Denial of Progress

Oh sure, fundamentalism is all well and good until it actually affects YOU:

A prominent Saudi Arabian cleric has issued a rare public attack on religious hardliners angry over a video showing him dancing at a wedding in the conservative Islamic state, a newspaper reported Tuesday.

Obaikan, an adviser to the cleric-run Ministry of Justice, defended himself in remarks published in Asharq al-Awsat, saying the society needed to “get over restrictions imposed by ignorant people.”

*blink* Well, that’s not the usual message we get out of Islamic countries.

*heavy sigh*

As I’ve mentioned before, I spent a total of about six years total in Saudi Arabia, from the late 70s, to early 80s. We lived in Jeddah our first “tour,” a total of four years, in a compound within the bounds of the city. I was about 9 years old at the time of our arrival, and remember nothing but normal days. We went to school, we went shopping at Al-Mukhtar’s and the suk; they had jeans, perfume, high heeled shoes, American and British music, anything homesick foreigners could want. (Al-Mukhtar’s also had a LION for sale at one time but that’s another story.) We went to beaches on the Red Sea…pristine things, with clear beautiful water, and absolutely no other people. We wore normal swimsuits and spent lazy days poking through the shallows while my father wandered reefs, shell collecting, and my mother sat under an umbrella, reading books and listening to Englebert Humperdinck tapes.

Our second “tour,” about a year later, we lived in Taif, on a plateau above Jeddah. We lived in a high-walled compound well outside the city limits, and took buses to school every day in another high-walled compound run by Northrop (pre-Grumman). We still went shopping at the suk, only now we had to wear thobes over our jeans. But we still were never really bothered by the religious police. We delighted in trading rumors at school though, people with their hands cut off for stealing, heads cut off for murder. Friday’s were judgement days, when these things were carried out in a central location in the city, foreigners were not allowed to attend.

The point of all this background is the atmosphere in Saudi Arabia when we were there was unremarkable. All the locals we met were individually, decent people. Helpful, friendly, and so very delighted to meet Americans. If there was rabid fundamentalism, we *never* saw it. Never. It’s possible that was a side effect of King Khalid’s foreign policy…after all, he was the one bringing in foreign workers to handle certain construction projects around the country. Did he also put a chokehold on the “religious police” of the time, preventing them from putting the kibosh on his ambitions? Or was SA of that era just not in the grasp of the fundamentalist clerics as it seems to be now?

I wonder these things as I read articles like the above. The Saudis are a warm, friendly people, just like most of the rest of us in the world, and it is disgusting to see them crippled by these power-mad monsters.


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One Response to “Denial of Progress”

  1. Morgan Says:
    March 15th, 2008

    I’ve been arrested by the ‘power mad monsters’.

    It was early in 1982. I was on contract with the Qatar Armed Forces. I decided I wanted my motorbike out there with me, so on a month’s leave at home (London, at the time), I collected a handful of transit visas for self and wife, loaded up the bike and off we went.

    Nearly got killed in Hama, Syria (google Hama Syria 1982 – got caught up in it). Anyway, got through that and into Jordan (accidentally caused a small riot in Zarqa (the town that now dead psychopathic loon in Iraq came from). Survived that too. Then about 2/3 of the way across Saudi, got pulled by the muttawa. They eventually let us go, and to this day I don’t know what it was about – but I strongly suspect it was because I had a woman on the back of my bike. Go figure.

    Must say, I was scared more by that few hours there than I had been in Syria or Jordan … possibly because they were concrete dangers and there were things we could do to get ourselves out of harm’s way. But the mutts? That was seriously creepy, not knowing what it was about, in custody in a walled villa, in a small town in the middle of nowhere with no one knowing where you are. And the wife to worry about – though she was a formidable human being in her own right.

    So they were around when you were there, early 80s – you just never encountered them is all. Nine? Jeez you make me feel old.


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