Touring the Kingdom of 15/19
The daily, Ottawa Citizen is probably read by very few of this site’s readers (which is OK - I don’t read the Akron, Ohio, Beacon Journal either). On Sunday, August 25, the Ottawa Citizen ran an article about Saudi Arabia, that extended over three pages of the broadsheet. Written by Robert Sibley, an editorial writer, the article was based on a tour to Saudi Arabia, in which the author travelled with other journalists on an “Islam Study Tour”.
The tour seemed to have been joyous from the outset:
As our Lufthansa flight approached Riyadh, the flight attendants advised us not to take copies of the Bible with us and to make sure any non-Islamic religious symbols - crucifixes, the Star of David, for example - were out of sight. This ban on non-Islamic worship also means that no churches, synagogues or Hindu or Buddhist temples can be built.
Here is a vignette from Mr Sibley’s sightseeing in Riyadh:
The plaza is also known as "Chop-chop Square." It is here that the kingdom's murderers, rapists, drug smugglers, sorcerers and, sometimes, treasonous rebels are beheaded. According to Human Rights Watch, 121 Saudi citizens and non-western foreigners were beheaded in 2000, and 81 in 2000. The count is 67 so far this year.
Apart from this kind of sightseeing, the journalists’ tour also included meeting high Saudi officials. In one such meeting, dealing with 9/11 and Arab hostility towards the US,
[i]t was even suggested that the Americans had only themselves to blame for supporting Israel and the Jews. "The Jewish lobby controls the United States," said Khedir al-Qurashi, the vice-minister for education. "They control your economy. They control your media." Similarly, Fouad ai-Farsay, the Minister of Information, when asked why the Saudi media knowingly publicized false reports that the Israeli Mossad was behind the Sept. 11 attacks and that 4,000 Jews had been warned to stay away from the World Trade Center, said: "We don't defend our enemies." In other words, I thought, you're willing to print lies if it serves your purpose. [Bold type inserted by me.]
The element of "lying", to which Mr Sibley alluded, reminded me of a passage in Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock:
One's interest allows anything. Very, very basic. Comes from the desert. That blade of grass is mine and my animal is going to get it or die. It's my animal or your animal. That's where interest begins and it justifies all duplicity. There is in Islam this idea of taqiya Generally called in English 'dissimulation.' It's especially strong in Shi'ite Islam but it's all over Islamic culture. Doctrinally speaking, dissimulation is part of Islamic culture, and the permission to dissimulate is widespread. The culture doesn't expect that you'll speak in a way that endangers you and certainly not that you'll be candid and sincere. You would be considered foolish to do that. People say one thing, adopt a public position, and are then quite different on the inside and privately act in a totally different way. They have an expression for this: 'the shifting sands'--ramal mutaharrika An example. For all their bravado about opposing Zionism, throughout the Mandate they sold land to the Jews. Not just their run-of-the-mill opportunists but also their big leadership. But they have a wonderful proverb to justify this as well. Ad-daroori lih achkaam. 'Necessity has its own rules.' Dissimulation, two-facedness, secretiveness--all highly regarded values ...
[Cited from p. 145 of:
Roth, P. Operation Shylock. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1993.]
Dining with an American businessman, Mr Sibley was introduced to the realities of the Saudi educational system:
"Four out of the country's eight universities teach only Islamic studies,” the businessman said. "So the Saudi education system is producing thousands of graduates who think and act on the basis of religious training. Not only can't they work, they don't want to work" The Saudi monarchy "allowed the education system to be hijacked by the religious fundamentalists. That was their big mistake. Instead of getting people who could run petrochemical plants, you got a bunch of jihadists."
Already, about 50,000 students who leave school each year are unable to find a job. Unemployment among the youngest job seekers is as high as
30 per cent. "The government is certainly worried," said the businessman. "How do you keep control when you have a huge population of young men with no jobs, no prospects and no place to go except to the mosque, where the mullahs fill their heads with anger for America?”
And this is the country to which George Bush pledged eternal friendship?
Contributed by Joseph Alexander Norland, dt804[at]yahoo[dot]ca