Cultural diversity
March 3, 2006 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Riyadh International Book Fair. "Last night I went to a panel on cultural diversity, and I have enjoyed a very good discussion. The panel was done the Saudi style, with the only female speaker Dr. Khairia Al-Saggaf talking from another room, where we could not see her but only listen to her voice." "Shiites were the subject of a hot debate at the end of the panel, when Dr. Khaled Al-Dakheel said that Shiites are part of us. This was the point where the panel went out of control. Before Al-Dakheel was able to complete that sentence, a Sheikh from the first row interrupted and told Dr. Al-Dakheel that Shiites are not Muslims, and that he has to say this."
posted by semmi (27 comments total)

 
what are shiites then? Chopped Liver?
posted by obeygiant at 9:39 AM on March 3, 2006


These are the posts we need to focus on I think. In all cultures, there is a loss of dialoge and conversation. and people put opinon ahead of logic and thats when there are issues of violence and crime. Imagine if they calmely started to discuss the issue at hand rather then one side telling the other to admit they are right. I think this is what happens too much in our culture.
<Small? Thats my Friday Sermon
posted by wheelieman at 9:40 AM on March 3, 2006


If you go to Riyadh, you can take a trip into the wadi and see the old city, a mud-walled ruin that was abandoned two centuries ago for the new site. Its a small, peaceful place. Until fifty years ago that is pretty much all that there was, mud buildings, camels, a few date palms and herds of sheep and goats. These were a tough and proud people with ancient traditions that pre-date Islam. You can mock these traditions if you like, hold them up to the ruler of what we consider proper in 21st Century Europe. Good for you.

However consider that in the past fifty years this village of desert farmers has turned into a sort of dusty Los Angeles. We would be hard pressed to conceive what that has meant, hundreds of years of technological and social change compressed into a few decades. What is amazing is that the society has been able to change so rapidly that we have a book fair and bloggers, not that there are still manifestations of those customs of the ancient desert.

In twenty years time it will just be like everywhere else.
posted by grahamwell at 9:51 AM on March 3, 2006


What the hell is wrong with people?
posted by bshort at 9:52 AM on March 3, 2006


In twenty years time it will just be like everywhere else.

Only if the Saudis learn to treat women better.
posted by bshort at 9:53 AM on March 3, 2006


Yeah, I am still waiting for the Martin Luther of Wahabism.
posted by homodigitalis at 9:58 AM on March 3, 2006


>>If you go to Riyadh, you can take a trip into the wadi and see the old city

sorry, but as a 1) jewish 2) american 3) woman, i hold teh trifecta of awesomeness that is just not allowed within the SA Authority...
posted by naxosaxur at 10:29 AM on March 3, 2006


metafilter: teh trifecta of awesomeness
posted by joecacti at 10:52 AM on March 3, 2006


Nice to know some of the locals are getting restless.
posted by adamvasco at 11:00 AM on March 3, 2006


Actually naxosaxur, none of those will disqualify you. The Jewish bit looked promising but doesn't seem to score unless you have an Israeli visa in your passport (and that applies to us goyim too). Why would you think that number "2) american" would be a problem? Strange. You can't wait to go now, I can tell. Make sure there's someone to meet you at the airport and that Pulizer's yours for the taking. More Saudi visa goodness here and more Saudi blogs here, in banat-al-riyadh it seems young Saudi Arabia has found a voice.
posted by grahamwell at 11:15 AM on March 3, 2006


Banat-al-Riyadh .. capitalisation crisis, my bad.
posted by grahamwell at 11:18 AM on March 3, 2006


Actually naxosaxur, none of those will disqualify you.

I believe by disqualify she meant because of possible danger. It is not illegal for a black man to attend a KKK rally, it is however unwise. Given the large numbers of people there who hate Jews, hate Americans, and believe that women should be forced to stay in a burning building rather than appear unveiled, it might not be a good idea to go there.
posted by unreason at 11:23 AM on March 3, 2006


Circa 2001, the difference between KSA and Iraq was PR.
posted by bardic at 11:33 AM on March 3, 2006


That's a very creative reading of 'just not allowed'. On the hating Americans thing, you're more likely to find the hostile looking youth confronting you actually majored at Ohio State in Mech Eng (and desperately wants to go back). US - Saudi relations go way back to when the USA was an anti-imperialist power. They were your friends, they have been for sixty years. This aggressive and fundamentalist new approach you have to your friends (bardic) probably explains why you have so few.
posted by grahamwell at 11:41 AM on March 3, 2006


They were your friends, they have been for sixty years

My friends don't arrest women for appearing unveiled. Nor do they publish the anti-semetic hate tracts as fact. I have no desire for the friendship of such a country, and neither should America. America's mistake was in making friends with a loathsome dictatorship in exchange for oil, and it's a mistake we should correct.
posted by unreason at 11:48 AM on March 3, 2006


This aggressive and fundamentalist new approach you have to your friends (bardic) probably explains why you have so few.

What the hell?

Since you're claiming Saudi Arabia is so awesome maybe you could answer the following questions:

1. If she visits Saudi Arabia will she be able to drive a car?

2. Will she be able to attend Jewish services?

3. Will she be required to bring her own veil or will one be provided for her?

4. Can she bring a copy of the Torah? What are the consequences if she is caught with it?

5. Will she need to bring a male relative? Will she need to get his permission to travel to the kingdom?
posted by bshort at 12:08 PM on March 3, 2006


grahamwell, With "friends" like these, etc. I was trying to make the point that the US has allied itself with some loathsome regimes over the last few decades (Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam, anyone?). KSA is an oppressive police state where women are treated like pieces of furniture, at best. But the US buys their oil, so they are not just an ally, but a "partner" in fighting terrorism. Bush wonders why the rest of the world doesn't take his doctrine seriously--I don't.

Spare me your indignation.
posted by bardic at 12:22 PM on March 3, 2006


1. If she visits Saudi Arabia will she be able to drive a car?

Unclear. In the American compounds (Dahran, etc.) women are able to drive, but most likely not off-base or off-compound.

2. Will she be able to attend Jewish services?

No. KSA is a religious theocracy, and the only religion which is allowed to be practiced is Islam.

3. Will she be required to bring her own veil or will one be provided for her?

A veil is not necessary for Western women in KSA, but it would make life easier. One can be purchased very easily. It would only be 100% necessary to visit mosques and other holy places.

4. Can she bring a copy of the Torah? What are the consequences if she is caught with it?

Unclear. As a religious theocracy, non-Islamic religions books are banned, along with lots of other books. In practice, I have heard that it all depends on which guy is checking your luggage, or if it gets checked at all. 100 or even 20 copies of the bible or torah would probably get you expelled from the country immediately.

5. Will she need to bring a male relative? Will she need to get his permission to travel to the kingdom?

Western women are encouraged to be with a male relative at all times, but in practice I know several who lived in an American compound and travelled freely with friends or non-relatives. This sometimes brought questions from the religious police, but there is really very little they can do.

KSA is an oppressive police state where women are treated like pieces of furniture, at best.

It really is far more complex then that. It is definitelty an oppressive Monarchistic theocracy, but at the same time, women do have lives, education, and jobs. I once attended a forum which included 10 Saudi female doctors, one of whom was the head of surgery in her local hospital. Of course, her husband was a powerful minister of something or other. I don't mean to defend the Saudis, but it isn't as cut and dry as women are furniture, at best.
posted by chaz at 12:44 PM on March 3, 2006


In twenty years time it will just be like everywhere else.

That's certainly the Fukuyama "End of History" view -- that liberal democracy is the end result of human development. Then again, I would have thought that the United States would not regress significantly to the point that the description of those sheikhs sounds like a description of FOX News. I hope you're right -- because hoping you're right is the same as hoping that the US can return to its own path of increased tolerance and more firmly protected human rights. Up to this point, I would even have defended the alliance with Saudi Arabia as being necessary and natural because it would inevitably lead to liberalization. Now I wonder whether I believe that Saudi Arabia will instead become a nation that performs beheadings with laser rifles.

Which is the same thing as wondering whether we'll be pretty much the same thing.
posted by dhartung at 12:47 PM on March 3, 2006


.... and it's a mistake we should correct.

You're doing an excellent job. I think you can strike Saudi off the 'Holiday Card' list. I understand you're working on the UAE next (or at least Postroad is on your behalf ..). I hope it makes you feel better. I assume you've carefully thought through what losing these allies will mean.

And for other cultures, travel and broadening the mind, well there's always Disneyland. You'll like it, you'll be safe there.

bshort, just quickly, all those questions - are you asserting that these are inalienable human rights applicable everywhere at all times? I assume that you are. What if an entire society doesn't agree with you? You could say 'well this entire culture is just primitive and wrong'. Are you really comfortable with that? (or have I misunderstood). It may well be that we wake up one day and find that everyone agrees, all the important laws and customs are the same. Good news? Well maybe.

dhartung, the truly grotesque aspect of the beheadings and amputations is the ambulance, the state-of-the-art equipment and western doctors on standby to stop the bleeding. In a sense they are already there. Don't get me wrong, it is not awesome.
posted by grahamwell at 1:25 PM on March 3, 2006


Americans only travel to dictatorships or Disneyland? No. The Saudis no longer like the American regime? Bullshit. They'd crumble faster than Israel without American military aid and petro-dollars. The UAE? I really doubt they'll forget which side their bread is buttered upon any time soon. grahamwell, just what is your point? That the US is culturally insensitive? Agreed. The US would suffer without the totalitarian KSA as an ally? Define suffer--economically, yes America would in terms of oil price. However, the US would unburden itself of one of the many tyrannical states it likes to play "friends" with. There's no easy answer practically, but morally the choice is clear--don't lie down with evil. Worse, don't claim you're promoting democracy while lying in bed with said dictatorships.
posted by bardic at 2:16 PM on March 3, 2006


What if an entire society doesn't agree with you?

You mean, if they subjugate women and deny them basic human rights? Then they're certainly in the wrong.

Just because they hide behind their religon doesn't make their treatment of women or of other cultures ok.

You could say 'well this entire culture is just primitive and wrong'. Are you really comfortable with that?

Why yes, yes I am.

They are zealots whose minds have been warped by their religion. Tolerance for other societies doesn't mean that we should ignore how they treat memembers of their own societies.
posted by bshort at 2:53 PM on March 3, 2006


Are you calling Saudi Arabia evil? You sound just like Bush. Please, you do what you like, paint the world in bright simple colours and push a universalist view of good and evil, of right and wrong. See how far it gets you.

My point? I'd like to recover the virtue of nuance, of shades of gray, of complexity, development and struggle. The realisation that who you are and the culture that made you gives you a particular point of view, a point of view that can be an obstacle to understanding.

The abstract of the article which heads this post has been edited to make the whole thing look ridiculous. Reading the blog itself tells a different story, of a complex society in change, where there are lively and developing debates taking place - and the usual crop of fundamentalist headcases. I guess my point is that you should be open to that and appreciate that progress in other cultures may take different paths.

When you start talking about "Evil", doesn't it ring just the faintest of alarm bells?

"They are zealots whose minds have been warped by their religion."

Are you completely sure that that doesn't apply to you?
posted by grahamwell at 2:56 PM on March 3, 2006


grahamwell, How and/or why would Bush ever call his good family friends the Sauds evil? That's the whole point: Bush uses the term "evil" as one of convenience. I happen to think it has a definite meaning, as an antonym to "good and decent." I should clarify: I consider the Saudi regime to be evil, in the moral sense that any anti-woman, pro-totalitarian regime is. As for the Saudi people (I hesitate to call them citizens, because that would imply rights and treatment that 95% of the population doesn't have) I feel sorry for them. Because they live atop lots of oil, no American government is ever going to take their suffering and plight seriously, because it would be "rude" to upset our petroleum masters (speaking as an American).


How about this: the US would suffer without KSA oil. So, why doesn't the US do more to push a truthful democratic agenda on the House of Saud? You know, that ol' dimplomacy thing America used to be famous for before the unilateral fuckwittery of Iraq Invasion part deux? The Bush administration went for a hail-Mary pass in Iraq, and it blew up in their face. In the meantime, they didn't even go for the easiest of advances with regards to democratically-challenged regimes like Egypt, Israel, KSA, and others (different circumstances for each I realize, but they could all do a much better job). We have to be allies with these folks, for better or worse. Why not put some pressure on them beyond the occassional three-day junket by Condi?

In any event, I think we're speaking past each other a bit. I hope I've made my position clearer.
posted by bardic at 3:32 PM on March 3, 2006


Are you calling Saudi Arabia evil?

Are you replying to me or to bardic?

Are you completely sure that that doesn't apply to you?

Why yes, yes I am.

I am an atheist, but I believe that humans have rights and that enslavement, discrimination and subjugation are wrong. And, as a corollary, that people and countries that practice those things are wrong as well.

With your relativism you could excuse any number of abominations.

The holocaust? Well, who are we to say the Nazis were wrong?

Slavery? That was the custom of the South, and hey, the Bible is completely fine with slavery, even telling slave owners how they should treat their property.

Cannibalism? How can you deny me my religious practices?
posted by bshort at 3:38 PM on March 3, 2006


Does anyone reads the post, the comments, and blogs found in there?
posted by semmi at 4:46 PM on March 3, 2006


More about the book fair and what happened to the female authors at the Religious Policeman blog. ( He often quotes Saudi jeans, Semmi)

'Ancient traditions which pre-date Islam' does not cover these puritanical religious excesses. They derive from the 18th century Sunni reform movement founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahab which is the basis of the Saudi state. This is an extremist interpretation of Islam which demonises other Muslims as heretics and infidels, never mind its other obvious failings towards women and non-muslims.

I suppose hating Shia muslims and encouraging violence against them must be another one of those cute ancient traditions that 'pre-dates Islam' that people supposedly ought to respect. I think the Shia might have another point of view on that...
posted by Flitcraft at 6:48 PM on March 3, 2006


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