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.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Orientalism and Islamophobia 

Thanks to "Michael" for reminding me that today is the fifth anniversary of the destruction of the Afghan Buddhas.

Although Afghanistan is not Saudi Arabia, it's dear to Saudi hearts, because so many of our young men used to go to there to do "internships" with the Taliban. It was a sort of "wet dream" for the ultra-Wahabbi long-beards who thought that Saudi Arabia was "going soft". They could go over there, be really nasty to women, shout at men whose beards were too short, imprison soccer players for wearing shorts, the opportunities were limitless. It was Disneyland for Muslim zealots. Alas, no more.

It was also an opportunity for a practical demonstration of Islamic theology. You see, we don't believe in idols, so there are no idols in Islam. That's right, we don't worship idols. And when we say, as we have been saying a lot recently, "A Muslim should love Mohammad (PBUH) more than his own family", that isn't idolatry. Oh no. We are not worshipping Mohammad (PBUH) like some sort of idol. You do see the difference, don't you? Well, if you don't, I'm sorry, but I don't have time to explain that to you right now. Just take my word for it.

Anyway, not only do we not believe in Islamic idols, we also don't believe in your idols in your religion either. So when we can get our hands on them, we blow up your idols. Especially if they are seventeen centuries old. No matter that they are world cultural treasures. It's actually for your own good. Call it tough love.

If you still think that our heroic Taliban brothers in Afghanistan were only mindless vandals, then that's because you are "Orientalists and Islamophobes". That's the standard insult that we throw at people who criticise us. It's the Islamic equivalent of calling someone a "tree-hugging Birkenstock-wearing tofu-eating bleeding-heart liberal", or the equivalent for neo-cons. It's the "one size fits all" insult that means we don't have to be creative. Whatever happened to original insults? When Oscar Wilde was standing in a theatre foyer, the aggrieved father of Lord Alfred Douglas, his lover, came up to him and presented him with a cabbage wrapped up as a bouquet, which was his idea of insulting a homosexual. Oscar Wilde accepted it with a bow, smelt it delicately, and replied, "Oh how charming! Whenever I smell it, I will think of you!". Nowadays, Oscar Wilde would just call the Marquis of Queensbury a "Homophobe". It's the standard insult. One size fits all.

Which brings me on to a pet peeve. Because these words, "Homophobe", "Orientalist" and "Islamophobe" are totally meaningless, or have meanings totally different from that intended. Excuse this language geek getting all pedantic. If you are Mrs A, then this is when you roll your eyes to heaven and remind me about the cupboard that needs fixing. If you are not interested in semantics, you may prefer to click your way elsewhere.

OK, that just leaves me, the other geeks, and the people with broken mice. Where shall we start? How about Homophobe?

Homophobe; supposedly someone who hates homosexuals. Homosexual is itself derived from two Latin words, homo = man; and sexus = sex. Homosexual refers to "man sex". So far so good.

Homophobe seems to be derived from the Latin homo = man; and the Greek Phobos = fear (as in Hydrophobia = fear of water; Agrophobia = fear of open spaces). So that gives us "man fear" or "fear of man". Is that really what it was supposed to mean? Wasn't it supposed to mean "hatred of homosexuals"? The problem there is that neither the Romans, nor the Greeks, had a special word for Homosexual. Why should they? Having occasional sex with men was, for them, nothing unusual. We don't have a special word for a "man who likes marmalade" or a "woman who wears sunglasses", and they didn't have a word for a "man who sometimes has sex with men". So that's the first problem. The second problem is that phobos doesn't mean hatred, it means fear. The Greeks have a perfectly good word for hatred, which is misos, as in Misanthrope and Misogynist. So we could perhaps say Misohomist or something like that, but it would still just mean "hatred of men". So we're basically stuck with the homophobe who is afraid of men. Except they are not. Very unsatisfactory.

Similar problem with Islamophobe. Supposedly someone who hates Muslims. Except that it translates as "Fear of the Islam religion" which is not the same thing at all. There's no point in getting cross with someone for being afraid of theIslam religion, especially after 9/11; it's their choice, they aren't harming anyone, and in many ways it's more understandable than Hydrophobia. The proper insult for someone who hates Muslims would be something like Misomuslim. It's probably too late now to correct the usage. But whenever I hear someone use the "Islamophobe" word, it just reminds me of some little child using a big swearword when they don't know what it really means.

Slightly different case with Orientalist. To quote Wikipedia, it is....

....the study of Near and Far Eastern societies and cultures, languages and peoples by Western scholars. It can also refer to the imitation or depiction of aspects of Eastern cultures in the West by writers, designers and artists.

....and of course, the "Orient" refers to the East, anywhere from Turkey to Japan, and all points in between. It was "imitation or depiction" based on interest, on curiosity, and on fascination; there was nothing negative about it. Orientalist painters such as Dido (below) were drawn by the exotic, colorful and mysterious world, particularly of the Near East.

Anthropologists started to study the civilisations and culture; universities created departments called "Oriental Studies". Orientalism inspired literature (e.g. "One Thousand and One Nights"), theatre (e.g. "Salome", by our friend above, Oscar Wilde), and music (e.g. "Scheherezade" by Rimsky-Korsakov).

So why do people use the term "Orientalism" in a negative sense? Solely as a result of one ex-Palestinian academic writing one book in 1978. Edward Said wrote a book called "Orientalism", in which he managed to define "Orientalism" at least five separate times in five different ways, ranging from the simple and innocuous....

A way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient's special place in European Western experience.

....to the pseudo-colonialist....

A Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient

....and all points in between. For me, he was one of those academics who looked at an uncomplicated cultural movement through Arab-Marxist eyes and came up with a twisted global conspiracy. However it's the latter definition that is seized upon by those who want to use the term to beat their enemies. Except I don't think they really could explain how the painting above, or the book, or the play, or the music "dominates, restructures and has authority over the Orient". To me, that just sounds like the whining of people who choose to be "life's victims". I know I can't stop them using the word in that sense. But once again, they sound like small children repeating a word they don't understand but which sounds impressive.

OK, peeve over. Now I'll go and fix that cupboard.

David's tale 

Sometimes I receive emails from expatriates telling me of their experiences in Saudi. I've published one from"David" below, unedited apart from the occasional explanation. It's not particularly unusual. I've seen better, I've seen worse.

My story is just one slightly sad story out of hundreds of sad stories, as you know a hell of a lot sadder than mine.

I worked for one of the minor princes, as it turns out he was an absolute gentleman, a genuine Muslim and I had the greatest respect for him and his family. I made him a promise when I first arrived that I would never compromise his or his families safety. Ultimately one of the Sheiks who looked after his business put me in a position where I could no longer keep that promise, so I resigned and went to work for Aramco (the Saudi Oil company).

My wife, whom I met in Saudi, is a Filipino, and worked for twenty years at a Government hospital. We had to be very careful as you are aware, because we could not legally marry, as she was married in the Philippines and there is no divorce there, we even thought of converting to Islam just to make us legal and safe. One of her friends, also a Filipino, a doctor who was employed as a nurse on a nurse's salary, then used as a consultant specialist on a fraction of the salary she should have been paid, made a stupid mistake. She accepted a ride back to her hospital from another where she was consulting, got busted by the muttawa in company with an Air force general. You know the penaltyfor that. My wife got her sprung from Al Malaz (the Riyadh prison) into the custody of the hospital but still facing jail time and flogging. In desperation I passed her details to Amnesty. Wrong move. General got all upset even though I never used his name, and we had to do a runner with the muttawa snapping at our heels. I've heard since that the doctor had to marry the General to avoid the punishment, he now enjoys her salary, her family in the Philippines is starving and she shows up to work looking like a punching bag.

I lived in a closeted Westerner world in Saudi until I met my wife, I had no idea of the dark side. A few visits to safe houses for runaway maids and hearing their pitiful stories absolutely shocked me, I had no idea. My friend I hope and pray that your courageous stand, using humor and satire will jog your countrymen out of their 14th century mindset and learn to treat their fellow human beings with the respect they demand for themselves. Incidently, after twenty years of faithful service, the Government refused to pay my wife her entitlements according to the labour law, over thirty thousand dollars, to a prince not even tip money, but to her retirement money. From what I have learned, standard practice with Filipino staff. If you can't trust the Government to abide by their own laws who can you trust?

I have no means of validating David's story, but I know from personal knowledge that it's not out of the ordinary, there is nothing surprising about it. Often people have bad experiences when going to work in a strange country, but Saudi Arabia seems to give "bad experience" a whole special meaning, especially to those from the Third World. And of course, without a free press, these experiences are usually just the stuff of rumor, not public record.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Muslim Offense Level downgraded to "Condition Yellow" 

I can now officially report that the MOL (Muslim Offense Level) has been downgraded to "Condition Yellow", meaning "Elevated". To quote the official wording, we have moved from:


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.

....and are now on....


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?

So we're no longer Very Angry, but we're still Awfully Grumpy. You rile us at your peril. However, for the moment, the clowns are safe. And I think it's a nicer color against the green.

How can we be sure that the MOL level is reduced? Well, the number of articles in the "Saudi Gazette" and "Arab News" has now more or less trickled to a halt. And not because of the refinery attack, either. Even though that happened on Friday, they only got around to reporting that on Sunday. Well, Friday is our day off, like your Sunday, so they wouldn't report anything then. Saturday they come in to work late, and then spend the day asking everybody how their weekend was, and then go home early, so not much gets reported. By Sunday, someone had seen the report on CNN, so they started to cover it, and that was the first that the ordinary Saudi newspaper reader heard about their oil refinery being attacked. But more importantly, the"Saudi Gazette" also published this article.

Danish bid to Mend Bridges

THE Danish government is currently on the mission to mend the damage created by the publication of 12 blasphemous cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in a Danish newspaper.
The printing of the cartoons and the initial lack of response by the Danish government when Muslim leaders stated their concern sparked anger and outrage among Muslims around the world, resulting in 23 deaths in violent protest and the burning of embassies.

The Danish newspaper that published the cartoons offered its apology twice to the Muslim world. The latest one was published last Sunday as an advertisement in Arabic newspapers.

You remember the original "apology" from the Danish newspaper, the one we didn't accept because it was "backhanded"?

In our opinion, the 12 drawings were sober. They were not intended to be offensive, nor were they at variance with Danish law, but they have indisputably offended many Muslims for which we apologize.

It was not apologizing for the cartoons, but was merely an expression of regret that so many Muslims were stupid enough to take offense. You could paraphrase it as "I am sorry that you are such big blubbering babies".

And that's how the "Arab News" read it at the time....

Juste makes it clear he thinks there was nothing intrinsically wrong with the cartoons; he is apologizing purely because Muslims took offense. “That’s what we’re apologizing for.’’ A very backhanded apology.

However, much time has passed, and that's all the apology that is on offer. So we've now decided that, as an apology, it is "as good as it is going to get".

So the next thing that happens is that "the apology" appears in all the Saudi newspapers, full page.

The Danish newspaper that published the cartoons offered its apology twice to the Muslim world. The latest one was published last Sunday as an advertisement in Arabic newspapers.

"Hang on a minute", says the Danish newspaper, "we never published those!".

Jyllands-Posten made it clear Sunday, however, that it had not taken out the ads in Saudi papers.

No of course you didn't take out the ads, silly Danish person, because we published them ourselves! It's all about "face". As we Saudis had very publicly demanded an apology, we had to publish one, even a very half-assed "backhanded" apology, otherwise we would lose some serious "face" anong all the other Muslim nations.

So let this be a warning to you. If you offend us, we will demand an apology. Initially, we will be even more offended by the lack of "grovel" in your apology. But if you don't improve on it, we will go with what we've got, and publish it on your behalf, full-page, in all the Saudi newspapers. And it won't cost you a cent!

And a simple apology is all that is needed to go from "High" to "Elevated". Now life can go back to normal. But in all this excitement, everyone has forgotten all about 345 dead pilgrims , which was the whole intention of our fabricated outrage.

There'll probably be another stampede next year. So we can look forward to all this once again.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Choose your country carefully 

A Saudi female reporter for the "Arab News" tells us this story of a recent shopping trip.

I was on my way to get an ice cream when I happened to pass a cassette shop and decided to go in. At the time my daughter had developed an obsession with a particular song that was being played repeatedly on the music channel and I resolved to buy it for her.

Ice cream can itself be a serious temptation, as we know. But this lady is living even more on the edge.

When I entered the shop, the reaction that I generated from my fellow customers was one that could easily be reserved for an alien landing from another planet. I caught people staring at me in disbelief, glancing at each other nervously, but as this was Saudi Arabia I didn’t find it out of the ordinary. What was surprising was that the packed shop soon became empty as one by one the men all left. Considering that the sight of a woman normally has an effect similar to that of an electromagnet on the male species I began to feel a little perturbed by this sudden desertion.

Little does she realize that cellphone calls are already being made by one or more of these ex-customers.

The walls were lined with cassettes and I crouched down to see if I could spot the singer I was looking for. It was then that I saw a pair of feet standing next to me and looked up relieved to see the cashier who, in lieu of any other customers, had ostensibly come to help in my selection of music.

“Thank you,” I began in Arabic. “I am looking for Elissa,” I declared soliciting his expertise.

His reply was rather odd. “No! Haya!” he said sounding agitated.

“No. No. Thank you. But I don’t want Haya. I want Elissa.”

I was stunned by the same ridiculous response. “No! Haya!”

Evidently he was either being paid a commission to plug tapes by Haya, whoever she was, or more likely, I was not articulating well enough.

"Haya" is indeed a girls' name, but it also means "modesty". The shop manager, probably an Indian with a limited grasp of Arabic, is no doubt trying to tell her that she is behaving immodestly.

“Look,” I said exasperated, in a tone reserved for the mentally challenged. “Not Haya. I want E-l-i-ss-a,” I said breaking each syllable up in a moronic voice. “E-l-i-ss-a,” I enunciated slowly.

“Go! Go! Haya! Muttawwa!” he pleaded in desperation.

It was then that the penny dropped.

Too late. The phone calls have already been made.

A vehicle pulled up outside and although I didn’t know for what, I instinctively knew that I was in trouble. I pulled my veil over my face and casually strolled over to the ice cream shop.
As I was about to enter a voice boomed behind me, “I know where you have been!”

My legs turned to jelly.

“You were in that cassette shop, weren’t you?” I stood transfixed holding the door open wondering about the severity of the crime I had inadvertently committed.

“I know what you were doing,” the voice continued to accuse. “You were going to buy a cassette!” Dr. Watson had obviously just returned from his special services training in Scotland Yard, but mercifully left me alone after pronouncing that amazing deduction.

Our reporter is a Saudi, after all, and the Muttawa have better fish to fry, so they let her go. But it does leave her wondering about the logic of it all.

It seems that women are forbidden from entering such establishments. To do so is against the law. However, had I chosen to walk a few blocks down to a shopping mall then I would have had no problem entering a cassette shop. It’s the little stand-alone shops that are forbidden fruit. But why they are considered to be so singularly tempting, I do not know.

I can help her out there. Indeed, so can anybody who has spent any length of time in Saudi Arabia. She's being a bit faux-naive, to make her point. It's quite simple, it's all about aisle width. The "cassette shops" (although we do actually have CD's as well!) in the shopping mall have nice wide aisles, like the ones in the supermarket picture above. Men and women can pass without coming too close to each other. But the little "Mom and Pop" cassette shops, the ones with a sub-continent manager/cashier, and an absentee Saudi owner, are much more cramped. With aisles of one metre or less, you have to squeeze past other shoppers. So it's a no-no for women, even Western women, they usually have signs saying "Men only", and I'm surprised our reporter claims not to be aware of the issue.

(Incidentally, even the supermarkets with wide aisles can be a problem. I once rounded the corner of an aisle to come face to face with a veiled shopper who seemed surprised to see a man there, and pressed herself back against the shelving as I did a wide detour around her. Not that men are rare in supermarkets; it's what passes for entertainment in our part of the world. Anyway, ever since then, I've had Mrs. A "run interference" for me, proceeding ahead of me and selecting the items, as I and the family and the trolley follow dutifully behind. It avoids those sudden surprises at the corner of the "Pastas and Sauces" shelf.)

So what happened to the guy? Well, his shop was closed down. He'll have to go around for a bit, kissing shoulders and getting all sorts of forms signed, before he can re-open. And then he'll have to get a new manager / cashier.

Oh, sorry, you didn't mean the Saudi owner, you actually meant the Indian manager / cashier?

However, the poor guy who had tried to boot me out of the cassette shop had not been so lucky. As I left with my sundae I watched him being dragged out and taken away by the police. I felt terrible. When I sent an emissary to investigate his wretched fate, he returned with the news that the fellow in the adjacent convenience store told him that there was “a lunatic woman who had entered the shop and got the guy arrested” and now the shop had been closed down indefinitely.

So there you go, end of story.

What, you want to know what happened to the Indian? Are you some sort of moist-eyed moist-palmed liberal? Well, it depends. The Muttawa go with him to the police station, shout at him, slap him around a bit. Then the police take over. If he's lucky, they keep him in the cells for two or three days, then let him go. He's out of a job, but he's free. If he's not so lucky, if the police sergeant's piles are playing him up that day, he'll be tried for some offense (open up your copy of the Quran and pick a page and a verse at random) and spend months or even years locked up.

So what happens to his family in India, the one he's been sending a few dollars a month to? Look, they're not our problem. And don't ask what his Embassy will do for him. Remember the quote from a few days ago?

The legendary former Saudi ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar bin Sultan was quoted in the Washington Post a few years back as saying, "If the reputation then builds that the Saudis take care of friends when they leave office, you'd be surprised how much better friends you have who are just coming into office."

Not that we'd offer an ex-Indian-ambassador a job, of course, unless they want to work as a driver or a shop manager! But for third-world ambassadors, there's always the promise of a mosque, or a school, or a library, something to tell the people back home, and show that he's got Wasta. So he won't be making any waves.

After all, it's the way of the world in these parts. As our reporter acknowledges....

....regardless of which side of the law you are on, if you happen to be an Asian expatriate you will probably be found guilty anyway!

So if you are a sub-continental expat in Saudi Arabia, and manage a shop with small aisles, and a Saudi lady wanders in before you can stop her, then your destiny is already written. The biggest mistake we can make in this life, is to be born the wrong nationality.

Tell me about it.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Explosion, shots, at Saudi Oil Facility 

From the major Saudi oil facility at Abqaiq

Explosion, shooting at vast Saudi oil facility

(Reuters, reporting Al Arabiya TV)

An explosion was heard at Saudi Arabia's huge Abqaiq oil facility in the Kingdom's eastern oil province on Friday, Al Arabiya television reported.
The Dubai-based station quoted witnesses as saying shooting was heard in the area, also known locally as Baqiq and site of one of Saudi Arabi's biggest oilfields.

Nothing, as of 1430 GMT, from the Saudi Press Agency. It is, after all, "Going home time" at the Ministry of Truth.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Guess who's coming to dinner? 

A "prominent Arabist intellectual" called Zogby says that our problem in Saudi Arabia is all to do with Public Relations....

Zogby Says Saudis Need Better PR Strategy in US

....and he has a solution

The Kingdom needs to hone the communication skills of “smart Saudi women” to put across its message effectively to the American audience ....Pointing out that Saudi Arabia should review its communication strategy, Zogby said talented Saudi women from the mass media could be mobilized to explain the Saudi point of view to the target audience, such as the American youth, the elite, opinionmakers and other influential people in the US.

We certainly have no shortage of "smart Saudi women". In fact, we have such respect for their talents, that after their university education, we deny them most employment opportunities, and effectively condemn them to a life sentence of domesticity and child rearing. So you won't actually find any "Saudi women from the mass media", because, with exceptions in the single figures, we don't let them have such interesting and fulfilling jobs. But it's a nice idea, in principle.

It's also an interesting idea. It implies that we've used up all the men, they've been completely seen thru, and have lost all credibility. So let's roll out a batch of women, they have, initially at least, some credibiliy. People will believe them.

The whole notion is based on the theory that, however bad something is, you can make it look good with good PR. Whereas the real truth is that all PR will do is to give something a higher profile; whether it's a good profile or a bad profile depends on the thing itself.

But the amateurs and professionals of PR flatter themselves that they can make something look good, just by "spinning" it the right way. Thus, Foreign Minister Prince Saud, faced with the fact that the Middle East, with 2% of the world's population, manages to contribute 47% of the world's terrorism, span us this Good News:

Prince Saud pointed out that in 2004, 53 percent of terrorist incidents around the globe occurred outside the Middle East.

When the amateurs try and do it, the results are more clumsy, but often funnier. Where would we be without Tanya C Hsu?

....and the abaya frees me from having to worry about my figure....

....and, on not being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia....

Driving is not an issue for most, and after years in Atlanta traffic, I welcome the freedom.

Personally, I'm even worse at it. Here are three of my contributions....

21% of the 9/11 hijackers didn't come from Saudi Arabia!

When a criminal has his eye gouged out, we've actually halved his eyeglass prescription costs!

The good thing about lashing criminals is that it provides a healthy physical outlet for otherwise lazy prison staff.

....which is why I'd never be any good at PR. Let's face it, if you're sitting on a pile of fetid hyena dung, saying nice things about it won't make it smell any better, it just shows that you are either a liar or have a bad cold.

Anyway, I wonder how our PR gurus might spin this particular tale.

MAID FOR EACH OTHER (the "Saudi Gazette"'s headline, not mine!)

....but before we get to the serious stuff, it's an everyday tale of human frailty.

SAMIRA Khalid was always left puzzled by the mystery of coming home daily to find her pictures turned to the wall or face down. I work as a teacher so I leave my house at 6:30 A.M. and come back at 2 P.M. , Samira said. But each day I came back, I noticed that my pictures were facing away or down.

Perhaps her husband was doing that, while he went round doing the dusting? But, no need, this is Saudi Arabia, we get someone else to do that.

In desperation she quizzed the maid about the bizarre going on. She was the only person who could enter my room to clean it while I am out. But she denied having any idea about what is going on, recalls Samira.

Returning home early one day, Samira discovers the awful truth....

To her surprise, her husband's car was parked outside the house. That was the last hour of my marriage, she says without a hint of remorse on her face. Shocked Samira entered her home to discover that instead of going to work daily, her cheating husband had been staying at home, sleeping with their oriental maid.

Sadly, these things happen. But then it got even worse....

The end of the mystery also signaled the end of Samira's marriage, as she learnt how the amorous pair had gotten married during her annual vacation. That wasn't all either; apparently the new wife was also pregnant.

Only in Saudi Arabia! He's married the maid as well, and now has two wives, but there are still slots for another two! Truly, guys, this is the "Land of Opportunity"! Except it's not supposed to work that way. You're supposed to provide each with their own house. I know it's a great money-saving idea, but you shouldn't really have them both in the same house doing different shifts.

But then we come to the really nasty bit. You see, the husband turns out to be illegally married. Why?

Saudi law forbids a Saudi from getting married to a non-Saudi without governmental permission, something Samira's randy husband did not bother to think about.

Oh, did I never mention that before? And you thought you'd heard everything about Saudi Arabia? You see, we can't just marry whom we want. No, we have this law, you see. You can have up to four wives, no problem. But they need to be Saudi. It's not a religion thing, although there are a whole other set of rules about that. No, it's a nationality thing and, because we don't have permanent immigration, it de facto is also a race thing.

The Kingdom's marriage procedures demand that a Saudi must seek permission from two civic authorities before he is allowed to marry outside his own race.

So, in theory, you can marry a non-Saudi, outside your own race. Surely, you just ask for permission? Isn't that simple enough?

Firstly from the Emir of the region in which the marriage will take place.

Sure, just drop in and ask some crusty geriatric misogynist Prince. One whose only notion of foreign women is based on his silent and subservient Indonesian and Filipino domestic staff. He'll want to know what's wrong with you, why can't you find "a nice Saudi girl" to marry? Still you may get lucky. He may be in a good mood, and give you permission. But if he does, we have a special "Gotcha"!

Secondly permission must be sought from the Ministry of Interior....

That's Prince Naif's people. Really warm and lovable, they are, and to get permission from them....

.... the non-Saudi in the marriage has to be born in Saudi Arabia.

Gotcha! Nobody off the plane will do. They must be born and bred in the country. So the hordes of domestic staff who come for a few years are completely off-limits, such as Samira's maid. The only women who are elegible, are the daughters of men who have been here two or three decades at least. And for those men to bring their wives and be able to stay for that length of time and raise families, they must be in good professional jobs. So now we've screened out the poor and humble.

But still it's not all plain sailing. There are more hurdles, and several layers of Saudi bureaucracy to navigate - and imagine how quickly they move! The next bit of "small print" is best read out in hushed tones but at breakneck speed by those people who do financial services or medical adverts.

In addition, the man must provide information about his financial status, a letter of confirmation from his employer, a copy of his fiancee's iqama, as well as her father s Iqama and passport. To prove that the wife was born in Saudi Arabia, a birth certificate and a medical report must also be included in the application. To have official approval, the wife should be born in Saudi Arabia and both the husband and wife should be older than 25. They have to submit their papers and then go through several interviews with officials. During these interviews the Saudi must also provide valid reasons as to why they want to marry a non-Saudi.

Oh, and both need to be 25. Didn't I mention that before? Not to worry, start your application when you are 20, you'll be old enough by the time you've gone thru the whole process. But as you may imagine, very few do actually succeed.

(This of course applies to Muslim-Muslim marriages. It gets a lot more complicated if one of you is not Muslim. Let's save that for another day. I've also not dealt with Saudi women marrying non-Saudi men, which might occasionally happen abroad. That's a whole other "can of worms", and don't expect their children to be able to live in Saudi Arabia.)

Is there any other country in the world that has laws limiting mixed-race marriages in such a way? I'm not aware of any. We've had visitors from 110 countries in the last seven days, so if someone knows of one such law, could they please leave details in the "Comments"? The only two examples that I know of are both historical. They are:

The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor , Germany, 1935; prohibited marriages and extra-marital intercourse between “Jews” and “Germans”.

The Immorality Act, South Africa, 1949; one of the most controversial legislative acts of South African Apartheid. It attempted to forbid intermixing of couples of different race both in the area of marriage as well as casual sex.

What is the reasoning behind our law?

The main reason behind these procedures, according to the Governorate spokesperson, is to guarantee the non-Saudi wife her full rights and to allow for a transition between her old and new culture....

....which is of course pure Officialspeak, full of words, but entirely devoid of meaning. The real reason should be fairly obvious by now. It's to protect the purity of the Saudi Arabian "race". We're a very xenophobic nation to begin with, and the last thing we want is your genes in our pool. The only time that a foreign woman is going to add to our gene pool, is if she comes from a good well-established professional family, and has a very persistent fiance or one with lots of wasta.

And if what happens if there's a baby born outside marriage, as in the case of Samira's husband and the maid?

He now has a child, which was officially born out of wedlock.

Yet another bastard child of a Saudi man and a foreign domestic worker. He or she will get shipped out on the same plane as the mother. No citizenship rights for him or her.

So how would Mr Zogby and his "smart Saudi women"spin this particular story? How would they sell our approach to mixed marriages? I wouldn't know where to start.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

When the Sizzle is better than the Sausage. 

"NahnCee" put me onto this article from the BBC today.

Saudi paper 'shut' in cartoon row

A newspaper in Saudi Arabia has stopped publishing after printing some of the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

That's interesting. It's only been going two months. It's a youth paper.

Shams (Sun) has been suspended as part of an investigation into its decision to publish the cartoons that have caused anger across the Muslim world.

So did they oppose the Saudi government line?

The paper, which is aimed at the country's young people, said it was doing so to mobilise the campaign in Saudi Arabia against Denmark.

No, it supported the boycott of Danish goods. So why didn't the government like it?

Let's take a little diversion. Here's a picture of a demo outside BBC HQ in London, some time ago. What's it about?

It's a largely Christian group, protesting because the BBC is about to broadcast "Jerry Springer - The Opera". Why don't they like that? Because it's blasphemous. How do they know it is? Because they heard that it was. Have they actually seen it? Oh no, Heavens above, they wouldn't go and watch something blasphemous.Then how do they know it's blasphemous? Because they heard it was.

As a demonstration, it's pretty puny. White men can't jump, Christians can't riot. No burning buildings, no burning flags, no burning clowns. No wonder they used to get fed to the lions. But that's an aside. When interviewed, they admitted that they'd not seen the thing they were protesting about.

Perhaps if they had, they would have felt let down. My own reaction, when I saw it on TV a few days later, was that it was quite promising - let's face it, Jerry Springer's show makes a huge and soft target - until they brought on the "Jesus" character in the nappy. Because they looked to have done it for effect, like a small child saying RUDE WORDS in front of the grandparents. At that point, the whole thing went a bit flat for me. It wasn't funny, it wasn't satirical, it certainly wasn't blasphemous, it was just plain stupid. Blasphemy, if one wants to go in for that sort of thing, has to have some form of cutting edge. The protestors had no doubt enticed many people with a sizzle, but the sausage didn't live up to it.

Another example. This one's especially for my fundamentalist "fans" who say that I am a "bad Muslim".

Remember the Fatwa issued from Iran against Salman Rushdie, over his book, "The Satanic Verses"? Still not revoked, incidentally. For those who don't know, these so-called Satanic Verses occur in the Quran, in Surah 53:19 onwards.

19. Have ye seen Lat and 'Uzza,
20. And another, the third (goddess), Manat?
21. What! for you the male sex, and for Him, the female?
22. Behold, such would be indeed a division most unfair!

Lat and Uzza and Manat were the names given to some of the many "gods" of the idolatrous residents of Makkah. What is remarkable about this passage is that Allah, or God, thru the medium of Mohammad, appears to be talking about these gods as though they were real. Even more remarkable is that there was believed to be an earlier version of this section, in which the next line was....

These are the exalted , whose intercession is hoped for.

....which implies that not only were they real gods, but they could also intercede with "The God", rather like Catholics believe that saints can do.

There is a lot of evidence from early Muslim histories that this line existed in some versions of the Quran. However, as the versions were standardized, it was obviously dropped, because it conflicts with the whole monotheistic basis of Islam. But even without this line, the three preceding ones raise a bit of an issue. It was an issue that Quranic scholars were happy to discuss and debate in the early centuries, when Islam was part of the intellectual life of the Mediterranean., much as in the same way that Jewish and Christian biblical scholars pore over the Bible today. One theory was that it was a political sop to the inhabitants of Makkah, a bit like celebrating Christmas at the time of the previous Winter Solstice celebrations. Another theory was that Satan himself tempted Mohammad to write it (hence "Satanic Verses"), but once he realized that he had been tempted, he revised them to a more orthodox version. However, once Islam closed in on itself, and shut itself off from the mainstream of intellectual progress, this subject was no longer up for discussion; even the existence of several Quran versions began to be denied.

So naturally I was curious to read the book, especially after the sound and smell of the "sizzle" from the Iranian Mullah. And I actually found it to be a very sympathetic description of the torments that Mohammad went thru, an unwilling messenger of God, reviled and ridiculed in his home town. Salman Rushdie puts forward a very plausible account of how Mohammad may have been tempted, and then realized his error. It reminded me of some film versions of the temptation of Christ by the Devil in the wilderness.

As for the rest of the book, I sort of lost interest, it was too surrealistic for me, especially when one of the principle characters starts to turn into a goat. That's just my own taste, or lack of it. But the section that dealt with Mohammad in Makkah was for me the best bit, a very thoughtful and illuminating account, and certainly not blasphemous in any mocking or disrespectful sense of the word. However, for those who seek blasphemy, they will find it wherever they look.

So that's the reaction of one Muslim to "The Satanic Verses". But ask most Muslims about it, and they will tell you it is blasphemous. How do they know? Because the Imam said so. How does he know? Because the Mufti said so. How does he know? Will any Muslim theologian who has actually read "The Satanic Verses" please stand up and explain what is wrong with it?

Which brings us back to our banned journal. It's all about power. If you are a Christian preacher decrying "Jerry Springer - The Opera", the last thing you want is your charges going off and watching it and making up their own minds. If you are an Iranian Mullah, you don't want lots of Muslims getting together in book groups to discuss "The Satanic Verses", because they may start discussing the authenticity of different Quranic texts, which is the last thing you want. And if you are the Saudi government, of course you want your papers to call for a Danish boycott; but do you want them to see the actual cartoons? Do you want them to see that there are actually no cartoons of pigs there, and that a sketch of Mohammad with a bomb in his turban is "as bad as it gets"? Of course not, because you'll start to lose control of the whole issue. Much better for the pliant population to imagine the worst. Don't show them the real thing. Let them hear and smell the sizzle, but don't let them taste the actual sausage, it'll be a complete anti-climax.

Anyway, for "NahnCee" whom I mentioned above, and who also supplied the previous Mohammad emoticons, here is one for her, thanks to "iPod QA Guy"!

*-O)):~{> Mohammad with a lit bomb in his turban.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Princes discuss Slavery 

It is three in the morning in the den of the King's Palace. King Abdullah and Prince Naif (Minister of the Interior) have been making quite a night of it. The "Cartoon Controversy" has meant that Prince Naif was able to get hold of a very large shipment of Carlsberg Lager at a knock-down price. He can't resist a bargain, and brought along quite a few bottles the previous evening. All that King Abdullah could contribute was a large flagon of Rice Wine from his recent trip to China.

For the last couple of hours, they have been playing a Very Silly Game. While in India, Abdullah was presented with a large Goddess Kali. She now sits in the corner of the den. Precariously balanced on the end of each of her eight arms, is an empty bottle of Carlsberg. On the table in front of the Princes is a very large bowl of dry roasted peanuts. The rules of the game are that you say which bottle you are going for, and then flick a peanut at it. If you hit it, you get to swallow a whole bottle of Carlsberg in one go. If you miss, you have to drink a whole tumblerful of Rice Wine. Naif is a much better shot than Abdullah, but it makes no difference, either way you get completely ratted. The whole floor is a mess of empty bottles and peanuts; it looks more like a college dorm than a room in a palace.

"Left, second down!", yells Naif, and flicks.
"Pinggg....". He flips off the cap from another bottle and gurgles, noisily.
"Right, bottom!", yells Abdullah, and flicks.
The peanut arcs silently past the Goddess onto the Persian carpet. "Bugger!" He fills the tumbler with rice Wine once more, and swallows.
"Hell, " he says, "I don't know how many of these I've had, but it still tastes like Yak Piss!"
"That's why", replies Naif, "the Chinkies are such a funny color. You are what you drink!".
They both giggle inanely.

"You know", says Abdullah, "I read something very interesting in the UK Guardian the other day".
Naif screws up his face.
"I know", the King continues, "they keep whining on about Human Rights and Amnesty and all that stuff. But they have actually been very supportive of us with the cartoons, they believe in cultural pluralism and all that, not that we do. Anyway, they came up with this chronology of slavery. We were the second last country to abolish it, in 1962"

"Really?", Naif replies, "It seems like only yesterday. Shame really. Now we have to pay the ex-slaves a premium over the Paks and Indians to drive our cars. Still, my wives do say that you can't beat a jet-black driver in a thobe and ghutra as the ultimate fashion accessory. But it's still part of our culture. We still refer to our negroes as "slaves", behind their backs of course. Even Bin Laden in that video about 9/11 made a joke about the number of "slaves" that were killed"

"Yes", says Abdullah, "you can take the man out of Saudi Arabia, but you can't take Saudi Arabia out of the man."

"Mind you", continues Naif, "we still get accused of slavery here. Just because we take the passports away from foreign workers when they come here. Then you get the case of those Bangladeshis, not been paid for seven months, can't get another job or go home because the company has got all their documents, claim they are starving, embassy's not interested because we've promised them a big new mosque in Dhaka. It's unfortunate, but it's certainly not slavery, it's just proactive Cash Flow Management. Anyway, they should be grateful, at least in Saudi Arabia they won't be eaten by a tiger or die of malaria or be drowned in a flood."

"And did you see that case in the States?" interjects Abdullah. "Those Saudis in Colorado. Paid some Indonesian woman $2 a day for four years. OK, so it's less than the US minimum wage, but how much would she get back in Indonesia? A bag of rice and a pair of plastic flip-flops, that's what. And the Americans are charging them with slavery! I can't see what the fuss is about. They don't care about cartoons, but they get worked up about a silly thing like that. Odd people."

"Top right!", yells Naif, and flicks."Pinggg....". Another bottle of Carlsberg is emptied.
"Left, third down!", yells Abdullah, and flicks. "Pinggg...". A fluke shot, but they all count. Gratefully, he downs a Carlsberg himself.
"Just for once, that Yak can tie a knot in it!"
They giggle again.

When they have settled down once more, Naif remembers something he was going to mention.

"Talking about the odd people, aren't the Americans sending "Slave Woman" over here again?"
Abdullah looks at him. He knows exactly who Naif is talking about. But he also knows that Naif wants to do one of his "impressions", and if he's prevented, he'll sulk. So he plays along.
"Who do you mean?"
"You know", says Naif, widens his eyes, pouts his lips, holds his palms up, and sings......

"Bess, you is my woman now,
you is, you is!
An' you mus' laugh an' sing an' dance
for two instead of one.
Want no wrinkle on yo' brow,
Because de sorrow of de past is all done done
Oh, Bess, my Bess!"

Abdullah waits patiently. When Naif has finished, Abdullah explains.

"Yes, another visit. But not about us this time. It's about Iran. They're very worried about "Mad Ahmad""

"I'm not surprised. All the Iranians are friggin' mad if you ask me. Did you see that video?"

"This one?", asks Abdullah. He reaches for the remote and flicks it on.

Click here for ---> Mad Mullah Video (Thanks, "Trevor")

"Yes", says Naif, "they're all completely bloody Loony-Tunes. And now they think they need their own bomb. What they really need is a lobotomy and a castration. So what are you going to tell the "Slave Woman"?".

"Well", replies Abdullah, "it's a bit tricky really. The Iranians have been a pain in our backside for decades. But if we come out against them, people might think we are siding with the Jews. On the other hand, "Mad Ahmad" is just as likely to threaten us with his bomb, he sees us Sunni Muslims as enemy number two after Israel. So in the end, we'll probably do what we always do."


"Exactly", replies the King. "Just like in the 2003 Iraq war, when we condemned it, but still let the Americans use our airfields up north. This time we'll condemn any "Zionist-Imperialist threats against a peace-loving Islamic nation that would jeopardize the balance in this sensitive region", but privately we'll help the Americans and the Israelis to beat the Bajazus out of them, and the sooner the better. Then when it's all over. we'll offer all the fratenal help we can. But no refugees of course, the last thing we want is their huddled masses."

"Quite right" says Naif, "and it'll be like the Palestinians, we always say that we support them in their struggle against Israeli aggression, except we're the one single country round here who hasn't taken in any of their refugees, and who would want to? They're just like the Iranians, always causing trouble."

"Maybe even worse. A smelly and noisy rabble, if they're not throwing rocks they're firing rockets, then when one of them gets killed they bounce the body along on their shoulders with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths. That's why we never made them slaves, they have no work ethic. Unlike the Jews. Say what you like about the Jews, but they are a very industrious people. Perhaps we should enslave a few!"

But, too late, Abdullah realizes his mistake. He has given Naif another cue. Naif stands up, adopts his "Pavarotti Pose", and lets forth with the "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves" from Verdi's "Nabucco".

Abdullah sighs, but thinks "If you can't beat them, join them." He too gets up.

......O simile di Solima ai fati

traggi un suono di crudo lamento,

o t'ispiri il Signore un concento

che ne infonda al patire virtù! *

* Remembering the fate of Jerusalem

play us a sad lament

or else be inspired by the Lord

to fortify us to endure our suffering!

Two discordant, drunken voices echo thru the empty palace corridors.....

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Emergency Meeting! 

OIC Calls for Emergency Meeting

The motorcades screech to a halt, lights flashing; burly bodyguards jump out and usher their charges into the conference hall. They have been summoned here from their palaces, their holiday villas, awakened from their beds, rushed here in their private jets. This is THE big meeting of the OIC, the Organization of the Islamic Conference. So are they finally going to resolve the Darfur conflict, the Brown-Muslim-on-Black-Muslim genocide that has already claimed an estimated 300,000 lives?

Well, actually, no.

Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, is contacting member states for an emergency meeting of their foreign ministers shortly to discuss major issues including the repercussions of the sacrilegious Danish cartoons.

Silly me, I should have realized. Cartoons are far more important than a "few dead darkies". We already learnt that after the 2006 Makkah Stampede.

Ihsanoglu has already spoken to Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubakar Al-Qurbi and Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar to fix a date for the meeting, press reports said yesterday quoting diplomatic sources....Professor Ihsanoglu has already informed Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief, that the 57-member OIC was seeking the EU’s cooperation to end the conflict as quickly as possible.

So the representatives of such enlightened and progressive governments as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Malaysia, are going to give advice to the Europeans on what laws they should pass in their own countries.

The OIC member states expect from the EU to identify Islamophobia as a dangerous phenomenon and to observe and combat it like in the cases of xenophobia and anti-Semitism, by creating suitable observance mechanisms and revising its legislation.

So the deal is that the Europe, which already bans incitement to, and practice of, race hatred, should now ban any criticism of others' religions as well. On the other hand, the Islamic countries, who have always criticized the other religions, will still continue to preach race hatred, especially towards the Jooos. Sounds fair enough to me.

Meanwhile, in a strange land far away, someone has had A GOOD IDEA.

The ******-based Foundation for Increasing Islamic Awareness Among Foreign Communities has announced that it will publish a book about the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in Danish and distribute it in Denmark and other European countries.

So what's going to happen is, that after boycotting their butter and Lego and so on, and trashing their embassies, and threatening their journalists with beheading, and generally lecturing them like naughty teenagers, we are going to send them a load of Mohammad biographies. Oh, how the simple citizens of Denmark will welcome such generosity! I can see them now, out on the streets, wiping the tears of gratitude from their eyes, as the lorries trundle into their town squares and deliver these little bundles of Islamic piety! How will they be able to contain their joy? It'll be the best thing that happened to them since Hitler came to town!

Why am I being so coy about the place that this GOOD IDEA came from? Well, let me give you a clue. I once described it thus.

Then there are the people from ******. ****** is described in Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide as the "most unfriendly place in Saudi Arabia". And then some. Remember those old movies about creepy New England towns called Spookyburg or Witchville, where some innocent guy wanders in by mistake, it's all knee deep in mist and the silent locals just stare and don't say anything, the guy ends up next morning as a puddle of ectoplasm on the ground? Well ******* makes those places look like New Orleans. In Mardi Gras.*

*(I wrote this before Katrina, of course)

(I once went there). Never again. Everyone seemed terminally depressed. Not really my sort of place. If I ever feel the need to be depressed, I can tune into Saudi TV.

Still not sure? Another clue. Where was the case of the Physics Teacher who was charged with Witchcraft?

He invented an instrument that produces a sound before the fall of rain. He put this machine at the school's gate to help students know if the rain was coming in order to avoid getting wet in their way home. this machine produces musical sound; so his fellow opponent teachers accused him of legalizing music, which is banned in the Wahhabi sect of Islam, and when Muhammed's case went to court, the judge accused him of using witchcraft to operate this instrument!

Still not sure? Dear me. Either you're a newbie here, or you're not yet wide awake. Here's a musical clue - "The Animals" - c. 1970?

I'm just a soul
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

Yes, it's Ahmad, the Celebrity Jihadi! Failed (obviously!) suicide bomber. Tried to ignite a gas truck in a crowded Iraqi street, to demonstrate the warm, cuddly side of Islam, and just got singed round the edges. Returned to Saudi Arabia to a hero's welcome. Butt of an awful joke. And where does Ahmad come from, as well as hundreds of other wannabe body parts? Why, Qaseem of course, 200 miles north of Riyadh. As you approach, it doesn't of course have a "Welcome" sign, just this:

Approaching Qaseem

Population *******

Twinned with Mogadishu

Terrorism Capital of the Arabian Peninsula

Visit the "Jihadi Hall of Fame"

The reason that the population is not painted in, is that in fact it's one of those LED counters, every few hours the number decreases by one because another son has committed the sin of detonation.

Money for the books is being raised by an appeal. As the appeal says "“Support your Prophet even with a single riyal like he supported you and will support you on the Day of Judgment.” People of Qaseem, let me offer you some pieces of advice:

1. Save your money, spend it on your childrens' education. Why not send them on an exchange visit? Although I have very little insight into what interests Danes, I can assure you that it will not be a book, obviously without pictures, where some sleep-inducing sermon about Mohammad has been translated into clumsy Danish. Even though it's free, it will bomb (pardon the expression) worse than the Ford Edsel.

2. If you insist on publishing it, for Heaven's sake don't mention nine-year-old Aisha. The Danes may not be offended by cartoons, but they are a bit sensitive about old men having sex with under-age girls. They're funny like that.

3. Why not make it dual-purpose, so it's useful in some way? If it were 10 cm squared, it could double up as a coaster, the Danes could put their coffee mugs or glasses of Carlsberg on it, and it wouldn't be a complete waste. Alternately, print it on absorbent paper with perforations, that way it'll be handy for all those little spills in the kitchen.

4. I realize that all these suggestions will be completely Haram, but the Danes might be far more interested in a biopic movie, better still a musical. Is Charlton Heston still working? Also, this is the home of Legoland, how about a Lego depiction of scenes from the Prophet's life?

OK, I know, I'm getting silly, let's change the subject.
"NahnCee" sent me some new emoticons, and asked me if they were blasphemous. To look at them, of course, you need to tilt your head slightly, or rotate them in your "mind's eye". If you come from Qaseem, you may want to follow these simple instructions:

1. Rotate your screen 90 degrees to the right.
2. Don't forget to take that coffee cup off first. Oops, too late, should have made that instruction 1.
3. Read the emoticons. What do they say? Try not to drool on the keyboard.
4. Rotate the screen 90 degrees to the left.
5. If your mouse has turned into a crab, you missed instruction 4.

Here they are:

Muhammad (((:~{>

Muhammad playing Little Orphan Annie (((8~{>

Muhammad as a pirate (((P~{>

Muhammad on a bad turban day ))):~{>

Muhammad with sand in his eye(((;~{>

Muhammad wearing sunglasses (((B~{>

Muhammad giving the raspberry. (((:~{P>

Giving Muhammad the raspberry. ;-P

So, are they blasphemous? I haven't a clue, in Quran class, I was the one who used to skip to the back to see if it had a happy ending. So I asked the Imam Here was his answer:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

Dear Brother,Asalaamu 'Alaikum wa Rahmatu Llahi wa Barakatuhu -

I pray that this message reaches you in increasing iman and wellbeing.

If these so-called "emoticons" remain just a collection of symbols, then that is all they are; they are devoid of meaning and significance.
On the other hand if, in the same way that
:-) turns into

it turns into a likeness of the Prophet (PBUH), then it would indeed be a grievous sin to type them or indeed to look at them, and you would be condemned to the eternal tortures of Hell.

But first, we would come and burn your house down.

I pray that Allah Most High grants for you the path of success in this and every matter.

And Allah Knows Best.

So there's your answer, "NahnCee".
No naughty emoticons.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Lurpak......Big Mac......whatever...... 

Who cares, when we are......

Don't mess with Muslims. We burn clowns.

A Student Exchange 

I had at one time written to say that we don't have exchange visits of Saudi students to the USA. One reader wrote to correct me very gently (although, for an Arab male, being corrected, and by a woman at that, is still a "loss of face". ;-)) and wrote an account of one such visit that she had been involved in. I've reprinted her letter here, with minor editing for brevity. It's a wonderfully observant account of what happens when our two cultures meet.

Mr. A,

I found your blog yesterday, and haven’t been able to put it down. It’s a very good read. In one of your posts you mentioned that it’s too bad that teens are not allowed to be exchange students. It’s a very small point, and you don’t loose face. :-)

In June 2004 I was one of the host parents to a group of Saudi teen exchange students. A Saudi institution was the Arab sponsor. The US Department of State and an international exchange program were the American sponsors. 15 students were placed in groups in three US cities, with host families. The host family selection and activities were handled by volunteers at the local level.

You can play spot the female with this group. Our group had three young women and two young men. Well, OK, one of the boys was no longer a teen, and technically didn’t qualify for the trip, but hey, he was ½ royal. The parents of only one female student prevented her from going, as they had gathered at the airport. The one and only Saudi orientation occurred there. The families had known for a week that the female chaperone had asked her boss for two weeks off, and did not receive it. It was not until the orientation that the male chaperone announced that he had not gotten his visa from the US, and would not be accompanying the students. It seems he had not submitted the visa request soon enough, and he had a rather common Saudi name. A name similar to one of the 9/11 high jackers.

The following is long and rambling, but sets the stage, and Mrs. A may get a laugh or two.

Host families: middle class, white collar job families, in rural, suburbia and inner city locations. All were taking a social risk in this very conservative area, to host a Saudi student. I was in charge of finding host families and coordinating the two weeks in this location. I had many negative replies to hosting a KSA student. What WOULD the neighbors think? I had no preference for race or religion of the host families, just an open mind, and a caring home. None of the host families had domestic servants. Two weeks before the students were to arrive; the Saudi organizers changed the date of the arrival and departure. I lost three host families due to previously scheduled obligations. This caused a hosting crisis, and the program was almost cancelled in our area.

Student one: afore mentioned ½ royal. During the trip from the airport to the home city, announced that he could not share a bedroom with anyone else, nor a bathroom. He had packed two extremely large suitcases. So large that he could not possibly have shared a room with anyone besides his luggage. The host family quickly made plans to have their daughter live at Grandma’s house for the two weeks, so the host brother would not be sharing a room with the guest. He learned to share a bathroom. I wonder if he had to spit out the toothpaste between gritted teeth. If they were gritted, perhaps he should have brushed better. During the ride home he had a white knuckle grip on the dashboard. I don’t think he was used to a female driver (me).

Student two: 15 year old (yo) boy, very nice young man, smitten for Student three. He stayed with a family that had lived in Riyadh for ten years. Host brother and student learned much from each other. 15 yo host brother hosted begrudgingly due to his memories of life in a Riyadh compound, but softened up by the end of the stay. This student was the only one who had not been in the US before. The program goal was to bring over students that had not been here before. Saudi parents that had not traveled to the US before were very reluctant to allow their teen children to come over.

Student three: 15 yo young woman that removed the abaya and heavy clothing soon after boarding the plane. She just happened to be hosted with the inner city family. She fit right in with the Hispanic crowd in that neighborhood. She wore clothing more appropriate to a hot sunny climate, which I would not have let my own kids wear in my more rural and conservative area. None of the pictures from our students or area could be published in Saudi, as this student appeared in all of them, minus conservative clothing. This student did help her host mother with domestic chores.

Student four: 18 yo young woman, wore conservative clothes, but not a head scarf. She was very pleasant, and had a good stay with her family. She was definitely from a more affluent family, and by the grace of Allah, had been placed with the most affluent of the host families. She absorbed much of the experience, and participated well in the activities. Why do I feel it is necessary to report on what the girls wore, but not the boys? Have I fallen into a cultural trap?

Student five: 17 yo young woman, highly gifted academically, deeply religious, and the only female to wear conservative clothes and head scarf while here. She stayed with my family. She would like to become an Architect, but her father will not allow her to attend a university outside of KSA. She is biding her time studying business, until her father deems her old enough to study abroad, or until KSA has a program for females to study Architecture. My husband spent time with the family last time he was in KSA. I sent books on Architecture for her. They had to go in clandestinely, as they included design reasoning for different types of public buildings including churches.

The exchange program was set up with several goals in mind. Perhaps I took them too literally. Feedback suggests that our group accomplished more in the way of cultural questioning and comparison. There were to be group discussions on differences in morals and ethics, volunteer opportunities, and get-togethers with local politicians. Here’s a sampling of the activities:

We attended an evening baseball game with fireworks. The boys thought this was fine. The girls had not been to a sporting event before. We did have to ask why. Student three asked for and received an autograph from one of the players. The autograph was not placed on a baseball.

Visit to a service at the local Jewish reformed temple. There was a bar mitzvah that evening. This was one of the most productive and open sessions. The host congregation and Rabbi were very welcoming. The Rabbi took the time to show the students around the Temple, and explain the symbolism and ceremony. This was the day when two Americans were killed in the ME. We were just trying to find a place to hang low, and look inconspicuous.

Visit to an inner city Southern Baptist Revival church. The Reverend Jasmine wore a sequined silver dress with flaming purple (not the color of the season) cape. Half way through the sermon, she had the congregation ‘Come On Down’, to give the visitors a hug. A jovial line of 200+ people came to hug the students. This action put the students on the spot. To pull back and avoid the hug would have been extremely insulting to the hosts. To hug someone gently, of the opposite sex was taboo for Muslims. The sermon contained many political messages that may have been lost on the students, but angered one host parent who disagreed with them.

Friday visits to mosques in two cities. The students did not realize that the churches and mosques are not State financed and State constructed in the US. They thought we had taken them to poor masjids for a reason. We explained that the congregations had to pay for the buildings and maintenance. A small congregation would not have an elaborate building. One was in an old inner city house. The basement room for the women had peeling paint and a carpet that was not too fresh. We were traveling to several activities in another city, and student four had forgotten to pack a head covering that day. She looked through the pile of available extra head coverings, and cringed at the thought of the other students seeing her. The head coverings were not high style, but basic and homemade. It was truly a struggle for her. They did manage to leave a few $20’s in the collection box. The political messages delivered by the Imam were lost on the host families, but understood by the students. I thought the Imam was talking about the US government, but the student informed me he was talking about Shiite leaders.

Volunteer opportunity One. We sorted food shipments for the food pantry for three hours. Students one and three had a tough time with this, as it was physical labor. Then they saw the women that had greeted them at the mosque the day before. The women were coming in for food. Student five and I managed to unload a medium box truck while student one took a smoke break. The food pantry was very grateful for the help provided by the group.

Volunteer opportunity two: spread bark mulch under the play structure at the local county park. Student three insisted on wearing white pants for this, much to the dismay of her host mother. They were each given a pitch fork, and told that the handle WOULD fit their hands. When they realized that we were not kidding, and they would not sit down for lunch until finished, they proceeded to help and got the job done. What was the moral of this story? When you offer volunteer services, you may not be working in a way that you want to give. But the most valuable service is to work where you are requested.

Visit to a private gun range by students two and five. We have photos of the young woman firing an M-60. I’m sure that her father was very pleased with those pictures. They also got a chance to tackle sporting clays.

Visit to the State Capitol. We had a caravan of four vehicles to carry the students and host families. After looking for parking on the street, we had to park in a garage 1 1/2 blocks away. Student one was puzzled about how we were going to get to the capitol building, and asked if we were going to take a cab. I responded that he was going to have to use his own two feet. Our State Representative led the tour explaining the significance of the artwork, architecture, and State government. The students asked why there were seating balconies above the area where the representatives work and vote. “So that the public can see and hear how decisions are made.”

The morals and ethics class was hosted by senior engineers at my husband’s office. The students roundly denounced alcohol, amid some grumblings by host families. The intense anti-gay sentiments caused most of the Americans to sit drop jawed, knowing that there was a gay engineer in the room. The discussion about work ethics was lost on one student. He won’t have to use that information. The students had no qualms about shaking hands with someone of the opposite sex. It is a business meeting after all, and they had cultural orientation stating this would be normal. They then tried shaking hands with members of the very conservative Islamic mosque, and were silently, but soundly reprimanded. This situation was quite the cultural dilemma for them.

In the end, my student did return home and volunteer for those less fortunate, for 6 months. I give her a lot of credit for that. She is not the type to sit at home completing domestic duties. I’m a little worried about her finding an educated husband, who will respect her keen intellect and individualism. Her mother teaches, although she is off on maternity leave right now. Student one calls his host family occasionally; once from Paris, once from Dubai, once from the local coffee hangout, mostly around 2 AM our time.

What did the host families learn? A teen from Saudi is not so different from a US teen. They are pushing the boundaries of cultural and parental control. The Saudi girls wear the same things in KSA that they wore here, just with an abaya over it. Not all of the propaganda that our government feeds us about KSA is true. Americans plan far in advance for reasons as varied as technology and the price of airfare. Saudis still enjoy spontaneity.

I believe strongly in student exchange programs. They help to foster peace between nations. It is very hard to hate an entire nation when you have spent time with one of its individuals. A citizen does not always share the views of his government, and the two must be seen separately. I have poked a little fun at some of the teens in this description. It is done with both respect and a parental smile. The students had their share of poking fun at the hosts, but made sure it was done in Arabic.

Thanks for the continuing sagas on your blog site, Maa Salaama


Perhaps I should have warned you to put down your coffee cup before reading. I very nearly got a cardamon-flavored keyboard.

I love the bit about Student one wanting a cab to travel 1 1/2 blocks. Back home, of course, his driver would take him to the front door of wherever he was going, possibly quadruple-parking and holding up all the traffic; to be summoned later by cellphone for a pickup at the same spot. OK, I know KSA temperatures can get up to the 130's in the shade, but our ancestors used to be out herding animals in that, and it never killed them.

And on what part of her anatomy did Student three get her autograph?

Many thanks for that, Mary, that was great!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Feeding at the trough 

"Oh no", you say, "not another photo-opportunity for some cute animals". Well, sort of. But there is a valid reason. Not that they are the sort of animals that we Muslims go in for. But I quite like them. They have a kind of good-natured, slobbish appearance to them. A bit like that old school friend you bump into, the one who never quite made it in life, but who is lot of fun for a night out together, except that when he asks to borrow some money it's time to go home.

And the valid reason? It's an article in the "San Francisco Chronicle" (Thanks, "John Bradley"), entitled

Feeding at Saudis' trough

It's about a former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Back in August 2002, a congressional delegation was traveling around Saudi Arabia....On one leg of the trip.... Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, a former FBI agent, turned to the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan. He asked .... whether Jordan would be the first U.S. ambassador to not go to work for the Saudis after leaving his post.
Jordan, who had George W. Bush as a client before he went to the White House, considered Rogers' question for a moment, and then politely declined to "take the pledge,"

Well the upshot of the story is that Jordan did follow this well-worn path.

In any event, Jordan in 2003 joined the long list of U.S. ambassadors and other former American officials working directly or indirectly for the Saudi royal family.

Which is all excellent news for the Saudi royal family. As one of them had said earlier....

The legendary former Saudi ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar bin Sultan was quoted in the Washington Post a few years back as saying, "If the reputation then builds that the Saudis take care of friends when they leave office, you'd be surprised how much better friends you have who are just coming into office."

....which is an amazingly cynical and candid comment. It reminds me of one of those "Capone" films where he brags about "buying" judges and police and politicians. However, let's face it, the Saudi government need friends. But what a lot of friends you get when you have a lot of money!

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to be holier-than-thou here. We all need money from somewhere. Many of us, like those parakeets from yesterday, have to build a nest, and put food into those gaping mouths. But doesn't there come a time, when we're up to a certain level of income, that we can afford to be a bit choosy, a little bit fussy, about where we get our money from?

On occasions, we see an amazing conversion. Take the case of former editor-in-chief of the Saudi daily Al-Watan, Jamal Khashoggi. At one time, he was an outspoken critic of Saudi society, particularly its religious establishment. After the 2003 bombing of three Western compounds in Riyadh, he launched an attack on Ibn Taymiyya, the Spiritual Father of Wahhabism, in an editorial on May 22nd 2003. Asking the question as to why those Al Qaeda terrorists also killed Muslims, he said

"How did these murderers permit (the spilling of) the blood of Muslims and children?"

"They did this based on a Fatwa of Ibn Taymiya in his book 'The Jihad, 'that says that if the infidels take shelter behind Muslims, that is, if these Muslims become a shield for the infidels, it is permitted to kill the Muslims in order to reach the infidels....it is a mistaken Fatwa that contradicts the way of the Prophet Muhammad

These brave words did not, for obvious reasons, go down well with the Imams and the Religious Police. They did not appreciate a lesson in Theology from a liberal newspaper editor.

On May 27, 2003 , approximately two weeks after the suicide bombings in Riyadh....Jamal Khashoggi, was fired by order of the Saudi Information Ministry. At the time, no official reason was given for his dismissal.

So, he's no longer in a job. But let's fast-forward. Look where he ends up next.

Jamal Khashoggi is a media advisor to Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the United States.

As the saying goes, "When one door closes, another opens". Or, "Every cloud has a silver lining". Not only that, but Khashoggi seems to be a changed man. If you watch him in this discussion on "Is Saudi Arabia a key U.S. ally or a hotbed of Jihad?" with John Bradley, you will see a fully-fledged Saudi apologist in action.

John Bradley: You’ve arrested reformers by the hundreds and the thousands.
Jamal Khashoggi: No, no; reformers, they were never arrested by the thousands.
John Bradley: Peaceful demonstrators that went into the street--there were many hundreds of them arrested.
Jamal Khashoggi: The demonstrators--those demonstrators were all--they were also--they were answering a call of--of an Al Qaeda activist. They were answering the call of Saad Al-Faqih; they were not peaceful demonstrators.
John Bradley: They were holding Korans above their head; they were peaceful demonstrators. They were unarmed.
Jamal Khashoggi: Again--but again, there were no shootings; they were released….
John Bradley: There were shootings; they shot rubber bullets over their heads.
Jamal Khashoggi: Nobody was killed; they were all released. We don’t have the situation where we--where people demonstrate in the streets and kiosk--no, we don’t have any--any of that. Saudi Arabia is very stable.

I have to say that I found this "Road to Damascus" conversion rather sad. And he was much better playing Offense than Defense. But anyway, it's a big trough, and there is room for plenty more.

Best of all is a tame Westerner. Particularly one with a great sense of humor. Who can forget the name of Tanya C. Hsu? Her article in the "Arab News" gave endless amusement to the readers of this blog, especially those living in Saudi Arabia. When she got into her stand-up routine, she had us rolling in the aisles with

In Saudi Arabia I can speak freely, appearing in media without threats. I am respected as an intelligent, outspoken woman.

The Mutawa (religious police) are my friends

I pass for, dress and live as a Saudi. I don’t cover my face

....and the abaya frees me from having to worry about my figure....

Driving is not an issue for most, and after years in Atlanta traffic, I welcome the freedom.

....and as a lover of classical music, my own particular favorite....

Sometimes I will catch a Saudi orchestra, with their black tuxedos and violins

The "Arab News" don't seem to have commissioned a second article from Tanya, which is a shame, and I for one am very disappointed.

Sometimes, though, it's someone with a reputation, and certainly someone who ought to know better. Jonathan Power has been around a long time, and looks to have all the credentials of a liberal-leaning journalist.

Columnist, film-maker and writer. M.Sc in economics, trained as a geographer and agricultural economist. For the first ten years after graduate school, community work in slum neighborhoods in Chicago and London. Worked for Martin Luther King 1966-1967. For 30 years a journalist, ....Author of several books on economic development, world hunger and on Amnesty International and human rights issues....
Consultant to numerous international organizations and editorial adviser on the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security chaired by Olof Palme.

So why mention him? Well, he recently wrote an article on the Great Cartoon Controversy.

The Mohammad cartoons:It takes two to avoid a clash of civilizations

The Muslim reaction to the cartoons is not a demand that non-Muslims live by Muslim religious codes, as many have charged, it is simply asking for the basic politeness that societies everywhere believe in - there is more than one way of making a point and crude insults never got anyone anywhere.

I don't agree, but they are his views, and he's entitled to them. He's had this article syndicated in a number of papers. And the "Arab News" was only too glad to shell out a few dollars for the privilege of publishing it themselves. There is nothing they like better than a Western journalist putting forward their own views; particularly because Westerners are usually more sophisticated and persuasive in their writing.

But what is a liberal journalist doing, being published in a state organ of one of the most repressive regimes in the world? Why is a man, who worked alongside the Reverend Martin Luther King, apparently helping the propaganda effort of a country that demonizes Jews, treats its Third-world workers like dirt, and whose people often colloquially refer to their own African-origin citizens as "slaves"?

The acid test for a reputed journalist in this situation, is whether the paper in question will publish anything that he writes, even if it's critical of that country, and not just the views it agrees with. It's what makes the difference between a respected international journalist who protects his reputation for integrity, and a "useful idiot", or even, dare I use the term, a "Dhimmi". For example, will the "Arab News" publish any article of his about a cause close to his heart, "Amnesty International"? Because Jonathan Power wrote an entire book about it.

Like Water on Stone: The Story of Amnesty International Sir Paul McCartney (Foreword), Jonathan Power (Author)

Amazon.co.uk Review. Turning 40 can be awkward, but, as journalist Jonathan Power demonstrates in his passionate appraisal of Amnesty International, Like Water on Stone, sometimes it can be a time for quiet celebration....Its impact may often be intangible, but as Power's title suggests, it's quietly effective.

And what does Amnesty International say about Saudi Arabia?As their 2005 Report says

Killings by security forces and armed groups escalated, exacerbating the already dire human rights situation in the country. Scores of people, including peaceful critics of the state, were arrested and over two dozen suspected in connection with the “war on terror” were detained following their forcible return by other countries. At least five possible prisoners of conscience were tried following hearings that failed to meet international standards, but the status of others, including the hundreds held from previous years, remained shrouded in secrecy. The debate on discrimination against women, which began in previous years, gained further momentum with a sharp focus on domestic violence and political participation. Allegations of torture were reported and flogging, which constitutes a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and may amount to torture, remained a routine practice. At least 33 people were executed. Approximately 600 Iraqi refugees remained as virtual prisoners in Rafha Military Camp. Optimism spread among foreign workers following measures announced by the government to protect their economic and social rights, and the country was deemed to have made progress in the alleviation of poverty. Amnesty International continued to be denied access to the country.

So what would your mentor, Martin Luther King, say about that, Jonathan? Why not write an article about Reform in Saudi Arabia, tell everyone what "Your Dream" is, and get the "Arab News" to publish it? Or are you just another one at the trough?

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