Arab News runs a piece on the problems photojournalists face in Saudi Arabia. While Saudi law does prohibit photographing certain places for security reasons, Saudi culture is far more widely averse to having pictures taken. Most of the professionals find a way to get around the problems—usually by talking to the people who might be caught in the frame—but sometimes ignorance of the law just prevents the shot.

One photographer says he uses Photoshop to ‘put in backgrounds’. I think that’s a pretty horrible way to go about it as it leaves every photograph, by every photographer, open to charges of editing to promote an agenda.

The right to photograph isn’t restricted only in Saudi Arabia, properly or not. Both the US and UK have seen authorities go far beyond what the law restricts, often ending up in both civil and criminal trials. One trial, concluded earlier this week in the state of Maryland, saw a judge overturn an indictment against a motorcyclist who recorded his being stopped by an out-of-uniform police officer for traffic law violations. The policeman (and the state) claimed that the recording violated the state’s wiretapping laws. The judge found quite otherwise.

Photographers struggle to take photos in public

It’s hard to be a Saudi photographer, thanks to problems that arise when police or citizens raise objections to raising the camera. Even people trying to take pictures of their family and friends in public face these problems.

Oday Abid, a Saudi freelance photographer, says the authorities and members of the public are his greatest concern when taking pictures.

“Many of them become emotional and try to stop us, even forcibly,” he said.

The only secure way to take pictures in peace here is to ensure you aren’t pointing the camera at people or at sensitive assets, like government buildings or housing compounds.

“I usually avoid taking pictures in public or in places packed with people because people are always suspicious thinking that I might take pictures of them,” said Saudi photographer Dhahi Al-Ali.

September:30:2010 - 08:18 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia, as many other countries, continues to struggle with the question of when a person dies. According to a fatwa issued in 1988—and still operative—brain death signals the end of a life. A person whose brain no longer demonstrates brain activity beyond the most primitive, is assumed to be dead and can be taken off of life support.

Now, according to Arab News, a panel of experts is seeking to revise that, instead making heart activity the determinative. If a person’s heart still beats, without assistance, then the person is still alive. They call for a new fatwa to embrace this ‘new understanding’. Now, I’m aware of religious controversy over ‘brain’ v. ‘heart’ death; here’s a discussion of it from the point of Jewish law. The US case of Terri Schiavo, which ended in 2005, shows that there is dispute within Christian circles as well.

Now, I’m all for debate on this topic. There is serious scientific, medical discussion over just when a person dies. (See this piece from the New England Journal of Medicine.) The arguments raised in the Journal article, though, seem very different from those being made here.

Abdulgader said these electromagnetic waves are similar to airwaves. “What do you do when you turn on your television or radio. You basically try to catch a certain frequency and when that is matched there is communication — the radio and the television come alive. The same is the case with our heart waves. When it matches a certain frequency it is able to communicate with the higher force in life,” he said.

This sound a little woo-woo to me. ‘Heart waves’? Really? ‘A halo of light around the heart while it is beating.’ Really? I’m not sure that taking 7th C. understanding of physiology is a sound step, either.

I’d like to see more discussion of the issue, but I think it gravely premature to change the current ruling on the issue.

Expert calls for new fatwa on brain dead

AL-HASA: A leading Saudi medical expert, known in the global scientific community for his pioneering research in cardiology, has called on the Kingdom’s Islamic scholars to revise their ruling on terminating the life of a person who is “clinically dead” or “brain dead.”

“As long as a patient’s heart is beating there is no reason for us to take him or her off the ventilator,” said Dr. Abdullah A. Abdulgader, director of the Prince Sultan Cardiac Center in Al-Hasa.

Abdulgader said his view is based on research carried out by top cardiologists who are attending a three-day international conference on advanced cardiac sciences in this historic Saudi city.

“Everyone who is attending this conference, including professor Franz Halberg of the University of Minnesota and Dr. Rollin McCraty of California’s Institute of Heartmath, believes that the heart is where life is. As long as the heart is functioning a person should be considered as being alive. All these experts are of the unanimous view that the heart, not the brain, is the king of organs,” he said. “And all of them are basing their judgment on impeccable research.”

September:29:2010 - 08:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (8) | Permalink

Souk Okaz, an attempt to recapitulate the annual cultural mixtures that enriched early Saudi society, has started. Poetry competitions and recitations, always a mainstay of the Souk, are being supplemented with newer art forms like theater and photography.

Souk Okaz fair: Culture at its best

JEDDAH: Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal opened the fourth annual Souk Okaz fair on Tuesday night on behalf of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.

The five-day event is a replica of the pre-Islamic fair that used to take place in Al-Arfa area of Taif. The event, before Islam, used to be frequented by poets who would gather to recite Arabic poetry. The best of these poems would then be hung on the wall of the Kaaba and included seven famous ones known as the “Saba’a Muallaqat,” which are still taught to students of Arabic literature.

… Prince Khaled and his accompanying delegation toured the Souk following the opening. The market includes sections in which handmade products are on display, traditional dishes are being served and Arabic prose and poetry recited. The market also includes a theater, camels and horses, folk dances, an antiques exhibition, tents, and rock canvases containing verses from famous poems.

Coverage from Saudi Gazette is similar:

Souq Okaz festival kicks off

September:29:2010 - 08:18 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink, the online news amalgamator, reports on an interesting legal case. An American Muslim has been convicted of kidnapping and sexually assaulting his wife. His arguments—at one time accepted by a lower court—were that his behavior was withing the traditional bounds of his culture. A higher court disagreed and sent him back for a new trial.

I do not doubt that many Muslims share this man’s belief that he was behaving correction and appropriately. Indeed, his behavior would not raise many eyebrows in more than a few countries. He is not, however, being railroaded by an anti-Muslim judicial system. Rather, the State of New Jersey is applying its laws uniformly and noting that personal beliefs, including religious beliefs, do not hold a higher value than laws generated by a state or country’s own values.

I don’t know whether we’ll be seeing YouTube videos calling for the President to pardon this man. He may have enough friends to make that happen. Bus, as in the case of Homaidan Al-Turki, the arguments will be no more persuasive. The just observation of human rights—including the right of women to say no to sex—is considered far more worthy of protection than an individual’s perception of what is permissible.

Bayonne husband convicted of sexually assaulting wife;
she testified he told her “this is according to our religion”

A Bayonne man faces up to 20 years in prison after being convicted of kidnapping and sexually assaulting his wife, whom he met for the first time at their wedding in Morocco in 2008.

The case made headlines in August when an appeals court reversed a ruling by Hudson County Superior Court Judge Joseph Charles, who refused to give the wife a restraining order even though the judge concluded there was “clear proof” the husband engaged in nonconsensual sex with her in November 2008 and January 2009.

Charles, a former assemblyman and state senator, said he did not feel the husband “had a criminal desire to or intent to sexually assault . He was operating under his belief that it is, as the husband, his desire to have sex when and whether he wanted to, was consistent with his practices and was something that was not prohibited.”

The appellate court’s June 23 reversal said Charles was “mistaken” in his theory that the husband’s personal belief system trumped state statutes against rape.

September:28:2010 - 11:59 | Comments & Trackbacks (17) | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat reports that discussion are underway concerning the creation of a Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Saudi Arabia. In one sense, this isn’t a good thing: it tends continues the already exaggerated segregation of women and men. In another sense, though, it does raise the status of women in general and would double the number of women in the Saudi Cabinet. There is no argument, I would think, that women do face different challenges than men, though sometimes a little too much is made of those differences, IMO. Many countries, though not the US, do have ministries dedicated to women’s affairs. The issues facing Saudi women, though, are so different, from those facing Saudi men, often uniquely so, that I believe this proposed ministry is a necessity.

Saudi Looks into Possible Ministry for Women’s Affairs
Iman Al-Khattaf

Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat- The establishment of a Ministry of Women’s Affairs’ in the Kingdom could soon be a reality, Asharq al Awsat can reveal.

Sources revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that this proposal has been brought to the attention of higher authorities lately, after it was recommended in a study commissioned by the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce. The proposal is expected to initiate a qualitative shift for Saudi women, and will perhaps mark a turning point between the period before the Ministry, and the future.

The proposal was revealed by Dr Basmah Umayr, the Executive Director of Al-Sayyidah Khadijah Bint Khuwaylid Center in the Jeddah Chamber, without giving a timeframe for its implementation. She said that the Women’s Ministry would contribute to “the transportation of women to [the level] of decision-making”. When asked about the problem of overlapping jurisdiction with other groups and ministries involved in providing services for women, she denied that this would be the case. “There will be joint objectives, with each group contributing according to its specialty,” she said.

Umayr said there were predominantly two contrasting opinions regarding the proposed ministry. One view opposes the proposal, on the grounds that it would in fact differentiate women from the rest of society. The other view supports the proposal, believing that the ministry would emphasize that women are now able to achieve the positions they previously hoped for. “Globally, we found upon studying the situation that many developed countries still reserve a ministry for women,” she said. “Women’s affairs are limitless, and there are many issues related to them.”

September:28:2010 - 09:30 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

From The American Muslim, comes this piece on defending free speech. The article notes that moderation is indeed an Islamic value. The article points specifically to cartoonists such as Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of ‘South Park’ and Molly Norris, the cartoonist who initiated the ‘Everybody Draw Mohammad Day’ protest (and who has now gone into hiding on the recommendation of the FBI) as worthy of protection. Everyone, including Muslims, should be free to exercise free speech and freedom to interpret his/her religion.

For those who are looking for—but somehow not finding—’Muslim moderates’, here’s an example. Keep checking back at the American Muslim website to see the growing list. Or, I suppose, one could simply change the location of the goal posts to somehow find a reason for why these moderate Muslims don’t count. But then, you’ll have to ask yourselves just what it is you’re trying to accomplish…


We, the undersigned, unconditionally condemn any intimidation or threats of violence directed against any individual or group exercising the rights of freedom of religion and speech; even when that speech may be perceived as hurtful or reprehensible.

We are concerned and saddened by the recent wave of vitriolic anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiment that is being expressed across our nation.

We are even more concerned and saddened by threats that have been made against individual writers, cartoonists, and others by a minority of Muslims. We see these as a greater offense against Islam than any cartoon, Qur’an burning, or other speech could ever be deemed.

We affirm the right of free speech for Molly Norris, Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and all others including ourselves.

As Muslims, we must set an example of justice, patience, tolerance, respect, and forgiveness.

The Qur’an enjoins Muslims to:
• bear witness to Islam through our good example (2:143);
• restrain anger and pardon people (3:133-134 and 24:22);
• remain patient in adversity (3186);
• stand firmly for justice (4:135);
• not let the hatred of others swerve us from justice (5:8);
• respect the sanctity of life (5:32);
• turn away from those who mock Islam (6:68 and 28:55);
• hold to forgiveness, command what is right,
and turn away from the ignorant (7:199);
• restrain ourselves from rash responses (16:125-128);
• pass by worthless talk with dignity (25:72); and
• repel evil with what is better (41:34).

Islam calls for vigorous condemnation of both hateful speech and hateful acts, but always within the boundaries of the law. It is of the utmost importance that we react, not out of reflexive emotion, but with dignity and intelligence, in accordance with both our religious precepts and the laws of our country.

September:28:2010 - 07:43 | Comments & Trackbacks (19) | Permalink

Interesting piece in The National about how Australia is losing out on a market in camel meat, with a potential cost of $1 billion (Australian). There is enormous market demand for the meat across the Middle East, (and Malaysia and Thailand!?) the report says. But because the government is unwilling to assist would-be marketers, it is alleged, the government instead spends money to cull large herds of feral camels and allows the meat to simply waste.

Camel industry demands end to Australian cull
Phil Mercer, Foreign Correspondent

SYDNEY // Australia’s fledgling camel industry has demanded the government stop wasting millions of dollars culling feral herds in the outback and focus instead on boosting meat exports to the Middle East.

An estimated one million camels roam across a giant swathe of Australia’s barren interior, where they have become one of the continent’s most destructive invasive pests, tearing up vegetation, fouling ponds and streams as well as besieging remote townships in search of water.

In response, the authorities have ordered marksmen to kill two-thirds of the wild camel population in a five-year eradication programme.

Meat exporters, however, believe a more effective way to address Australia’s camel crisis is to export them as part of a carefully controlled business, rather than simply shoot them and leave their bodies to decompose in the desert.

September:27:2010 - 07:27 | Comments Off | Permalink

The National, from the UAE, has this story about US Congressional hearings, starting today, into international money laundering, including terrorist financing. It seems that the hearings were driven, at least in part, by the acrimonious dispute between two Saudi business firms that were dragged into (and kicked out of) US courts.

Money laundering claims prompt US investigation

LONDON // US authorities are to begin an inquiry into allegations of large-scale money laundering involving Middle East and US financial institutions.

The House of Representatives, the lower house of the US Congress, will hold its first hearing on global money laundering tomorrow under the heading “A review of current and evolving trends in terrorism financing”, according to the House website.

The House Committee on Financial Services will hear evidence from witnesses concerning the movement of US$1 trillion (Dh3.67tn) of funds between Middle East financial institutions and US banks over a six-year period up to early last year.

The magnitude of the sums involved makes the House inquiry especially significant, although there is no suggestion at this stage that the total amount was “dirty” money or that it was associated with terrorism.

Among the Middle East financial institutions under scrutiny are several connected with the al Gosaibi business family of Saudi Arabia or their former associate, Maan al Sanea, the head of the Saudi conglomerate the Saad Group.

While not specifically related to these hearings, it’s worth noting that the US government is changing the way it monitors electronic, international money transfers. Up til now, banks were required to report transfers into or out of the US in amounts over $10K. A new proposal will require banks to report all transfers, no matter how small. The Washington Post reports:

Money transfers could face anti-terrorism scrutiny
Ellen Nakashima

The Obama administration wants to require U.S. banks to report all electronic money transfers into and out of the country, a dramatic expansion in efforts to counter terrorist financing and money laundering.

Officials say the information would help them spot the sort of transfers that helped finance the al-Qaeda hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They say the expanded financial data would allow anti-terrorist agencies to better understand normal money-flow patterns so they can spot abnormal activity.

September:27:2010 - 07:18 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Last year’s earthquakes near Al-Ais are not the last we’ll be hearing, reports Christian Science Monitor. Scientists working on the geology of the region have been surprised to learn that the spreading of the Earth’s crust 200 km (120 mi.) away, deep in the Red Sea, is having an effect. Findings, based on what the scientists are calling remarkably accurate data collected by the Saudi Geologic Survey, suggest that molten rock, magma, is just two km (one mile) beneath the surface. Future eruptions are extremely likely.

Ancient volcanic field reawakens in Saudi Arabia
In 2009, more than 30,000 earthquakes struck an ancient lava field, opening up a five-mile long crevice. Sensors shoow that magma has risen to roughly a mile below the surface of the Earth, and eruptions remain possible.
Charles Q. Choi

swarm of thousands of earthquakes that struck the corner of Saudi Arabia nearest to Egypt in 2009 helped reveal that the area is unexpectedly volcanically active, scientists now report.

The seismic readings that researchers managed to collect from these quakes could help predict when volcanoes might erupt in the future, investigators added.

Scientists had largely thought northwest Saudi Arabia was quiet, geologically speaking. Few earthquakes and few volcanic eruptions have been recorded there in the past millennium.

However, between April and June 2009, more than 30,000 earthquakes struck an ancient lava field there named Harrat Lunayyir, with 19 earthquakes of magnitude 4 or greater striking at the swarm’s peak on May 19, including a magnitude 5.4 quake that fractured walls in the town of Al Ays. Sensors even suggested that a volcanic eruption was possible. Alarmed, the Saudi Arabian government then evacuated 40,000 people from the region.

You can find the report in Nature magazine online.

September:27:2010 - 06:56 | Comments Off | Permalink

I think this is a nice little Saudi Gazette/Okaz story about how some Saudi women spend their summer vacations. It certainly plays against the stereotype of the spoiled Saudi indulging herself in the fripperies of life. Rotana Osama Faqih, a medical student in the Kingdom, got her pilot’s license over the summer. I’d point out, too, that Saudi aviation students in Florida (where several of the Saudis who took part in the 9/11 attacks also studied) face a few extra hurdles in learning to fly.

Perhaps Ms Faqih will find a way to combine her interests and establish a flying medical service in the Kingdom. There are—and will be—areas remote enough to justify it, I think.

Saudi medical student swaps white coat for pilot’s uniform
Muhammad Hadhadh

JEDDAH – A Saudi medical student swapped her white coat for a pilot?s uniform and she landed safely at an airport in Florida in the US after getting her license there.

Rotana Osama Faqih, a 22-year-old Saudi woman who got her license in only three months, said she learned quickly because she was born to be a pilot. Her father, Osama Faqih, is a veteran captain for Saudi Arabian Airlines.

Rotana said she grew up with her father flying all over the world and bringing back lots of gifts from his destinations.

The souvenirs from distant lands made her dream of flying a plane, like her father, who is proud of being among the first Saudi pilots.

September:26:2010 - 07:19 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

I’m pointing to this piece from Saudi Gazette/Okaz not to castigate Saudi preachers, but to note that I’ve seen the same behavior on the part of some Christian preachers as well, and in the US. The British have an appropriate term: God botherer. Now, those who are facing potentially terminal diseases may well wish to get their spiritual affairs in order. But it should be done at the patients’ request and on their time table, however risky that might seem to others. People trying to get physically well may not choose to dwell on their sins or the afterlife.

Hospitals warned about ‘preachers’ terrifying patients
Faleh Al-Dhabyani

JEDDAH – The Ministry of Health has warned oncology hospitals about people who claim to be volunteer preachers visiting cancer patients and terrifying and intimidating them by reminding them of their imminent death and the countdown of their remaining days.

According to Okaz/Saudi Gazette sources, Ministry of Health officials found that these people enter the patients’ rooms and demonstrate the methods of forgiveness while concentrating on the nearness of their fates.

These actions, which have annoyed and shocked many patients in the hospitals and their relatives, also affect the patients psychologically and affect their chances of recovering.

September:26:2010 - 07:10 | Comments & Trackbacks (11) | Permalink

Just when you think you’ve heard it all, along comes something new. Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that pervy entrepreneurs in the northern city of Hail who, as part of their jobs, receive calls from women, are bundling the women’s phone numbers to sell on to other pervs. And so it follows that they guys start harassing women through their phones.

There’s a crass American expression about what these guys need to ‘get’. But clearly, that exactly what they’re not ‘getting’. Instead, they bother women while seeking to quench their desires. I know that there’s a tradition, Islamically based or otherwise, that characterizes women as the succubae, female demons bent on slaking their sexual lusts on innocent men. Can we agree that the guys packaging and buying women’s phone numbers have enough demonic thrust of their own?

Good job, guys… You’re helping that stereotype of Saudi males as oversexed abusers of women.

Hail women drowning by numbers
Sattam Al-Jemai’ah

HAIL – Women in Hail are being urged to avoid using their personal mobile telephones to call restaurants and taxis after a surge in complaints over nuisance calls believed to be the result of their numbers being revealed to men for prices ranging between SR100 and SR500.

The prices are said to rise if the restaurant or taxi firm employee also provides the willing buyer with the woman’s name and address.

Nawwaf Al-Jeday’i of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Hai’a) in Hail says his organization has responded to increasing complaints from women who have received nuisance calls after contacting restaurants or taxis.

“These young men barrage the women with amorous messages, and we have made some arrests in such cases,” Al-Jeday’i said.

Incidentally, while I tend to believe that the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has become an overbearing nanny, too often enforcing the opinions of the ill-educated, here’s an instance where they’re doing some actual good.

September:25:2010 - 09:02 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink
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