Iraqi Militants Target Children

Naseer Al-Nahr • Arab News

BAGHDAD, 1 October 2004 — Insurgents stooped to a new low when they killed 34 children gathered to collect candies after the opening of a new sewage plant in the Iraqi capital.

For those looking for Arab condemnation of terrorist attacks, here’s a good place to start.

September:30:2004 - 19:24 | Comments Off | Permalink

THE BELGRAVIA DISPATCH: Arabian Tall-Tales and Myths

In drawing what appeared to be the loudest cheer of the day, he faulted the Bush administration for protecting Saudi Arabia’s interests despite allegations that the country has aided terrorists. The criticism suggested Kerry is not afraid to embrace one of the most stinging themes of the film Fahrenheit 9/11, produced by liberal filmmaker Michael Moore.

John Kerry, taking his foreign policy talking points, quite underwhelmingly, straight from the annals of Fahrenheit 9/11.

The Belgravia Dispatch is an excellent web log, written by Gred Djerejian, out of London. In this post he takes on the canard offered by Michael Moore–and now part of the John Kerry campaign–that there’s evil doings in the US-Saudi relationship. His post goes on to quote Mike Doran, an academic from Princeton Univ., who has a far more “nuanced” view of the relationship. While I don’t agree completely with Doran, he at least understands the complexity of both Saudi Arabia and the bilateral relationship. Definitely worth reading, and following the links.

September:30:2004 - 19:10 | Comments Off | Permalink

Editorial: Release of Hostages

BEFORE they released them this week, the kidnappers of the two Italian charity workers apparently apologized and gave each of the women a box of sweets. According to the two hostages, shortly after their kidnap when their abductors had discovered that they were aid volunteers simply engaged in helping ordinary Iraqis rebuild their shattered lives and in no way connected with the occupation forces, they were “treated with warmth”.

Again, the Arab News comes down on the realistic side of the problem of hostages. No amount of giving in to terrorist’s–or commercial kidnappers’–demands will stop the problem.

Now the paper needs to take the next intellectual step: giving in to terror, no matter what guise it takes, will not lead to a solution. This applies to those that use suicide bombings, car bombs, or ambushes in order to thwart progress in Iraq or Palestine, in India or the Philippines, in Indonesia or New York.

September:30:2004 - 00:38 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

The Joy of Abuse

Dr. Mohammad T. Al-Rasheed

Touch a sensitive nerve with the Saudis and they start oozing like pus from an inflamed pimple. Last week’s article about the customs services brought out a deluge of letters. Some were printed in the letters sections but the real interesting ones arrived privately. I understand the reader’s right to answer, but I am interested in the thinking and/or the attitude behind what is going on.

To get an idea of why I’m so fond of Dr. Al-Rasheed’s columns, take a look at this one. There’s nothing quite like a bit of righteous sarcasm at the end of the day.

The good Doctor takes on the critics of an earlier article, Tiring Customs, in which he laments the horror that passing through Saudi Customs can be. In the original article, he took on the small minds in Customs. In this one, he tackles the smaller minds that apologize for them. Really delightful snarkiness!

September:30:2004 - 00:34 | Comments Off | Permalink

Profiling a Bush Voter

Jane Novak, Arab News

There has been much debate and speculation in the media in the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere as to the identity of the “Bush voter.” The large majority of analyses has been wildly absurd, from the notion that a hard core of evangelicals wanting Armageddon is the true face, to the old theories that only a stupid and manipulated American electorate could support President Bush.

The estimable Jane Novak, of Armies of Liberation blog, has an op-ed in today’s issue of Arab News. In it, she brings a great deal of light which will probably blind many Saudis–not to mention an awful lot of expats. The idea that “George Bush is stupid” is a popular one in the kingdom. Nor is there much respect for the US in any regard… “too young to have a culture”, “McDonalidization”, “shallow and unintellectual”.

While I could blame mass media for this mass delusion, and God knows satellite TV has a lot to explain, the arrogance of this attitude is sometimes pretty galling. The sound of rent garments and gnashing teeth will be decibels beyond belief if Bush is re-elected.

September:30:2004 - 00:30 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Mystery Shrouds Flight of Three Sisters to Holland From Bahrain

M. Ghazanfar Ali Khan, Arab News

RIYADH, 30 September 2004 — Three teenage sisters, visiting Bahrain from Saudi Arabia, absconded to Holland without their parents’ consent. The reason behind the mysterious disappearance of the runaway girls, who were carrying their passports, is not known.

A very interesting article, this. At first blush, for a Westerner, it looks like “Saudi girls bolt to freedom”. As the article makes clear, however, this isn’t the only possible interpretation. Saudi Arabia has had a problem with the trafficking of women and has been written up in State Dept’s annual report on the topic. But they have also been doing something to address the problem. Trafficking in women and children is a serious problem, globally, which even the US admits to. Good article.

September:30:2004 - 00:24 | Comments Off | Permalink

Grand Mufti Slams Trading in Camera Cell Phones

JEDDAH, 30 September 2004 — The grand mufti has condemned as un-Islamic trading in camera-equipped mobile phones which can take “illicit” pictures, Al-Madinah newspaper reported yesterday. Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh said such phones “could be exploited to photograph and spread vice in the community.”

This story, I think, tells a very focused look at the turmoil that Saudi Arabia is going through as it attempts to balance modernization with tradition and religion. According to the article, Saudi law does not, in fact, prohibit the ownership of camera-enabled cell phones. It severely proscribes, however, the use to which they can be put. Here, the religious leadership is taking a matter which would normally be secular and making it a matter of religion. The problem of these camera-phones is one that we’re aware of, even in the US; new laws are being written to curtail abuses. The problem is a mutual one; the solutions are idiosyncratic.

September:30:2004 - 00:11 | Comments Off | Permalink

Editorial: Electoral Shenanigans

George W. Bush won the US presidency by a margin of only 537 votes. That was the extent of his victory in the complex and unsettling muddle that was the Florida count in 2000. Even die-hard Republicans found it hard to allege that the punch card ballot machines used in the state and the erratic registration of voters were not ideal. Nevertheless the Supreme Court ruled that the recounting had to stop and thus Al Gore lost his bid to succeed his boss Bill Clinton in the White House.

…It is nevertheless disturbing to outsiders that the future direction of the world’s only superpower could perhaps hang on a thin thread of electoral shenanigans….

Former President Jimmy Carter’s absurd comments about the electoral process in Florida has certainly made its way overseas. This Arab News editorial is actually a far more rational discussion than Carter had to offer, but it still aligns itself with those who think the 2000 election was a “selection” by the Supreme Court. But seeing that the Saudis main access to the US is through American media, this isn’t altogether surprising. It’s sad, though.

September:28:2004 - 19:58 | Comments Off | Permalink

Talking Not Allowed

Sulaiman Al-Hatlan • Al-Watan

The Council of Ministers recently warned government employees against opposing state policies and programs through statements, speeches or on TV talk shows. The warning said that violators would be liable to punishment in accordance with the law. The relevant law, according to the ministers, will be applied to any employee — civilian or military — who opposes state policies through direct or indirect participation.

As this article from the Arabic Al-Watan, translated by Arab News makes clear, the issue of free speech is one that’s debated even in Saudi Arabia, a country not previously noted for its liberality. Here, the government is requiring–as does the US–that if government employees cannot support the policy and actions of the government, they do not have a right to both collect a government salary and criticize it. Stay inside and work within the system, or leave and work outside it, those are the choices.

The writer makes the very good point that much of the general administration and infrastructure of the country are, indeed, governmental: universities, ARAMCO, even the Shoura Council. The best results would come from the privatization of most of these, of course. But until then, the government does need to clarify its intent.

September:28:2004 - 19:53 | Comments Off | Permalink

Ancram Hints at Curbing Dissident Activity in UK

Javid Hassan, Arab News

RIYADH, 29 September 2004 — Michael Ancram, the British Conservative shadow foreign secretary, has not ruled out the possibility of amending the law to curb dissident activities in Britain so long as they are within a balanced mix of rights and responsibilities

…Asked about the possibility of reviewing the British law in the light of the observations of Crown Prince Abdullah regarding the free hand given to Saudi dissidents in Britain, Ancram said: “I will go back and look at our legal system in the light of what we have heard and look at where the law stands at present. Certain laws are in the process of being changed.”

Asked if it does not rule out the possibility of the laws being amended, Ancram said it is important to reconcile the need for preventing terrorism with that of safeguarding the rights of the people to freedom of speech. “You have to get the balance right. And where the balance is wrong, you have to re-balance it.”.

For at least 20 years, the Saudi government has been after the British government to tighten their laws on dissident activity. It’s easy to say that by quieting dissident voices, the Saudis can only gain. There’s truth to that. But a point they have been making all along is also becoming clearer in its wisdom. Freedom of speech is well and good. But there are limits. Certain Saudi and other Arab/Islamic dissidents have been taking advantage of the looseness of British law to encourage and promote terrorism.

It’s a very fine line between oppression of free speech and prohibiting illegal speech. Even defining the difference is fraught with hazards, as the arguments about the US “Patriot’s Act” makes clear. This is a story worth following.

September:28:2004 - 19:49 | Comments Off | Permalink

Three Held in Murder of Frenchman

Roger Harrison, Arab News

JEDDAH, 29 September 2004 — Police have arrested three men suspected of involvement in the killing of French engineer Laurent Barbot in Jeddah early Sunday morning. The Ministry of Interior spokesman, Brig. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, confirmed the arrests.

“Three suspects were arrested and police are still searching for a fourth,” he said yesterday.

September:28:2004 - 19:48 | Comments Off | Permalink

Three Women Nominate Themselves for Municipal Elections

Abeer Mishkhas & Rasheed Abou-Alsamh, Arab News

JEDDAH, 29 September 2004 — Three Saudi women have nominated themselves as candidates in the upcoming municipal elections. There has not yet been, however, a clear decision as to whether women will be allowed to participate in the elections. Nadia Bakhurji, Fatin Bundagji and Fatma Al-Khereiji all spoke to Arab News in exclusive interviews, discussing their aims and platforms.

Saudi women are moving to fill the vacuum created by the ambiguity of new election laws. They laws don’t specifically exclude them–it uses grammar that supports interpretations of either “only men” or “men and women”. Absent any clearer, official reading of the law, the women are saying, “we’re in”. There’s still room for “official clarification”, of course, but at this point the women hold the upper hand.

September:28:2004 - 19:45 | Comments Off | Permalink
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