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.

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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