Topics on the table for discussion besides energy will be counter-terrorism and military cooperation, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said.
But not Democracy or Human Rights, of course. No point in discussing things that don't interest either party. Besides, it would encroach into our valuable eating time. Next visit, perhaps. Pass the Soy Sauce.
The Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah is supposed to be about strengthening ones' relationship with God. Not so for these Iranian pilgrims and their "spontaneous demonstration" with preprinted banners which niftily double as fans. They would like to turn a deeply spiritual event into some sort of Nuremburg Rally. It starts off with the sort of game you play at childrens' parties. Appalling. Nauseating.
Those who visit the comments page and attempt to post something will notice that I am now moderating all comments. That is, I look at them and approve them for publication or otherwise. This is because yesterday there was a fairly prolonged attack from someone using multiple names and IP addresses, making some very bitter personal attacks on me. Moderating comments is a pain for you and me both, and I hope to be able to relax it soon when whoever caused it goes away and discovers some true purpose in life.
Just to emphasise the rules I apply to comments, although 98% of those who visit are perfectly civilized people who don't need reminding:
What is allowed:
Comments supporting what I've posted Comments querying what I've posted Comments disagreeing with what I've posted Comments disagreeing with my whole approach here Comments disagreeing with other comments
What is not allowed
Personal attacks on or insults of other commentors (Common sense applies here. I'm not talking about jocular jests and friendly badinage. Apply the "Big guy in the bar" rule - if you said it to that big guy in the bar, the one with the beard and headband and the tattoos, would you be grateful you had dental insurance?) Personal attacks on or insults of me.
On or two have got upset because I've limited their "Free Speech". My response is, if someone came into your house and kept slagging you off, would you respect their right to "Free Speech", or would you show them the door? (And if you're the guy with the beard etc., you'd probably choose the third option.) One other thing for the rabid minority to bear in mind; if you disagree with something that is posted, or someone's comment, there's nothing that shouts "I CANNOT DISPROVE WHAT YOU SAY" more obviously than trying to attach a label to that person, or making offensive personal comments. If you want to be taken seriously, address the issue, not the person.
One other point, for the tinyest minority who enjoy directing expletives at people. Don't expect me to delete the words, or the entire post, just to spare your blushes. I'm not your maiden aunt. Other people may be interested to see you in your uglier moments, and why should I protect you from yourself?.
Having got that out of the way, comment away, argue away, but let's keep it FUN!
.....until he is seven, and I will give you the man". Thus goes the Jesuit saying, but of course it is true of all education. What we sow in childhood, we reap in adulthood.
I was reminded of that when reading a speech by our Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal recently. It was at a conference in London on "Global Terrorism", sponsored by the Saudi Embassy there. (Don't you just love that - we have been the prime exporters of terrorism around the world, then we sponsor a conference on it. Next week there's one on "Minority Rights" sponsored by the Sudanese Embassy.) One of the interesting statistics he quoted was
Prince Saud pointed out that in 2004, 53 percent of terrorist incidents around the globe occurred outside the Middle East.
That's what is called "spin". You are meant to think that most of the world's terrorism takes place somewhere other than the Middle East. So it does, just. But the thing about spin is that you can spin in two directions. Let's spin the other way. How about the Middle East, with 2% of the world's population, accounts for 47% of the world's terrorism? Isn't that something to be proud of? Funny thing, spin.
The Prince goes on
....the Kingdom recognized that it had to confront directly intolerance and “those who would sow the seeds of hatred and violence in our mosques and schools".
So part of the problem is people in our schools, sowing the seeds of hatred. Who are these people? Evil and manipulative teachers? But before we answer that, here's a little quiz about our schools' teaching on the Jews. Here are six passages. Can you tell which are from our textbooks, and which are from "Mein Kampf" by Adolph Hitler?
1. Though persecution still existed, emanicipation spread throughout Europe in the 1800s. Napoleon invited Jews to leave the Jewish ghettos in Europe and seek refuge in the newly created tolerant political regimes that offered equality under Napoleonic Law . By 1871, with Germany’s emancipation of Jews, every European country except Russia had emancipated its Jews.
2. In order to carry on his existence as a parasite on other peoples, he is forced to deny his inner nature. The more intelligent the individual Jew is, the more he will succeed in this deception.
3. The Jews are wickedness in its very essence. One of the wicked ways of the Jews is that they whisper to one another among themselves....
4. Though Jews became increasingly integrated in Europe, fighting for their home countries in World War I and playing important roles in culture and art during the 1920s and 1930s, racial anti-Semitism remained. It reached its most virulent form in the killing of approximately six million Jews during the Holocaust, almost completely obliterating the two-thousand year history of the Jews in Europe. In 1948, the Jewish state of Israel was founded, creating the first Jewish nation since the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, subsequent wars between Israel and its Arab neighbors....
5. To what an extent the whole existence of this people is based on a continuous lie is shown incomparably by the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, so infinitely hated by the Jews.
6. They were discovered in the nineteenth century. The Jews tried to deny them, but there was ample evidence proving their authenticity and that they were issued by the elders of Zion. The Protocols can be summarized in the following points: 1. Upsetting the foundations of the world’s present society and its systems, in order to enable Zionism to have a monopoly of world government.... 4. Controlling the media of publication, propaganda and the press, using gold for stirring up disturbances, seducing people by means of lust and spreading wantonness. The cogent proof of the authenticity of these resolutions, as well as of the hellish Jewish schemes included therein, is the actual carrying out of many of those schemes, intrigues and conspiracies that are found in them. Anyone who reads them ....grasps today to what extent much of what is found there has been realized.
OK, I admit it, that was a bit of a trick question. Those who thought that 1 and 4 are from our textbooks have obviously gone to the sort of school where history is presented in a reasonably objective way, and allows room for disagreement. Such is not the way with our schools. I cheated a little, and took 1 and 4 from Wikipedia.
So that leaves four pieces of nastiness. Which is Nazi nastiness, and which is Saudi school nastiness? That's a tricky one. I removed the historical and stylistic clues, so they are quite hard to tell apart.
Well, 2 and 5 are from "Mein Kampf".
So that leaves 3 and 6. 3 is from the "Quran Commentary" syllabus, taught to Grade 9's. 6 is from "Hadith and Islamic Culture", Grade 10
So there you go. The villains are not, in this case, the teachers, but instead the government, the Ministry of Education. They teach material to our 14 and 15-year-olds that is inseparable from the rantings of the greatest criminal of the Twentieth Century, a psychotic who applied industrial technology to the attempted elimination of an entire race. Isn't that something for us to be proud of?
Imagine that in the West, you had a school system which sat the children down each day and fed them a tumbler of whisky. They might not like it at first, but they would eventually get used to it. Later on, they would start to look forward to it. By the time they left school, a fair proportion of them would be alcoholics. Perhaps not a problem if they kept it to themselves, but the ones who went out and drove over people or otherwise killed them would start to be a concern. So you would have to start a program of drying-out clinics, to cure them. And they might be successful, although there's no such thing as a cured alcoholic, just one who hasn't had a drink for a length of time. And you might just question the wisdom of spending money and effort creating alcoholics, only to have to spend more money and effort to cure them later.
In Saudi Arabia, we don't feed our children alcohol. Instead, we feed them race hate. It's a progressive thing, building up layer by layer, using the material you see above. Thankfully, many forget it, just like we all forget algebra and bits of history. But there is a proportion for whom it sticks. They are our "alcoholics". And their hatred extends not only to Jews worldwide, but also the countries that are seen to support them - North America, Europe, Australasia. And a proportion of these decide to do something about it, and sign up with the terrorist groups. Eventually they might get caught, and repatriated. And we have our own "drying-out clinics". It's a program where we get people to talk them round, to see the error of their ways, to be rehabilitated. And unlike a drying-out clinic, we keep them in prison in between times, so you can imagine that the "success rate" is a lot higher. It's documented here.
In the past six months, the Saudi Interior Ministry released more than 400 security prisoners based on the assessment of the program counselors, after becoming convinced that they had renounced their extremist views. None of the freed prisoners were planners of terror operations who were under interrogation or standing trial. According to Interior Minister Prince Na'if bin Abd Al-Aziz, "the heads of the program assess that it has had a positive impact on the prisoners' tendencies, and that there is evidence that they admit their error and want to repent."
Are they cured? Given a choice between prison food and 24 X 7 fast food on the outside, we can all take a view on that. And like the alcoholic, is a reformed terrorist just someone who hasn't committed an atrocity for a while?
The Jesuits understood it, and we've happily misused it since. We take the children, teach them hate, and when some of them get addicted, we try to flush it out of their system. Wouldn't it be better not to teach them hate in the first place? I don't think Saudi Arabia has made that decision yet, and nothing that Prince Saud has said suggests that. So we'll keep on spewing them out. And then they'll become your problem as well as ours.
Saudis are sometimes accused of having no sense of humor. Indeed, I am sometimes accused of not being a Saudi, because I do have a sense of humor. The truth is, of course, that we Saudis are natural comedians, and enjoy a good laugh, just like everyone else. However, some things are not funny. Let me explain the difference.
This is not funny.
This might appear funny to Westerners because it depicts their notion of Islam - mysogynistic and murderous - and the way in which the slit of the ladies' veil has been used to conceal Muhammad's eyes, rather like in one of those crime photos.
While it doesn't do much for me personally, some may enjoy it and have a laugh. Others may not find it funny, and would simply move on to the next item.
However, for many Saudis, and indeed many extreme Muslims worldwide, it is not enough to find it unfunny. We are also obliged to feel offended, because of the depiction of Muhammad. And when we discover that this has been published in a Danish newspaper, we feel compelled to take action.
Saudis and non-Saudis in the Kingdom are urging consumers to boycott Danish products in response to cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) printed in September in Danish daily Jyllands-Posten.
So no more Lurpak butter on the table. (We already passed on the Danish Bacon). But what will that achieve?
The main objective of this message is that we encourage people to boycott goods from Denmark, which is the least thing we can do until Denmark offers an official apology for the drawings that have offended the world’s Muslims.
I am rather curious exactly how many of "the world's Muslims" speak fluent Danish, and leaf thru a copy of the "Jyllands-Posten" newspaper while eating their toast and Lurpak (but no longer) and marmalade, in order to get so upset. But no matter. One Muslim did, was deeply offended, told the other 1.3 billion about it, and now we're all p*ssed as hell.
And you know what happens when we are offended, don't you? That's right. We demand an apology! And as we expect an "official apology", it can come from no less a person than from Her Royal Highness Queen Margrethe Alexandrine Þorhildur Ingrid. In Arabic, naturally; you don't think any of us speak Danish, do you? And if you do that, we'll start buying Lurpak again. But don't count on the bacon.
So that wasn't funny. But what is? Well, this cartoon from Today's "Saudi Gazette" is. Why? Because it depicts time running out for Ariel Sharon. You see, he is Jooo No. 1, and we don't like Jooos, have hated them for 1400 years in fact, so when Jooo No. 1 has a major stroke, and is in a coma for the best part of a month, it's fair game for a bit of good-natured fun. Anyway, cerebral hemorages are inherently funny. It's the idea of being completely helpless and being artificially fed and tubes going in and tubes going out that appeals to our cartoonist, who of course never himself risks the possibility of a blood vessel in his own head bursting and messing up his brain; but if it did happen to him, you can be sure that he'd have a real good laugh about it.
So there you go, the Saudi sense of humor. We're extremely religious and pious, so we don't laugh at Muhammad, just at Jooos with severe brain damage.
P.S. 22 January 2006. You can see the full set of the Danish cartoons here. Generally, for me, not that funny. But not reason enough to get spitting mad , either. And certainly not worth giving up Lurpak for.
Running a newspaper is a tough business these days. It always cost money to send out reporters and photographers to collect the stories, but nowadays they are forced to publish on the Internet so that cheap people like me can read for free. Less revenue minus the same costs equals reducing profits. What are they to do?
The "Saudi Gazette" thinks it has found the answer. Well, they've had a Good Idea. But they should realize what more or less everyone else knows. A Good Idea is not enough. To be any good, it has to be put into practice well. Because if it's cocked up, then it's just another Bad Idea.
The Saudi Gazette's Good Idea was to save money on "experts". Instead of calling up and getting quotes from " an expert", and then having to slip them a hundred dollars or whatever for their words of wisdom, they would invent some "virtual experts", who would talk for nothing! And of course, they could make their "virtual experts" say whatever they wanted, they could make them the most brilliant, witty and articulate people in the world. They could invent the best experts in the world!
Sadly, the Gazette invented them as completely and utterly stoopid. That was their first mistake. The second mistake was that they gave them silly names, names that don't come up with real people when you Google them, you'll see what I mean.
But Hakeem added any person can practice his faith alone like what is happening in many places around the world such as the Vatican that does not have any mosques as Saudi Arabia has no churches.
....and my special favorite....
As a country that follows Islam, starting with its flag that has Allah's name on it, we are obeying the orders of Qur'an and Sunna by stopping any one from practicing any religion other than Islam in public.
....for its sheer lack of logic combined with total self-certainty.
For its latest article, the Gazette is treating us to a completely new set of "experts". The article itself concerns Mahmoud "I'm Mad and I'm Bad" Ahmadinejad's nuclear plans, and the official Saudi viewpoint from our own esteemed Foreign Minister.
Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud said that the West was partly responsible for the current standoff with Iran over its nuclear policy because it had helped Israel develop its own nuclear weapon store.
Now it will come as no surprise to you in the West that you are "partly responsible". Only partly, you note. The rest of the responsibility is of course down to the Jooos. So it's you and the Jooos. It's always you and the Jooos. No matter that Iran as an independent country takes these decisions purely on its own behalf, with no outside coercion. No matter that the unhinged leader of a country who says that another country should be wiped off the map, is now developing weapons of mass destruction that could do precisely that. No matter that Israel has quietly had these weapons for years but has never ever threatened to wipe any country off the map. It's still you and the Joos.
Little wonder, then, that the Gazette feels the need to call in its "experts", to give the Prince a bit of moral support. So what sort of "expert" are they dishing up for us today?
Saudi scholars and security experts have echoed comments by Prince Saud Al-Faisal in a BBC radio interview that the West must be held partially responsible for the tension between Western nations and Iran over nuclear proliferation.
Wow! Scholarsand security experts! What a tasty treat! I can't wait. Who is first up?
Iran specifically and the Muslim Arab countries in general are considered a threat to the USA, said Sheikh Muhammed Ayoub of Riyadh. They can t stand to see any of these countries doing huge programs, especially when it come to nuclear weapons; but on the other side its OK if they used it because they have the power to do so.
Now I've never got the impression that the US feels threatened by Jordan or Bahrain or Abu Dhabi or Dubai or the other Emirates or Oman or Lebanon or even by Saudi Arabia, militarily. And when I last looked, they were all "Muslim Arab countries". So I'm curious as to whether Sheikh Muhammed Ayoub of Riyadh is a scholar or a military expert. Let's Google him.
Ah! Perhaps he is the Sheikh Muhammed Ayoub, the Imam from Madinah, who is famous for his 32-CD recitation of the Holy Quran? It's possible, because reading a 1400-year-old book aloud for several hours can give you unique insights into 21st-Century Middle East geopolitics. But it can't be him, because our guy is from Riyadh, not Madinah. So he does look like another "Fake Sheikh". But a virtual one this time, not a real one. And it's probable that when our journalist was looking around for the name of an "expert", his eyes lighted upon the pride of his CD collection, (and indeed, who could miss 32 of them all in a row?), and his search was over.
Let's have another. Let's have a military expert.
Ali Muhammed, retired colonel and expert on military affairs, said, The USA is using Iran as a play card to start moving to Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Their problem is that they think the world is too stupid to notice their moves when everything is so obvious.
Well, being a military man and needing to keep out of the public gaze, he won't have a high Google profile. But I suspect that our journalist's eyes landed on a photo of the most famous Muslim boxer of all time, one with two very common male Arab names, and all he did then was to reverse them, just to try to fool us. But he didn't. Not only that, if you want a military expert, you need a good military title, a General of some description, but not a mere Colonel and a retired one at that. Particularly when our armies and our Colonels don't have a great reputation in the wider world. (thanks David).
Leadership may be the greatest weakness of Arab training systems. A sergeant first class in the U.S. Army has as much authority as a colonel in an Arab army.
Anyway, enough nit-picking. What does our "expert" Colonel / Sergeant have to say? The USA is using Iran as a play card to start moving to Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Their problem is that they think the world is too stupid to notice their moves when everything is so obvious.
After all that, I'm sorry I bothered. Obviously, in retirement time is hanging heavy on his hands, and he enjoys playing those board games like "Diplomacy". But why would the US feel compelled to invade their ally Jordan and depose their friend King Abdullah, because while it may be "so obvious" to Col. Ali, I'm sure the rest of us are "too stupid" to work that one out. And isn't Jordan in precisely the opposite direction to Iran? Is it because they'd get Double Points and one Free Go? I think I'll advise the Virtual Colonel to stick to Solitaire.
Time for one more. Our journalist looks out of the window and sees the Al-Manee Furniture Manufacturing showroom. "That's a great name", he thinks, "all I need now is a first name". But by this time his brain is hurting and he's really running out of inspiration. All he can manage to come up with is Manee Al-Manee; how puny is that? And he has been invented as a "a political analyst from Dammam". OK, Manee, analyze away.
When you think about the whole situation, USA wants to put itself in every single detail about the world, said Manee Al-Manee , a political analyst from Dammam. Israel is using nuclear weapons against children with stones.
Duh! We've really hit rock-bottom here! Perhaps our journo knows he's on a loser, and has lit up the Wacky-Baccy in desperation. Now he's telling us about nuclear craters in Gaza and the West Bank, with forlorn pairs of child's sandals lying by the edge, just because a kid threw stones. Rule 1: Don't smoke stuff. Rule 2: If you do smoke stuff, don't write anything, just stare into the distance with a silly smile and wait for it to wear off.
Like I said, "Virtual Experts" is a Good Idea turned by lousy execution into a Bad Idea. Poor old Prince Saud, first he comes out with a complete load of bollocks, and then his little gang of imaginary friends manage to out-drivel him, and make the whole thing a bad joke. But that, for Saudi journalism, is as Good As It Gets. Perhaps they should listen to the advice of world-famous Psychology expert Tab Qwerty who says, "A period of prolonged silence will not cure innate stupidity, but it can conceal it for a length of time".
"Work is the Curse of the Blogging Classes". So it is for me as well. Pressure of work and family commitments will mean that posting will be spasmodic over the next five weeks or so. I need to get a better-paying and easier job. I had this idea for selling time-shares in Windsor Castle to gullible tourists.
It's been rather a tragic week, so let's finish with something a bit lighter. And where better to find that in one of the UK tabloids. I always make a point of looking at these comics for grown-ups, because if you keep reading the serious stuff, then there's a whole world that just passes you by. Particularly if you don't watch "Celebrity Big Brother" either.
For example, who would know that rebel MP George Galloway, the ultra-aggressive son of Glasgow who roared at a US Congressional hearing and seemed to stun it into silence, was just a pussy-cat at heart? Here he is, pretending to lick milk out of Rula Lenska's (I know. Celeb? Who?) hand. Or how else would we know that Jennifer is fuming with Brad because he didn't tell her that Angelina is pregnant?
And indeed, who would care? But there is one character in today's tabloids whom we've come across before. Remember the "shaky Sheikh", aka Mazher Mahmood?
As I pointed out in an earlier post, any Saudi will tell you that the "News of the World" undercover reporter is not the real deal. For a start, his trousers are sticking out from underneath his thobe, which makes him start to look like someone in Pakistani national attire. Secondly, he's not whacking his prayer beads back and forth around his wrist, he's holding them gently like Sister Francesca saying her rosary.
However, he's taken lots of people in. For some reason, when some people spot this pseudo-Saudi, they get a bad attack of verbal dysentery, it all comes spilling out, they just can't help it. Perhaps it's the sight of the thobe and ghutra that causes people to relax and reveal their most intimate thoughts. Especially Royals, who are supposed to be ultra-discreet and keep well away from politics. Thus he got Countess Sophie to say of Prime Minister Blair and wife....
He's ignorant of the countryside. His wife is even worse, she hates the countryside. She hates it!
....at the time when politicians were discussing the controversial legislation to ban fox-hunting. He also got Britain's "favorite Royal", Princess Michael of Kent, to share these private thoughts with the "Fake Sheikh", his hidden tape-recorder, and five million readers.
DIANA was a "bitter", "nasty" and "strange" woman by the time she died. CHARLES was deeply jealous of his first wife's popularity. CAMILLA WILL be crowned Queen—despite the Royal Family's insistence she'll remain Princess Consort —and Charles will NEVER step aside to let William be King. SNEERS that Camilla may seem to be nice but adds cattily that "..nice is very easy". CONFIRMS claims that Diana caught Charles on their honeymoon whispering words of love to Camilla. SPECULATES on the Queen's mental state as she grows older. REVEALS that the Queen still finds it difficult to accept Charles' marriage to Camilla.
So by now, you would expect that any British celeb would run a mile whenever they saw a thobe and ghutra bearing down on them. But Mazher Mahmood is no fool. He picked on his latest victim somewhere where he could blend in with the surroundings. In Dubai.
Having said that, if you've never been there, you may find it hard to believe but native Arabs are actually quite rare in Dubai. They have so many expatriates there, including the Police, it looks like a suburb of Bombay. A friend of mine once spent a wasted hour in the central shopping square, trying to find an Arabic speaker in any of the electrical shops. Lots of tourists go there expecting it to be wall-to-wall Arabs, and then discover that to meet them they have to go on a specially-packaged air-conditioned "no-dust no-flies camping trip" ten miles out into the desert, (misleadingly advertised "The Empty Quarter" so they all imagine they are following the footsteps of Wilfred Thesiger but in reality they'd all die if they went out that far), to meet some natives of the "Real Arabia", who are very probably an out-of-work actors from Beirut and Casablanca, just doing a one-month stint holding hawks (which they hate), spitting, singing Egyptian folk-tunes because that's all they know (can you tell the difference?), and generally trying to look villainous and colorful.
However, the latest victim probably didn't realize that. Go to Dubai, you expect to meet Arabs. And he did. The victim was no less than Sven-Goran Eriksson, Manager of the England soccer team. Sven is actually a very good manager. However he's not one to jump up and down on the touchline, shouting and waving his arms. He's more the quiet "whisper in the ear in the dressing room" sort of motivator. In public he comes across with all the charisma of a Swedish funeral director. Mind you, it's a funny thing about Swedish funeral directors, women go wild for them. Seriously. And always stunningly good-looking and sophisticated women. Sven has probably had more good-looking young women on his arm than Brad Pitt.
Anyway, Sven fell for the "Fake Sheikh" hook, line and sinker. This time he posed as a potential buyer for an English soccer club, Aston Villa. Would Sven be interested in managing it, once the World Cup finished in the summer?
The Swede was quoted as saying he was prepared to leave his current job to work for the Arab businessman, who claimed he could take over the Premiership club. ....Eriksson was quoted as saying: "Aston Villa is for sale. The chairman is an old man today. He's sick."
Moral: never make personal comments about other people when talking to a Saudi who has his trousers sticking out at the bottom. I don't think the Chairman of Aston Villa is the only one feeling sick today.
Sven also started to boast of his relationship with superstar David Beckham.
It is also claimed Eriksson suggested he could persuade David Beckham to join him at Villa. Eriksson was quoted as saying: "I'll phone Beckham. Beckham and I, we have a relationship like that (he crossed his fingers). We are friends, but a lot of respect. "He will come back tomorrow. And it's up to me to convince him that this is the right place to be."
Yes. Right. He could persuade Beckham to leave Real Madrid and play for Aston Villa. That's like Peyton Manning leaving the Indianapolis Colts to play for the Amsterdam Admirals. Oh what silly things we say when we try to impress Saudis with prayer beads.
I apologize to those who have zero interest in European soccer, but can't you see why I love this man? (Mazher Mahmood, that is, not Sven, I'm not Sven's type). In spite of all the loony Imams and oily Ambassadors and lying Princes, he demonstrates that people still completely trust us, if there's something in it for them. So it's on with the thobe and ghutra, get swinging those beads, I'm off to sell timeshares in Windsor Castle.
It's a "Western thing" to have endless enquiries and investigations into disasters that stretch into the far distant future, so that by the time they report, everyone's forgotten the original event.
Not so in Saudi Arabia. We go in for urgent and transparent investigations. Following the Makkah stampede of two days ago that killed over 360 pilgrims, our Royal Family, no less, have thoroughly investigated events, and duly identified The Guilty Party. It is no less than.............. . . . . . . . .
God? Yes, you know, God. Creator of Heaven and earth. Bringer of Famine, Pestilence and Plague, when He so chooses. Not to mention Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Hurricanes. That God. He did it.
....the Crown Prince said in a statement issued in Jeddah that the incident that took place at the entrance of the eastern Jamarat Bridge on Thursday has been predestined by Almighty Allah and no one can prevent fate.
So there you go. It was always going to happen, so nobody could have prevented it, whatever they did.
Meanwhile, Number 2 in line to the throne, Prince Nayif, weighed in with his own unique contribution. .....we all know the large number of security forces that were deployed this year, but some things are just above the ability of human beings. What happened was God’s will.
So there you are, God. In the language of the British criminal classes, they have really "stitched you up" for this one. You won't wriggle out of this, not in a million years. And of course, they themselves are off the hook. They don't need to worry about their own government policy, the numbers allowed in, whether there were enough security forces, whether (Heaven forbid!) they can actually get the religious rulings changed, spread the whole event, make it optional. Oh no, none of that. Because God dunnit.
Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki told a press conference that 44 of the identified dead were Indians, followed by 37 Pakistanis, 18 Saudis, 12 Bangladeshis, 10 Egyptians, seven Yemenis, six Sudanese, six Maldivians, six Turks, five Algerians, five Afghans, four Moroccans, three Iraqis, two Omanis, two Iranians, two Syrians, two Chinese, and one each from Jordan, Ethiopia, Germany, Chad, Belgium, Palestine, Ghana, Turkistan and Nigeria.
But that's an unkind thought, and I won't even think it.
General Mansour Al-Turki, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior......said that starting next week, the current Jamarat bridge, which has seen a similar stampede in 2004 in which 251 pilgrims were killed during the risky Jamarat devil-stoning ritual, will be torn down and a new one with an elaborate system of entry and exit points will be erected in its place, up and running by next year s Haj. He added that the bridge will be expanded to five stories for the Haj season two years away.
That's really good news. Every time we have a stampede, we improve the bridge, and get an even better stampede. From 2008 onwards, we're going to have multi-storey stampedes, extending over five floors!
Is that really what God wants? Makkah, the "Mecca" for human stampedes, twinned with Calgary? Makkah, World Capital of Crowd Carnage? Or does he want us to use the brains that He supplied us with, and come up with a better solution? Yes, Sultan and Nayif, even your brains came from God! So stop blaming God, and use them!
345 pilgrims killed in Makkah. Many hundreds injured. May God grant them peace.
There is something very eerie about writing about the dangers, and then seeing yet another repetition, once more the corpses being loaded into trucks. It just keeps happening again and again, like a bad nightmare.
According to the "Saudi Gazette", the apparent cause was
Street pilgrims, people without permits who squat on the streets of the Holy Sites, were mostly blamed for the catastrophe as they headed toward the bridge with their luggage. A number of them stumbled and then fell as hundreds of thousands of others heaved and pushed the wave of humanity mounting the bridge.
However, let's face it, that was a secondary cause. The primary cause was the sheer number of people. For not only were there....
According to official statements, some 2.5 million pilgrims are at Mina and the Holy Sites performing Haj with permits.
....but the ones with luggage do not appear to have had permits, otherwise they would have had accomodation, because you don't get one without the other. So how many additional pilgrims were there? What was the total number?
Sources inside the security forces said that the number of pilgrims was much higher and tipped four million.
Hells teeth! If that's the case, that's one and a half million additional unauthorized pilgrims, sleeping out overnight, clogging up the route with their luggage by day. Add them to the 2.5 million official ones, and it's way beyond what anyone planned for, way beyond the capability of the security forces, it's all the proverbial "disaster waiting to happen".
So what's to be done? The "Arab News" offers this advice
Pilgrims themselves have to be more disciplined. They have to be more responsible. In many countries those going on Haj have to attend courses so that they know what to expect and what to do. This must be made compulsory for all as a condition for getting Haj visas.
In La La Land, pilgrims should go on courses. In the real world, we need to seriously question the sanity of squeezing two, three, four million people thru an area the size of Piccadilly Circus in London, so that every single one of them can throw stones at something smaller than the statue of Eros. It was fine when there were just tens of thousands of us. But with the explosion in numbers over recent decades, it just isn't sustainable. In fact, it's sheer madness.
I go back to what I said before. There are 3 choices:
1. Reduce the numbers to a manageable size, one that the security forces can handle without getting swamped. If that means that not every potential pilgrim will be able to come in their lifetime, then be honest, announce the fact that for practical reasons, one of the pillars of Islam is no longer compulsory.
2. Have monthly Hajj's.
3. A combination.
King Abdullah is "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques". That doesn't just mean the buildings, it should mean the visitors as well. Now is the time for him to go beyond the fancy title and show some real leadership. I don't see anyone else out there who is in a position to do it.
nine counts of soliciting murder, four charges of inciting racial hatred and one charge of owning a document useful to a person committing or preparing acts of terrorism.
Opening the prosecution, David Perry said Mr Hamza had used his position as a spiritual leader within the Muslim community to preach hate and encourage the murder of non-believers, and particularly Jews. The cleric allegedly told worshippers at mosques, and audiences at private meetings, that violent jihad was their duty, praising suicide bombers as martyrs and urging followers to terrorise those Mr Hamza branded enemies of Islam.
He first came to the attention of UK police back in the late '90's, but for reasons unknown, possibly to do with "not offending the local Muslim population", he was never prosecuted. However, with the exception of his fan club of the lonely, the inadequate and the confused, the local Muslim population will be delighted that he is removed from their midst, and they are hopefully no longer tarred with the same brush.
He's a real little charmer, so I deliberately picked the least flattering photo I could find. Here are some of his reported gems:
On suicide bombings
"It's not called suicide, it is called shaheed operation. People call it suicide to put people off, it is not called suicide, it is martyrdom ... If the only way to hurt the enemies of Islam is to take your own life, it is permissible ... If you don't use terrorism and torture, what are you going to use?"
On killing apostate rulers of Islamic lands
"Of course it is permissible to kill them, any person who hinders Allah, this man must be eliminated because he is a menace and this menace must be removed."
"Because of their [Jews] treachery, blasphemy and filth, is why Hitler was sent into the world."
On Islam's enemies
"You have to stab him here and there until he bleeds to death."
But, just to show that he does have a sense of humor after all...
On his arrest
"I am a preacher and I have spoken on religious matters. It is unfortunate they have been taken out of context."
Apparently he lost his hand and left eye in Afghanistan. When he finally goes to gaol, I hope and pray that the other convicts will treat him to endless repetitions of the the old joke, updated in his honor.
Jihadi 1: So what happened to your hand?
Jihadi 2: I got some Russian shrapnel in it and it turned to gangrene so they had to amputate it and fit a hook instead.
Jihadi 1: And what happened to your eye?
Jihadi 2: First day with the hook, I got some dust in my eye.
Syrian President Bashar Assad flew into Jeddah yesterday and held unscheduled talks with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.
That's interesting. An unscheduled meeting between His Royal Highness and His Royal Chinless. What on earth was that about? Well, according to the "Arab News"....
....The leaders called for an immediate Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights and the Shebaa Farm in Lebanon,....
You're joking! You're telling me that he commandeered a passenger jet from Syrian Airlines and flew 850 miles just to come and talk about a friggin' farm? Was this, perhaps, the conversation?
Abdullah: Someday... we're gonna have us a little house and a couple of acres, - and a cow and a pig and chickens.
Bashar: Pig and chic...
Abdullah: We gonna live off the fat of the land, and have rabbits.
Bashar: And have rabbits. - Abdullah, tell what we got in the garden.
Bashar: Then tell about the rabbits in winter, and about the stove and, uh...
Abdullah: how thick the cream was on the milk. -
Bashar: Yeah. - Go ahead, tell it. - Why don't you do it? You know all of it. Abdullah, no! Abdullah, no, it's not the same when I tell it. That's not the same. Tell, um, what... how I get to tend the rabbits.
Abdullah: We're gonna have a big vegetable patch and we're gonna have a rabbit hutch. - And down in the flat, we'lI have a...
Bashar: ..little field of alfalfa for the rabbits. - And I get to tend the rabbits.
Abdullah: Yeah, you get to tend the rabbits.
I think not. Sometimes the "Arab News" treats us all as if we had the same IQ as John Steinbeck's "Lennie". Now possibly Bashar came because he wants to do the Hajj. But I think he came because he's in seriously deep doo-doo, and is in desperate need of friends. I think this was the conversation....
Bashar: It's all going wrong for me. I just wanted to frighten Hariri with a little car bomb but they used too much explosive and they splattered him all over the neighborhood and now the ex-Vice-President has run off to Paris and is spilling the beans about me saying that I told everyone that "I will crush anyone who tries to disobey us" but that was just my little joke and now everyone is saying that I ordered Hariri's death and the United Nations is after me and the US is after me and Oh, Your Highness, I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do.
Abdullah: [shouts] You can act like a man! [he slaps Bashar] What's the matter with you. Is this how you turned out? A London Opthalmologist that cries like a woman? [Abdullah imitates him sobbing] What can I do? [camera pans to Prince Naif who is laughing] What can I do? What is that nonsense? Ridiculous! But I fix it for you, no problem. Now let's go to the Hajj.....
But Abdullah won't "fix it for him", of course. Kofi Annan and Condaleesa Rice won't wake up with a horse's head in bed. King Abdullah is nobody's fool, and he knows that he's going to keep a million miles away from Bashar's dirty diapers. After all, when Ms Rice comes after King Abdullah saying things about "no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia", the King can just smile nicely, extend his hand to her, and do an imitation of an oil derrick with his middle finger, to illustrate the realities of world energy supply and demand.
Bashar, on the other hand, has no oil, and nothing to trade. He's the leader of the most corrupt government of the most corrupt country in the Middle East, which is saying something, and no-one else wants to know him. Bashar Assad turning up on your doorstep is like settling down for the big game with your pizza and beer, or packing the children off to a birthday party so that you and your "other" are alone, when two earnest young Mormons ring your doorbell. So they'll go thru the usual insincere "situation in occupied Palestine....renewed their call for Israel to withdraw from all occupied Palestinian land and to grant Palestinians an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital....immediate Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights and the Shebaa Farm in Lebanon...blah....blah" ritual, like they always do, but then it's time for coffee and dates before Abdullah looks at his watch and says "Gosh - is that the time already? Will they have refuelled your plane yet?".
Bashar retraces his forlorn steps to the aircraft. My advice, Bashar? Go back to the "day job".
There are signs that influential Arab media outlets have been instructed not to carry more statements by former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam, who has called for the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad. Khaddam was at the heart of Syrian politics for more than 20 years Several Saudi-owned outlets have not shown or published lengthy interviews that they have conducted with Mr Khaddam. Other Arab media sources say this is a result of instructions from the Saudi government.
It looks like a lot of the media owners, also own racehorses.
The answer probably depends on your beliefs. Some may not believe in him at all. Others, like me perhaps, see him as an evil force somewhere out there in the spiritual realm, trying to lead us astray. But some, perhaps encouraged by the Wahabbi Muslim tendency to take everything literally, see him as a real person.
A few of the latter are in Makkah, performing the Hajj. There is a point in the proceedings at Mina where the pilgrims are encouraged to throw stones at three stone pillars, the pillars symbolically representing the Devil. And these pilgrims had a problem with the "symbolic" bit.
A group of foreign pilgrims went on an intensive search in Mina for the devil, Al-Madinah reported. Pilgrims’ guides say they spend a lot of time trying to explain to the pilgrims that the devil does not exist in a physical form. The guides then direct them to the Jamarat area where the stoning takes place. Still, some pilgrims insist on seeking out the devil in Mina to retaliate against the main cause of their misery.
(Travel Tip: when visiting Makkah, don't wear that Spiderman outfit you got for Christmas.) The "Al Madinah" kindly points out that these were "foreign pilgrims", dissociating Saudis from such ignorance and allowing us to feel superior once more, even though this is supposed to be a time when all countries and races come together in equality with no distinction of any kind. In theory, anyway.
Anyway, back to the Devil. Even if he does exist in physical form, the last place he is going to hang around at this time of year is Mina, with two million pilgrims chucking rocks at him. Say what you will about the Devil, he's not stupid. He has other fish to fry. Like whispering into the ear of this Saudi professor of political science who has taught at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia, at two American universities (the University of California in Irvine and California State University at Pomona) and at two American colleges (Cerritos College and Fullerton College)(thanks, "epiminondas") *
....there is no real freedom in the West. The freedom in the West stops when it comes to discussing the 'holocaust' freely. The Jews and the Zionists control the Western media and the publishing houses, both in Europe and the U.S., and they prevent anyone from expressing a free opinion on the so-called 'holocaust.' I agree with President Ahmadinejad that no one in the entire West can prove any of the Jewish/Zionist lies on the 'holocaust'.
The Devil is extremely pleased with our professor. He goes around bragging to all the jinns and sprites and goblins, about "my boy Abdullah Muhammad Sindi". And indeed he should be proud, because he's done an excellent job on him. Our professor uses his academic status to describe the Holocaust (but note his own artful use of quotation marks) as some sort of accounting fraud. Jewish people all over the world lose contact with six million of their friends and relatives, and The Devil's "little helper" tries make it sound like some World War II version of Enron. The Devil certainly did a number on him. Just a shame he picked on someone so stoopid. After all, academic prowess and common sense don't always coincide.
And just to illustrate the point, here's another Imam and former academic. (Thanks "NahnCee"). He's Egyptian, but that's not particularly relevant. In fact, finding a stoopid Imam somewhere is like shooting fish in a barrel. But what pearls does this one have for us?
According to the religious edict issued by Rashad Hassan Khalil, a former dean of Al-Azhar University's faculty of Sharia, "being completely naked during the act of coitus annuls the marriage".
That's good news for all of us whose fantasy is that we are Walruses, and like to perform while wearing grey Scuba outfits. But it's a bit tough on the rest of you.
* (For the benefit of newbies here, quoting MEMRI drives the Apologists into a foaming-at-the mouth paroxysm of rage. Once they've calmed down a bit and we've put back all the toys in the playpen, they explain that it's because
MEMRI is owned by Jooos....
So you explain patiently that who owns it is irrelevant, all MEMRI does is to translate published material into English. The translations are precise and nothing is invented.)
Yes, but it's owned by Jooos....
And then you explain even more patiently that they only publish stuff from mainstream sources, from people in authority or with reputations in their own countries, not the ravings of some extreme loony in some discussion thread....
But Jooos own and run it....
....so (in the most calming and soothing voice you can muster) if people don't like what is translated, perhaps they shouldn't come out with the garbage in the first place....
....BUT IT'S OWNED BY JOOOS....
....at which point, it's probably an appropriate time to switch off the light, close the door, tiptoe away, and wait for the howling and yelling to settle into gurgles, followed shortly by deep sleep.)
Thankfully, Saudi cartoons these days are laying off the "Ugly Jew Motif". It would be nice to think that the Internet publicity they received has caused the Saudi papers to clean up their act, but I suspect we'll have to get past the possible impending demise of Ariel Sharon before we can be certain of that.
However, for the moment, they are much more harmless. Here is an example from the "Saudi Gazette". It is a fine example of the "Smug Hypocrisy" school of Cartoonry. It depicts President Bush, as a fireman, dousing the flame at the top of the Statue of Liberty. The symbolism implies that he is quashing freedom in the USA. It no doubt refers to the current wire-tapping controversy over there.
The characteristic of the "Smug Hypocrisy" school is that it allows us to poke gentle fun at another country, in this case the USA, at the same time feeling vastly superior ourselves. Whilst no one is going to get a hernia laughing at it, it can nevertheless be enjoyed on its own terms. However it is best not to dwell on the fact that
- in Saudi Arabia, wiretapping is a fact of life, both telephone and Internet, by many security agencies, without so much as a "by your leave".
- Saudi Arabia does not have the equivalent of a FISA Court, to approve government requests for eavesdropping. If it did, it would be headed by graduates of the Imam University, desperately looking thru their Qurans for references to "Electronic eavesdropping" and "Internet Server". Not that it would make any difference, because the answer would always be "Whatever".
- In Saudi Arabia, there is no forum where we can even discuss the rights or wrongs of wire-tapping. The only way to make your views known is to pick up the phone, dial a bank call center where you are forever on hold, and explain your views to the recorded message. There's bound to be someone listening in, who will take careful note and pass a transcript to the powers-that-be.
- In Saudi Arabia, if you publicly urge any reform, especially if you use "Western Idioms", you can get gaoled for nine years.
- If your lawyer criticizes the inadequate legal process, he'll go to gaol as well for his temerity. For all of you, your only hope of getting out early, is for the King to die and the next one to issue a general pardon.
Now that' s out of the way, let's all have a real good belly-laugh.
A series of guides has now been published for people who wish to, indeed need to, blog anonymously. They can be found here.
As their introduction says
Across the globe, countries that discourage free speech have followed their citizens into the blogosphere. According to one count, in the last two years at least 30 bloggers (and there are no doubt more) have been interrogated, arrested, tortured and sentenced to long prison terms for the "crime" of speaking critically about their governments.
The first five guides are
Saudia Arabia (in Arabic); also useful for bloggers in other Arabic-speaking countries that limit free speech.
Iran (in Persian).
China (in Chinese).
Malaysia (in English)
Zimbabwe (in English); also useful for English-speaking bloggers in other African countries.
What truly self-respecting democracy would want to end up in that list?
On a sombre note, this year's annual Hajj pilgrimage has been marred by the collapse of a hotel in Makkah, with the death toll currently at 76. May God have mercy on their souls.
The Hajj is one of the five Pillars of Islam, a pilgrimage that is an annual event, and an obligation for every able-bodied Muslim to undertake at least once in their life. It is a very spiritual occasion for all concerned, visiting the central sites of our religion in the company of fellow-pilgrims from around the world.
Unfortunately, it is often accompanied by tragedy. In 2004, 251 were killed and 254 were injured during a stampede. In 1998, 118 were trampled to death in one incident. In 1997, 343 were killed and 1500 injured as the result of a fire in a tent city. In 1994, a stampede killed 270. In 1990, a stampede inside a pedestrian tunnel killed 1426
All of these incidents were related directly or indirectly to the large numbers involved, and the relatively small area thru which they travel. This year, there will be an estimated two million pilgrims in the Makkah area, an extremely small city. At various times the pilgrims are going to the central Mosque and circling the Kaaba, walking between the two hills of Safa and Marwah, or, the most dangerous part, converging to throw stones at 3 pillars in Mina. There are extensive tunnels and underpasses to handle the crowds, but stampedes and crushes are unfortunately inevitable, whatever measures are taken.
What our various "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques" Kings, or religious establishment, never seem to consider, is whether this annual pilgrimage can continue to be viable in its present form. Probably because it's a fundamental pillar of our religion, it seems to be a taboo subject, it just never seems to get discussed.
Back in the early centuries, when there were only tens or hundreds of thousands of Muslims, it wasn't an issue. All of them could make, had they been able, the pilgrimage once or several times in their lifetime. The major inhibitor was the journey time - weeks of camel travel from the outlying areas of Muslim habitation. Difficult transport was pretty much the situation until the last century, when the Ottoman Turks built their railway all the way down into Arabia.
But things are different now. Queues of 747's fly into Jeddah's North Terminal, disgorging hundreds at a time, at a cost and a journey time that is a fraction of what it was. And even though Muslim populations are on average amongst the poorest in the world, gradually increasing living standards coupled with decreasing air travel costs make it more and more possible.
I presume someone, somewhere, has done the basic arithmetic. The current Muslim population is 1.6 billion. Even assuming no population growth, then at that date in the future when they can all afford the airfare, and generously assuming a 70-year lifespan, during 60 of which they can travel, and assuming that each Muslim makes the trip only once in their lifetime (the better-off currently do it several times), then that would generate
26.7 million pilgrims each year
That compares to approximately two million at the moment. Ok it wouldn't happen this decade, or the next, but I've made some very favorable assumptions about life expectancy and population growth.
In fact it wouldn't happen at all, because no matter how many tunnels and overpasses we build, we simply won't get a crowd the size of half the population of England into an area the size of London's West End, and converging onto stone some pillars in an area the size of Piccadilly Circus. It's just not physically possible.
So at some point in the not-too-distant-future, someone is going to have to make a decision:
- Do we waive the requirement on every able-bodied Muslim to perform Hajj once in their lifetime?
- do we make it a regular (say monthly) rather than annual event?
This brings us to two issues.
- The Hajj obligation is right there in the Quran, no if's or but's.
- A recognised leader of the religion needs to be able to reintepret it, or modify it, or something. And we don't have one of those. As Pope Benedict himself said recently (and if you get the chance, read the whole thing, thanks nahncee) in discussion with some scholars.
....in the Islamic tradition, God has given His word to Mohammed, but it's an eternal word. It's not Mohammed's word. It's there for eternity the way it is. There's no possibility of adapting it or interpreting it, whereas in Christianity, and Judaism, the dynamism's completely different, that God has worked through His creatures. And so, it is not just the word of God, it's the word of Isaiah, not just the word of God, but the word of Mark. He's used His human creatures, and inspired them to speak His word to the world, and therefore by establishing a Church in which he gives authority to His followers to carry on the tradition and interpret it, there's an inner logic to the Christian Bible, which permits it and requires it to be adapted and applied to new situations....
....and this is from a Catholic point of view, there's no one to interpret the Koran officially. The Catholic Church has an official interpretor, which is the Holy Father with the bishops.
Well, we can all argue the theology of that from now till Doomsday, but the fact is that the Pope, if he so chooses, can make things change within a substantial portion of the Christian Church. Whereas we have no "Pope", in fact no one comparable.
However, whilst not an immediate problem, it won't go away. We can't just ignore it like the invention of musical instruments, and stick to our tambourines. Sooner or later, someone will need to make a decision.