Another story sure to warm the hearts of the majority of Saudis! Perhaps humiliation is the right punishment for young men hitting on—and humiliating—women. But dragging in religious precepts about ‘men emulating women’ because they have long hair? How about settling for ‘bad taste’?
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) – A governor in northern Saudi Arabia has ordered authorities to punish men who flirt with women in public places by cutting their hair, local media said Tuesday.
Prince Fahd bin Badr, governor of the northern al-Jof region, ordered police to carry out the punishment after seeing a group of men with long hair pestering female students as they left school in the northern al-Qurayat province, Al-Hayat newspaper said.
It said the prince told a gathering at his palace in the northern town of Skaka on Sunday he has instructed police to apply the punishment to all youths guilty of flirting, including “the sons of senior military and civil officials.”
… Saudi Arabia has long imposed a strict Islamic lifestyle in which men and women are segregated in public. That lifestyle is enforced by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, a government body that runs the country’s powerful religious police.
Its members patrol public places to make sure women are covered and not wearing make up, the sexes don’t mingle, shops close five times a day for Muslim prayers and men go to the mosque and worship.
Many clergymen in this conservative Gulf country say men should not have long hair because Islam prohibits the sexes from emulating each other.
The British have a colloquial phrase, ‘gobsmacked,’ meaning to be struck dumb by the absurdity of a situation. Consider me gobsmacked by this Arab News story.
Here, the head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Ibrahim Al-Gaith, says that the media has some sort of agenda to malign the Commission. He points specifically at the Western media. I haven’t a clue what he means, unless, perhaps, he means the media in the western part of Saudi Arabia: Jeddah and Abha.
Even if one considers, say, this blog to be Western media, my sources are the Saudi media in commenting on the Commission.
Al-Gaith seems to believe that the media exaggerates and takes the actions of a few to be representative of the Commission as a whole. Perhaps there is misreporting, sometimes, in the media. That, I would argue, is primarily due to the skills of particular writers, not necessarily a vendetta.
As far as the behavior of Commission members goes, well the behavior of a few bad ones will certainly make the whole look bad. Al-Gaith says that 95% of actions by the Commission are handled ‘in secret’ and do not lead to police involvement. That could very well be true. That does not mean, however, that the members are behaving properly.
I’ve not had many run-ins with the mutaawa, happily. Those I have had, or have been witness to, have not been polite. The members have not behaved gently. Particularly when involving foreign laborers, the members have acted like thugs who knew they were immune to criticism, never mind punishment. They shout, they shove, they shame those they descend upon. They have no ‘cultural sensitivity’ and no sense that other people may be behaving extremely morally, just in a manner different from Saudi norms.
Al-Gaith says that there are many new program designed to train Commission members in proper and polite behavior. I hope so. But he must realize that the bad behavior of the past has created an extremely negative image of the Commission. It has a long road to walk itself back to a position of respect. The way is so long, in fact, that many believe it would be better for the Commission to just pack it in and close up shop.
Moral guidance is not a bad thing in itself. When it turns into abuse, however, it is a very bad thing, counterproductive to its intended aims.
Media Deliberately Trying to Malign Us, Says Commission Chief
Badea Abu Al-Naja, Arab News
MAKKAH, 30 April 2008 — Western media is deliberately trying to malign the commission for unknown reasons, said the national head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in a wide ranging interview with Arab News.
“Or else, why should a respectable institution be denigrated because a few of its officials committed some judgmental errors?” said Ibrahim Al-Ghaith, the commission president.
Speaking about criticism that the commission goes beyond its jurisdiction and trespasses into people’s private lives, Al-Ghaith said such generalizations were unfair. “Interior Minister Prince Naif recently said that the commission is a governmental department and is prone to making mistakes like other departments,” he said.
“He said that it is wrong to suppose that the commission intentionally commits mistakes and that in other government departments, an erring commission official, not the whole establishment, would be held accountable for his own mistakes,” added Al-Ghaith. “Prince Naif also said that any attempt to inflate a department’s minor mistake would not be tolerated.”
The commission chief also wondered why some sections of the media, particularly in the West, are hostile to the commission, which only aims to persuade people to adhere to their religion and prevent them from morally lapsing.
Khaleej Times runs this article on efforts by the Saudi Control & Investigation Board to ensure that Saudi bureaucrats are in their offices when they’re supposed to be. While not as cumbersome as some bureaucracies—I’m thinking of India and Egypt as good examples of bad bureaucracies—the Saudi version has its own problems, starting with empty offices. Whether the Board can address the issue of constant interruptions from office visitors and phone calls remains an open question…
JEDDAH — It is said that they also serve who wait and watch. But when it comes to government servants at large, anywhere in the world, they more or less just wait and watch.
Realising this, the Control and Investigation Board has issued a circular instructing government employees in Saudi Arabia to strictly follow their working hours or face punitive action.
The board, which was established to monitor activities of government departments and employees and their performance, reports directly to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.
The circular, which has been sent to ministries and government departments, told public servants that arrival at and leaving of offices would be strictly monitored to make sure they follow the working hours.
The board has insisted that officials holding high positions must be the first to follow their duty hours to set a good example for others. “Nobody is allowed to arrive late at offices even by five minutes and to leave before the end of duty hours,” it added.
The circular contained a list of officials who have been found not following their working hours in the past. “No leniency will be shown to employees who do not abide by official instructions,” it said.
The spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Interior proves a bit more forthcoming than the Deputy Minister in answering the question of why Saudi blogger Fuad Al-Farhan was jailed. According to this Christian Science Monitor article, it seems that he was alleged to have libeled an influential Saudi. As is usual, though, the details are lacking.
The writer of the piece gets in touch with several Saudi bloggers, including Saudi Jeans (the go-to guy in the KSA!) and Khalid al-Dossary, who blogs at www.mashi97.com and who hopes this is the last of the arrests of bloggers.
Saudi official: why popular blogger Farhan was jailed
Fouad Farhan, arrested Dec. 10, was released Saturday
after being held for more than four months without charges
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – A senior Saudi official for the first time today elaborated on why a popular Saudi blogger – released Saturday from detention – was held without charges for more than four months.
“We have … what we call electronic crimes – any kind of violation related to computer and technology and so on,” Interior Ministry spokesman Gen. Mansour Al Turki told the Monitor when asked why Fouad Farhan had been jailed.
“And I believe his main case was like violating personal rights…. Like when I go for example on the Internet or I go on any electronic media and I use your name and your personality and I criticize … or offend you without being able to introduce evidence of what I’m saying.”
Mr. Turki’s comments were the first time that any Saudi official had gone beyond the vague official explanation that Mr. Farhan’s detention stemmed from his alleged violation of rules unrelated to state security.
The Washington Post runs this piece by its national security writer about how Al-Qaeda is beginning to lose the battle for ‘hearts and minds’ in the Islamic world. Whether this is a result of its own misguided efforts or of government efforts to publicize those missteps is, of course, open to debate.
Regardless, the article points to evidence that Al-Qaeda is losing the battle, including various statements by Saudi clerics forbidding foreign jihad or directly condemning the acts of Al-Qaeda as un-Islamic in and of themselves. Not exactly the kind of article I normally find in the Post‘s coverage of the region.
The top White House terrorism expert thinks some gains are being made in the worldwide public relations battle against al-Qaeda, as the administration and its overseas allies press efforts to show that Osama bin Laden’s network is killing Muslim civilians rather than defending its interests.
“More and more Muslim and Arab populations — [including] clerics and scholars — are questioning the value of al-Qaeda’s program,” Juan Carlos Zarate, deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism, said Wednesday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The efforts he described are in line with plans that Michael E. Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, discussed in February before the same organization. Leiter, who is responsible for strategic communications planning in the fight against terrorism, said the goal is “to prevent the next generation of terrorists from emerging.”
A Saudi undercover policeman is angry at the behavior of some religious police and he’s not taking it any more, reports Arab News. It relays the story of an undercover cop who was with a group of friends, camping off the highway in the desert. While it’s not clear whether his group instigated the encounter, it’s pretty clear that the young men were offended by the way they were treated, including physical abuse. The religious police either didn’t know or didn’t care that one of the men was a policeman and badly insulted him. He’s seeking retribution.
What’s perfectly clear in this article is that the young men say their view of the religious police has drastically changed as a result of the encounter: “If we used to believe that these people’s job was to spread righteousness in society, we now think the opposite.”
Undercover Officer Complains of Mistreatment by Vice Cops
Raid Qusti, Arab News
RIYADH, 28 April 2008 — An undercover Saudi intelligence officer filed an official complaint yesterday at the Governorate of Riyadh for allegedly being sworn at, humiliated and offended by members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice while he was accompanied by his friends at the Thumama desert area early Thursday morning.
The officer alleges that he and his friends were accused of being “scum” as well as “not being brought up in a proper way” when he tried to interfere to prevent one of his colleagues from being beaten.
Who knows? In this Arab News report on a press conference held by the Deputy Interior Minister Pr. Ahmed, he tells us only that Fuad ‘made a mistake’. What that mistake was, the official just isn’t saying.
The Deputy Minister does offer more information on other matters of concern, however. He notes that many of the Saudis who have gone to Iraq intended to help the Iraqi people. Instead, he says, they have harmed them. He also states that an unnamed foreign labor contingent—assumed to be Bangladeshis—is not responsible for the recently increased crime rate.
JEDDAH, 28 April 2008 — Deputy Interior Minister Prince Ahmed said yesterday that the media had exaggerated the case of Saudi blogger Fouad Al-Farhan, adding that he was arrested for mistakes he had committed.
“The issue (of Al-Farhan) was not that important as it represented the mistake committed by a person on himself. A man who commits a mistake should bear its result,” the Saudi Press Agency quoted the prince as saying.
Prince Ahmed did not confirm whether Al-Farhan had been released after his arrest four months ago. However, Al-Farhan’s wife told Arab News on Saturday that he had been released from Jeddah’s Dahban Prison. Al-Farhan was detained on Dec. 10 for violating the Kingdom’s regulations, an official statement said but no charges were pressed against him.
Arab News reports Saudi Minister of Labor Ghazi Al-Gosaibi’s criticism of Saudi society in the way it overprotects women and ends up harming them and society as a whole. His target is that conservative group of Saudis who take umbrage at the idea of Saudi women taking up domestic work: work as maids.
He implies that the hiring of Saudi women for such work should be easy and certainly would be smart. Not only would it avoid the need to import 1.5 million foreign women into the country, it would enable Saudi women who want the work to take on the responsibility they want to take in supporting themselves. He finds nothing in Islam to forbid Saudis from taking on domestic labor, only social anxiety about it.
Al-Gosaibi says that it’s not the role of his Ministry to fight efforts by foreign governments to set minimum wages for their nationals working in the Kingdom. Those who insist on foreign workers will have to deal with higher wages or find cheaper labor.
Interestingly, Al-Gosaibi threw water on the idea of an ‘unemployment’ benefit for Saudis who simply choose not to work. He sees it as supporting unwanted behavior. There are sufficient paid training programs available, he says, such that no Saudi need be unemployed.
Too Many Guardians Hindering Society’s Progress: Al-Gosaibi
Raid Qusti, Arab News
RIYADH, 28 April 2008 — Labor Minister Ghazi Al-Gosaibi yesterday criticized people who reject the idea of Arab and Saudi women working as maids in Saudi households.
“We are a society which is full of guardians,” Al-Gosaibi told reporters while answering a question about a proposal to have Egyptian housemaids in Saudi homes, as suggested by the Egyptian minister of labor.
“The Prophet (peace be upon him) said that all of you are guardians and that every guardian is responsible for his family. He did not say all of you are guardians for entire society,” said Al-Gosaibi.
The minister, who was surrounded by reporters when he met officials from Saudi Arabia’s governmental rights watchdog, the Human Rights Commission (HRC), said his ministry could not interfere if Saudi women, due to difficult financial conditions, wished to work as cleaners and cooks in people’s homes.
The New York Times gives us this fascinating piece on Irshad Manji and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, two of the better known (in the West) female critics of Islam. The article focuses on the similarities and differences between the two, all the while noting that neither has much of a following in the Islamic world itself. It’s interesting to note that both, while not seeing feminism as the central point of their argument, do see is as a major factor. More interesting is how one seeks the reform of Islam from the inside while the other seeks to push it to the margins of the philosophical world. Both view the influence of Arabs—and particularly Saudis—as negative.
Very much worth reading.
AYAAN HIRSI ALI and Irshad Manji are two of the most prominent and outspoken critics of what they and others see as “mainstream Islam.” Brilliant, dynamic women — the overused word “charismatic” is not inappropriate for either one — they have each rebelled against a Muslim upbringing to become public figures with large and devoted followings. Both are successful authors: Ms. Hirsi Ali’s autobiography, “Infidel,” was a New York Times best seller; Ms. Manji’s combination memoir-polemic, “The Trouble With Islam Today,” has been published in almost 30 countries. They are firm and unyielding in their support for the West, feminism, reason, freedom — and they have paid a price: both have been targets of death threats and have required protection; in Ms. Hirsi Ali’s case, around-the-clock protection.
Yet though they are allies on one level, their approaches to Islam are strikingly different, with one working outside the religion and one within. Neither one can be considered a spokeswoman for a significant Muslim constituency in the Middle East. (Indeed, their most sympathetic audiences are probably Western.) But their differences have implications for all the big issues the West grapples with in considering the Muslim world. How much popular support do terrorists have? Is a secular Middle East possible, and what’s the best way to promote it? Is Islam itself an enemy of the West?
Ms. Hirsi Ali is an avowed atheist whose criticisms can be seen as attacks not only on radical Islamism but on the religion of Islam over all. George W. Bush was wrong, she says, when he announced that Islam was being held hostage by a terrorist minority: “Islam is being held hostage by itself.” About the 9/11 attacks, she declared: “This is Islam,” and “not just Islam, this was the core of Islam.” The attacks forced her to decide “which side was I on?” she writes in “Infidel.” And further, “Where did I stand on Islam?” Her book is the story of how she chose the West.
For Ms. Manji, there has been no such either-or choice. She is a practicing Muslim who — though she can be as caustic about her coreligionists as Ms. Hirsi Ali — seeks to change her faith from within. As founder and director of the Moral Courage Project at New York University, she assists other maverick writers and scholars who dissent within their communities. “What I want,” Ms. Manji has said, “is an Islamic Reformation,” and in contrast to Ms. Hirsi Ali, she adds, there is “no need to choose between Islam and the West.”
In reference to a piece posted earlier, on the way Saudi clerics were urging parental responsibility in the face of modern video games, here’s a piece from The Washington Post on that very topic. With a new version of ‘Grand Theft Auto’, perhaps the most criticized of contemporary games, the writer notes a new book on the topic of children and violent video games. The book, Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do, claims that earlier studies linking the games with later bad behavior are seriously flawed. The bottom line of both the book and this article is that parents need to be on top of what their kids are doing. Video games are not a cheap replacement for either babysitters or good parents. Worth reading, if the subject is of interest to you.
Here’s a brief history of the efforts to silence others—and their results—written by Mshari Al-Zaydi for Asharq Alawsat. He gives an overview of excommunication/takfir/herem in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism and sees it as a tool used by those who cannot argue, so instead seek to end the debate through force majeure.
He points out that while Egypt has been particularly active in this regard, Salafis are far from immune. And while Christianity brutally punished the excommunicated, it moved away from it, with the help of the excommunicated Jew Spinosa. Definitely worth reading.
Any shrewd observer knows that there is a crisis of communication and dialogue in the Arab world on numerous levels since intellectual trends and political groups seek to invalidate one another.
When Arab societies lose control they launch attacks of a destructive nature and this is happening amongst the intellectual elite.
This is the case in Iraq, Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
However, the gravest danger of these wars of invalidation on both the intellectual and cultural levels is that regarding religion and the opposing intellectual’s “elimination” from the group in the same way that pre-Islamic Arabs would deal with the vagabond poets [As-Su’luk].
After having been ostracized by his tribe, one vagabond poet [Tarfa Ibnul Abd] said:
I was isolated like a quarantined camel!
Saudi blogger Fuad al-Farhan has been released from jail, according to Saudi Jeans (Fouad Released) and The Australian newspaper.
As is rather typical, no comment from government sources…
And here’s Arab News‘s take on the story: Saudi Blogger Farhan Freed From Prison
Here’s The Washington Post‘s Saudi correspondent’s report: Saudi Activist Blogger Freed After 4 Months in Jail Without Charge.
New stories will be posted as new, not updates.
A SAUDI blogger detained without charge for more than four months after expressing pro-reform opinions has been released, a colleague says.
Fouad Farhan was detained in early December after running an online campaign over 10 men arrested since February 2007 on suspicion of financing militant groups, but whose supporters say they are being punished for pro-democracy activity.
“I received a mobile phone message from his wife at 5.30 this morning saying he was released,” said Ahmed al-Omran, who published the news on his website (www.saudijeans.org).
“It was surprising. After blocking his website, I thought his detention would go on longer. It’s good news.”
Saudi authorities blocked Farhan’s website (www.alfarhan.org) earlier this month.
An Interior Ministry spokesman said he would not confirm Farhan’s release. The ministry had declined to say on what charges he was arrested, but said it was not security related.
Saud Arabia, a key US ally, has no political parties or elected parliament, and many web forums calling for reforms have been blocked by the government.
An Islamist preacher was detained for nearly two weeks in 2006 for an Internet article that criticised government ministers.