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Saudi Arabia's religious police caused the deaths of 15 schoolgirls
March 16, 2002 1:42 PM   Subscribe

Saudi Arabia's religious police caused the deaths of 15 schoolgirls by preventing them from escaping from a burning building. The children were not allowed to escape because they were not wearing the correct Islamic dress. When something like this happened under the Taliban it was taken as proof of Evil, but when it happens under our friends in Saudi Arabia it seems to just be ignored by the American government and the American media alike (or at least I haven't been able to find any reference to it in the American media.)
posted by homunculus (29 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is appalling.
posted by mrbula at 2:08 PM on March 16, 2002


It's still proof of evil to me, regardless of the country where it happened. The problem here is expecting our media to do our moral judgement for us.
posted by will at 2:09 PM on March 16, 2002


I guess more kids will be wearing the 'correct Islamic dress' at school in future from now on.
posted by wackybrit at 2:12 PM on March 16, 2002


The problem here is expecting our media to do our moral judgement for us.

I don't, but I do expect our media to report the information in the first place so that we have the opportunity to make our own moral judgements. Hopefully my annoyance is premature and it will show up in tomorrow's papers.
posted by homunculus at 2:21 PM on March 16, 2002


Not likely, since America is trying to curry favor with Saudi Arabia for the pending invasion of Iraq.
posted by insomnyuk at 2:27 PM on March 16, 2002


Just a hunch, but I think the American media will carry this story. It's difficult to imagine sane human beings -- even the ones who don't share my worldview -- allowing this to occur. I wonder if there's more to the story.
posted by coelecanth at 2:30 PM on March 16, 2002


"In a rare criticism of the kingdom's powerful "mutaween" police, the Saudi media has accused them of hindering attempts to save 15 girls who died in the fire on Monday."

I think this is the first clue as to how to interpret the consequences of what happened.
posted by rschram at 2:34 PM on March 16, 2002


You can see the headline of a story on the SA Interior Minister criticizing the police on this page—I can't click through to the article though.
posted by rschram at 2:41 PM on March 16, 2002


The religious police are widely feared in Saudi Arabia. They roam the streets enforcing dress codes and sex segregation, and ensuring prayers are performed on time.

This is the kind of thing that makes me wonder how many people there actually want to be muslim. Suppose the US adopted christianity as it's official religion and created a police force that enforced christian practices in public would that make me a christian? It might make me look like a Christian in public but that is a completely different thing.
posted by plaino at 2:45 PM on March 16, 2002


The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

"This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in the city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred." - Rose Schneiderman

"I saw every feature of the tragedy visible from outside the building. I learned a new sound-- a more horrible sound than description can picture. It was the thud of a speeding, living body on a stone sidewalk." - William Shepherd, eyewitness

"During their strike in 1909, the workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company probably sang this popular and optimistic Garment Workers' Union song:
Hail! The waistmakers of nineteen nine...
Breaking the power of those who reign,
Pointing the way, smashing the chain.

We showed the world that women could fight.
And we rose and won with women's might ...

Although they had died for their cause, the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire had pointed the way towards a safer future for the working class."

posted by sheauga at 2:49 PM on March 16, 2002


This is the kind of thing that makes me wonder how many people there actually want to be muslim.

Could you explain this?
posted by rschram at 2:54 PM on March 16, 2002


Hrm.

This is absolutly horrendus.

A couple of months ago (before sept 11th) The Saudi government for a short time pulled all diplomatic relations to the US because of a single incident. The shooting of an unarmed Palestinian woman who was being held down by an IDF.

Well, I say we do the same. Unless something is done, I think the US should cut off ties with the nation. If that kind of hysterics are good enough for them, why not us. The Saudis got support for a Palestinian state from shrub by their actions.

And I seriously doubt that the woman shot by the IDF was wearing proper Islamic garb according to Saudi standards.

To bad bush is a pussy and it won't happen.
posted by delmoi at 2:57 PM on March 16, 2002


plaino probably means that since police may beat and imprison you if you are not a good muslim perhaps some people are muslim only to avoid being beaten... i thought it was pretty clear.
posted by rhyax at 3:04 PM on March 16, 2002


Countries like SA need a revolution. The fear, however, is that a power vacuum could create an abscess of even more militancy. At least the current elite, Machiavellis all, know which side their diplomatic bread is buttered on. Sort of.

But truly, this incident is appalling. One can only hope it will rouse some humanism and social consciousness.
posted by donkeyschlong at 3:12 PM on March 16, 2002


This is the kind of thing that makes me wonder how many people there actually want to be muslim.

My guess is that most Saudis want to be, and in fact are, muslim. But Saudi Arabia officially follows Wahhabism, an extremely militant form of Islam (the same practiced form by the Taliban,) and I would not be suprised if many Saudis don't want to be Wahhabists and would prefer to practice a more moderate form of Islam.
posted by homunculus at 3:17 PM on March 16, 2002


Saudi Arabia is a country of contrasts.. On the one hand it has places like Makkah and Medina where you have the very core of Islam - everyone equal before God, regardless of race, colour, or riches (Malcolm X/el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz gave what I reckon is the best summary of what it is like there here).

The rest of Saudi Arabia isn't so nice - scratch the surface and you have widespread corruption, both moral and 'political' (since when was a royalty islamic anyway?). Those in power can get away with what they want while still presenting themselves as the representatives of the cradle of Islam. I get along well with many Saudis, some just have this overweening arrogance that sets my teeth on edge though..

I agree with donkeyschlong that something needs to change there - but what? Maybe they should be a bit more like Iran? At least the women can drive there..
posted by Mossy at 4:47 PM on March 16, 2002


This is the kind of thing that makes me wonder how many people there actually want to be Muslim.

The comment is very unclear—It sounds rather like plaino has trouble of conceiving that someone might actually believe in and feel guided by Islam, or any other religion or culture. Islam is actually just as (ir)rational as any other ethical base. For an example, look at any Saudi coverage of the event.

I think people who are born and raised in a society that created Islam would stand a good chance of actually believing it, even if they disagree with the religious police. In fact, people raised in a culture stand a good chance of not needing that culture enforced on them, even if radical exponents of their faith want to impose on them something they don't believe in. Telling someone that you want to help a trapped schoolgirl isn't "resistence" to some imposition of religion, its a disagreement over what is appropriate within a given shared context.

This incident should be highly relevatory to those who want to bash Islam as a culture of terror, and those who accuse people of "relativising" 9-11/WoT/CoC. Relativism isn't at issue, because cultures aren't deterministic of behavior or thought; they're assumptions and shared frameworks for seeing. Of course, for that to be so, you'd have to recognize that there's an ongoing (even heated) debate within SA over the meaning of this incident, and what changes should take place.

[W]hen it happens under our friends in Saudi Arabia it seems to just be ignored by the American government and the American media alike.

Take a look.
posted by rschram at 4:48 PM on March 16, 2002


i hope everyone commenting on this story can join together in condemning not only the apparent facts of what happened but the ludicrous religious beliefs which gave rise to this inhumanity. i was reading comments elsewhere on the same story claiming it was naive to roundly condemn religion when political beliefs have caused worse inhumanities. nevertheless, i roundly condemn the religious beliefs which led to this incident, and all other "religious" beliefs. simply calling a belief "religious" does not preclude it from being a ludicrous and inane delusion, and the product of heinous brainwashing passed down from dark ages.
posted by mokey at 4:54 PM on March 16, 2002


I only meant that I if the govt. must enforce religious acts then I wonder how many people are probably faking it to avoid punishment. BTW I thought that was clear in my original comment.
posted by plaino at 5:05 PM on March 16, 2002


mokey: it's not the religious beliefs that are the problem, forcing people to adhere to one specific interpretation of the beliefs is the problem.

I find it incredibly offensive that it's somehow acceptable in some places to force people to follow the essentially random rules of a religion (if the appearance of faith is all that's important, there's something wrong), but if the Saudis can't see how ludicrously over the top this is, their way of thinking is beyond me.
posted by biscotti at 5:38 PM on March 16, 2002


It's probably wrong to blame this on religion. I'm no expert but I doubt angels told Mohammed that this was the sort of thing they expected from his followers.

If the religious code permits people to act reasonably and they don't, then the people themselves are to blame; if the religious code requires people to act unreasonably and they do, then the people are to blame.
posted by coelecanth at 6:39 PM on March 16, 2002


I don't, but I do expect our media to report the information in the first place so that we have the opportunity to make our own moral judgements. Hopefully my annoyance is premature and it will show up in tomorrow's papers.

Nope. Practically nothing from the American press. I tried the Google news search for starters. Then I tried the papers of record.

The NYT has nothing; I did a search for the past week.
The Washington Post carries an AP article in its online edition, I'm not sure if it made it to the print version. Regardless, that was on March 12 before the allegations of what the religious police did were made public.

Absolutely appalling. Why can't I trust the free press in my own country?
posted by PrinceValium at 8:46 PM on March 16, 2002


Absolutely appalling. Why can't I trust the free press in my own country?

Did.you.ever. ??
posted by bittennails at 9:57 PM on March 16, 2002


THIS IS EXACTLY LIKE THAT SONG BY ZU ZU BOLLIN!!
posted by Settle at 10:19 PM on March 16, 2002


Note that this story has been covered and discussed extensively in the warblog community, especially at USS Clueless (MeFi alum Den Beste) and little green footballs, almost from the moment it happened. From there the aritcles percolated up to Instapundit, which seeems to be widely read in the media -- very often stories appear a day or so later after he blogs something.

I don't think it's that surprising that US media missed this. First of all, it's a local story (school fire) first. Second, no reporters in Mecca (in fact, no non-Muslims are permitted in that city period -- even the French anti-terrorist troops who helped the Kingdom expel protestors who seized the Grand Mosque a decade ago were Muslim). Third, reporters in the region are focussed on the "Mideast violence" which has been peaking, and the chief story in the Kingdom from an international perspective is the peace proposal it mooted.

If you want a fresh, raw perspective on what is happening in Saudi Arabia, you'll want to read the letter from Rick to the blog Letter from Gotham (be sure to follow through and read the article from the Independent on the unnoticed-in-the-West possibility of a chilling religious basis for the murder of Daniel Pearl), which includes a Westerner's thoughts on living in the Kingdom for over a decade (...there is an upside to living here and to knowing and living with Arabs and Muslims. The streets are safe, crime is low and as a whole they are quite hospitable. Frankly, I can hardly wait to leave for good.), which itself was re-examined by Adil Farooq, a Muslim Briton, who writes the extraordinary and reflective muslimpundit (be sure and follow through to the Bernard Lewis interview). He also looks separately at the fire tragedy, and wrote a lengthy six months on essay. That's three emotionally hard-hitting and superbly contemplative posts on the same archive page.
posted by dhartung at 1:00 AM on March 17, 2002


The comment is very unclear—It sounds rather like plaino has trouble of conceiving that someone might actually believe in and feel guided by Islam, or any other religion or culture. Islam is actually just as (ir)rational as any other ethical base. For an example, look at any Saudi coverage of the event.

I think plaino's comment was clear enough: how many people pretend to follow the official ideology when their life/livelyhood is as stake? Think of Stalinist USSR for example. How many people under Stalin arrived at communism from deep philosophical reflection vs how many nodded in compliance to avoid the gulag.

But what I'd rather take issue with is your comment about all ethical basses being equally "(ir)rational". Do you honestly believe that Naziism (or pick some other negative example) is on par with every other ethical base that has ever existed (or that ever will exist)? It's quite true that are are some of us who have trouble believing that people might let their actions be guided by superstious nonsense (regardless of the particular flavor).
posted by wheat at 11:59 AM on March 17, 2002


Someone has written a letter to the editor of the NYT regarding its reporting of the fire without mention of the religious police interfering, apparently in reliance on an incomplete AP story which was in several national papers on Saturday and today.

Kingdom press (with official favor) is publishing denials, saying that the religious police arrived after all survivors had been evacuated and that the girls died as a result of panic in the single stairwell. This contradicts claims officially filed by the Civil Defense authorities, though.

And as a kind of coda to plaino's comments, religious authorities can do pretty despicable things in this country, too.
posted by dhartung at 4:26 PM on March 17, 2002


Dhartung: Thanks for the links.

It is a very different culture, and very different world that most muslims in the middle east live in. I now have a clearer understanding as to why the Saudi royals are having a hard time balancing the ass kissing, between keeping the west happy, and keeping their people from toppling them due to their ass kissing of the west.
posted by Zool at 5:55 PM on March 17, 2002


On the one hand it has places like Makkah and Medina where you have the very core of Islam - everyone equal before God, regardless of race, colour, or riches

Read: everyone = every male
posted by Dick Paris at 10:15 PM on March 17, 2002


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