The notorious case of a Saudi serial rapist seems to be weakening, if not collapsing according to this Arab News report. A schoolteacher, alleged to have committed at least 13 rapes of young girls, has been arrested and is awaiting trial. The forensic investigation, however, is running into a wall as DNA samples taken from the girls does not match that of the alleged perpetrator. Already, the government arrested, then released another individual for these attacks. He now seeks to sue the government for false arrest.

DNA samples don’t match, schoolteacher may walk free

JEDDAH: Eight DNA samples taken from a schoolteacher accused of raping at least 13 girls since 2008 has not matched samples taken from a number of victims, Al-Madinah newspaper reported.

Two of the victims were excluded from the tests because at the time of the attack the suspect was outside the Kingdom. Some of the samples taken from the suspect include his semen, hair, clothes and some of his belongings.

Earlier, the General Prosecution and Investigation Board had ordered alleged child victims of the serial rapist and their families to take DNA tests. The investigators were hoping at that time to match samples taken from the suspect.

Meanwhile, the administrative court in Jeddah will hold a fourth hearing into a lawsuit action from a man released after initially being accused of raping at least 13 girls.

July:31:2011 - 07:16 | Comments Off | Permalink

It’s not something that warms the heart of people who recall the Nazi regime’s refrain of ‘Show me your papers,’ but Saudi Arabia is a country that relies on positive identification for the distribution of a wide array of benefits. In order to do so better, a new system of registration of ‘civil status’ is about to be implemented. National ID cards will become even more important and their issuance is being streamlined.

The move continues the friction between privacy and governmental intrusion. As the Kingdom is close to a welfare state in many regards, though, with citizens depending on government entitlements, the the government has a right to ensure that its largess goes where it’s intended, I guess.

New civil status statutes to take effect on Aug.1

RIYADH: The Civil Status Department will start implementing a new civil status system on Aug. 1, Deputy Director General of Civil Status Abdul Rahman Al-Husain said on Saturday in a press statement.

One of the key features of the system is that a citizen’s civil registry number should be quoted in any document issued by the government, or while applying for any service from any government department or private sector.

The national identity card will be valid for five years for a citizen aged between 15 to 30 years, valid for 10 years for a citizen between 31 and 50 years and valid for 20 years for a citizen above 51.

The statutes also stipulate that the birth of a newborn and other civil events such as marriage should be reported within 30 days after the event.

July:31:2011 - 07:10 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

The holy month of Ramadan, due to start soon, disrupts working schedules, particularly when Ramadan falls during the hottest part of the year. As it is, Saudis don’t have the finest of work ethics. For numerous reasons, including second jobs, workers can be hard to find at their desks during working hours. The problem grows during Ramadan. Bidden to refrain from food and drink during daylight hours for the month takes a toll on the body. The shift in schedules, with the first meal of the day coming at sunset and the last at sunrise the following morning is disruptive, to say the least. The way observation of the month has developed, with parties and late-night TV viewing, severely interrupts the normal sleep cycle. As a result, the workday is abbreviated by law to only five hours, permitting a late afternoon nap.

This isn’t enough for everyone, though. It’s too common to find workers sloughing off their duties, either coming in later than they should or leaving earlier. Some simply doze through the day, putting in only notional appearance on the job.

Not only is this against the spirit of Ramadan, but it’s also expensive to employers and the national economy. This year, Saudi Gazette/Okaz report, government inspectors will be going around the government offices checking that workers are present and doing their jobs. To show the seriousness of the effort, the government has called in the religious big guns to point out that slacking off at work, even during Ramadan, is ‘un-Islamic’. Now, if the inspectors can stay awake, it might make a difference.

Wake up! You’re being watched
Naeem Tamim Al-HakimOkaz/Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH – Do not be surprised if you go to a government department during Ramadan and find employees absent or fast asleep during work hours; this happens a lot during the fasting month.

And if you are an employee, then don’t be surprised if you find strangers in your office keeping an eye on you. They may be inspectors from the Control and
Investigation Board conducting on-the-spot inspections to ensure that employees comply with the five-hour (10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.) Ramadan work schedule.

Sources at the Control and Investigation Board told Okaz/Saudi Gazette that no departments will be excluded from these visits, which will be more frequent than they were last year.

As instructed by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, more emphasis will be placed on institutions that provide Umrah services such as the General Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques, the Ministry of Haj and Islamic Affairs, hospitals, and medical centers, the sources said.

“Negligence in performing duties during Ramadan is not permissible and is against Ramadan teachings,” says Dr. Ali Bin Abbas Al-Hakami, a member of the Board of Senior Ulema and Higher Judicial Council. Many people have turned Ramadan into a month of eating, watching TV and staying up late, and these factors affect work in offices, which is not permissible in Islam, Dr. Al-Hakami added.

July:30:2011 - 07:59 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia does have a tendency to put women on a pedestal, believe it or not. Society seeks to protect women—often from imaginary dangers—and in doing so ends up severely limiting women’s abilities to live ‘normal’ lives.

And example of this is the regulation—just cancelled—that required female teachers to live in the same areas as the schools in which they worked. If there were many competent women in a place but few schools, the excess were simply out of luck and out of jobs. This regulation did not apply to male teachers. By dropping it, men and women’s working conditions do become more fair in at least one measure.

Of course, as women can’t drive in the Kingdom, the dropping of the regulation adds a new wrinkle to things. Women will need to get to their jobs. That means the Ministry of Education will have to come up with new means of transportation for them or, at a minimum, a daily commuting allowance. Putting women in cars or buses driven by strange men offers another wrinkle… strictly speaking, it should not happen according to Saudi mores. It could put women at moral risk, the imams tell us.

Perhaps this is a subtle wedge being pushed into the debate over women’s driving. The government, by making jobs across the country available to women, can now argue that it doesn’t have the means or money to handle their transportation needs. Thus, women should be permitted to drive to work, just as their male counterparts. As I said, this is subtle, but the government can be subtle when it chooses. By seeking World Trade Organization membership, for example, the government was able to get rid of many anti-competitive regulations by pointing to its new treaty obligations. Had it tried to act on its own, the pushback from companies negatively affected would likely have stopped the effort. The result was a better commercial environment for all Saudis. Here, permitting teachers—who are generally respected members of society—to drive themselves to work can be portrayed as a necessity as well.

King revokes condition for hiring women in education sector

RIYADH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has endorsed a recommendation to cancel the stipulation demanding residence proof by female applicants for jobs in the Ministry of Education. The cancellation of the condition will be effective from 2012.

King Abdullah also directed transportation authorities to take necessary precautions to ensure the safety of passengers, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Friday.

“The cancellation of the residence proof has become an imperative in the wake of the royal order to create 52,000 jobs in the Ministry of Education so that all women applicants get fair employment opportunities,” Education Minister Prince Faisal bin Abdullah said while thanking the king for the order.

A committee comprising representatives of the ministries of interior, education and civil service, and the Control and Investigation Bureau had submitted a report to the king recommending the removal of the residence stipulation for women’s employment in schools.

July:30:2011 - 07:44 | Comments Off | Permalink

DEBKA File, in my experience, is a wildly Zionist media organization that frequently gets things completely wrong. But, as with a stopped clock’s being right twice a day, it’s possible that it has actually found something here. If so, it’s definitely interesting…

US, Saudi Arabia smuggle satellite phones to Syrian rebels (DEBKAfile)

Iranian intelligence experts in Damascus have been disrupting the Syrian opposition movement´s telephone and Internet links with the outside world and among fellow-protesters in the country. To bridge the communications gap, the US and Saudi Arabia have in the last two weeks smuggled thousands of satellite phones into Syria and put them in the hands of opposition leaders, debkafile reports.

The new phones will also overcome the latest Syrian steps, also on the advice of their Iranian advisers, to slow down the speed of the Internet to impede the transmission of images – most of all live video – of brutal attacks by Syrian security and military forces on protesters.

July:29:2011 - 11:32 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

An interesting piece from Asharq Alawsat. It talks about various Facebook campaigns calling for viewers to boycott several TV series planned for Ramadan due to either their content or the fact that actors and producers have ‘bad politics’.

The series in question all appear to be Egyptian productions. Actors who offered vocal support to the Mubarak regime during the weeks of unrest before his fall are being targeted and called out for their politics. Others are being cited because they have material—like belly dancing—that many consider inappropriate for broadcast during a religious period. For most of the series in question, the campaigners are simply calling for viewers to not watch. That’s perfectly appropriate. No one should be forced to watch anything they don’t want to see. They can turn the dial or turn off the TV and be spared from that which discomforts them.

One series, though, is the subject of legal action undertaken by Al-Azhar University’s Islamic Research Academy and Facebook groups are calling for it to be banned. The title, “Al-Hassan and Al-Hussein”, and subject matter certainly offer opportunities for contention as it involves the early days of Islam and the split between the Sunni and Shi’a. I don’t think contentious issues should be blocked by law, censored, but do think that the producers better know what they’re doing. There are those who are always ready to take exception to the slightest error or points of view that differ from their own. They should be prepared to argue their issues, not call on the mere discussion to be banned.

Facebook campaign to ban Ramadan dramas
Nisreen al-Zayat

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Just a few days before the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a number of Facebook groups have started a campaign calling for Muslims to boycott a number of television drama series set to be broadcast on Arab satellite television during the Islamic holy month. A number of users on the popular social network have established Facebook pages and groups calling for Muslims to boycott 4 television drama series that are scheduled to be broadcast during Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar; it is the Islamic month of fasting during which all Muslims refrain from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset, in addition to performing more prayers, and spending more time in religious contemplation.

The Facebook campaign calls for the boycott of the television drama “Samara”, starring Egyptian actress Ghada Abdel Razek; this television series was written by Mustafa Muharam and directed by Mohamed al-Naqli. Around 23 thousand people joined a Facebook group calling for the boycott of the “Samara” television series, criticizing Abdel Razek’s performance, including a number of scenes featuring the actress performing the belly dance. The Facebook group stresses that the broadcast of this series is unsuitable during the Muslim holy month. Egyptian actress Ghada Abdel Razek is no stranger to controversy, and she was one of the Egyptian entertainment figures who came out to defend the Hosni Mubarak regime and criticize the 25 January revolution.

July:29:2011 - 09:00 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News runs this commentary about how Islamophobia poisons discourse and inevitably leads to violence, as recently seen in Norway. The writers is substantially correct, but his commentary is incomplete.

A large amount of Islamophobia is fed by what certain Muslims say about ‘the Other’. Imams calling Jews and Christians ‘monkeys and pigs’ is not conducive to discourse. Seeing ‘polytheists’ and ‘pagans’ (i.e., those not numbered among the ‘People of the Book’) as less than human is not the path to peaceful coexistence. Calling for the downfall of Israel as a religious entity (not a political entity) and the ‘conquest’ of the West (or the world) by a new Caliphate, does not lead to reasoned discussion.

Many countries have tried to rein in their more flamboyant and extremist speakers, with more or less success. Saudi Arabia, for example, has strongly condemned takfiri statements that claim someone is not a ‘good Muslim’. While this kind of defamation may have receded from the mosque, it is still plentiful on the airways and the Internet.

Tolerance is not easy. It requires accepting ‘the Other’ as an equal, even when there’s not a great sharing of all values. But it must be a two-way affair, a fact that tends to elude many Saudi commentators.

Norway killings expose politics of hate

The outrage was the inevitable result of years of demonization of Muslims and must come as a wake-up call to both the West and India

Are we really living in end times? Every new day brings a new outrage, a new horror. No one seems to be safe anywhere — not even in the serene, scenic Norwegian paradise. But then, as Bible warns, you reap as you sow. And Europe is reaping what its politicians and assorted purveyors of hatred have sowed all these years.

The perpetual demonization and vilification of “the Other” and the endless talk of creeping Shariah and Islamisation of Europe couldn’t have happened in a vacuum. It had to show its results someday on the ground. And it did in Norway this past week.

Still there are many out there who continue to live in denial. Within the first couple of hours, television pundits, from CNN’s Richard Quest to BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardener, had persuaded themselves that the Norway attacks were the handiwork of “Islamist terrorists.” Soon Rupert Murdoch’s Sun was screaming: “AL QAEDA MASSACRE: NORWAY’S 9/11”.

July:29:2011 - 08:45 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Arab News runs an unabashedly frank editorial on the issue of domestic servants in Saudi Arabia. It finds the current system woefully inadequate for both the employers and the employees and calls for major reforms. Both laws and attitudes need to be changed, the piece argues, and it’s absolutely right.

‘One bad apple spoils the bunch’ says an old aphorism. It’s true for fruit and it’s true for societies. Most Saudis treat their servants well and most servants reciprocate. The relatively few employers who grossly abuse their servants, however, tar the entire Saudi society; the relatively few servants who steal or flee create an impression that servants aren’t to be trusted.

Current Saudi law is lax. It permits individuals to ‘import’ workers through agencies, but does little to check on how things work out. With relatively few servants even understanding Arabic, communications are difficult. Unrealistic expectations by employers go far beyond what the original contracts outlined. Courts, with their own lack of coordination and uniformity, rarely provide justice when problems reach them. All this, the editorial states, needs to be changed.

Saudi laws need to change. A single governmental entity charged with operating every stage of recruitment, hiring, and monitoring is needed to replace the multitude of replacement agencies that have shown themselves incapable of policing their own industry. While I generally prefer private enterprise to work without government intrusion, the failure of the existing system calls for an exception. It’s not just profits that are at stake here, but basic human rights.

Saudi families need to adjust their expectations and behavior as well. Also in today’s Arab News is a piece on how families are frantic to find maids to help out during the mega-production that Ramadan has become. While Saudi families are large, it is not at all apparent that they take doing simple household chores as a normal part of life. Sure, they’re boring, but housekeeping is not something that requires outside assistance in most cases. Those large families can help out with things like sweeping floors, washing dishes, and cleaning bathrooms themselves. Getting out of the social game of trying to show you’re better than your neighbors is just dysfunctional. Anyone who’s really concerned with keeping score on that regard needs to find a better way to spend time… perhaps by sweeping that floor.

Not ‘made’ to suffer
The whole system of hiring maids in Saudi Arabia needs govt attention and changes in the law

This newspaper regularly publishes stories about maids in the Kingdom — maids attacked, murdered, abused, raped, unpaid, held as prisoners, treated as slaves — and sometimes even maids executed. There is also the all-too-regular complaint that maids steal and are untrustworthy.

As we have said before, the vast majority of domestic staff are content, the vast majority of their employers considerate. But there is a minority who are not. The way some Saudis treat their maids is outrageous and has given Saudi Arabia a bad name. They beat them and force them to work all hours, every day of the week, every week of the year while there have been some cases of sexual abuse too. Such behavior should be punished with the full force of the law. Yet it seems at times that the legal system favors not the maid but the abuser, especially if he or she is a Saudi.

As for the complaint that some “run away,” the very phrase denotes a sense of ownership. It is arrogant. Prisoners and slaves run away, not employees.

July:28:2011 - 08:52 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

It is purely coincidental that the August/September issue of Reason magazine runs this article by Cathy Young. It has no direct link to the tragedy in Norway, but then it does.

Young does an excellent job of illustrating how Islamophobia is distorting American’s views of Islam and Muslims. Her piece is certainly not an argument from ‘political correctness’ or ‘multiculturalism’—Reason magazine is conservative, after all. I do recommend you read it.

Fear of a Muslim America
In the fight against radical Islam, conservatives are trying to limit the property and speech rights of peaceful American Muslims
Cathy Young

In March, almost 10 years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, America’s uneasy, contradictory relationship with Islam was on full display at two congressional hearings. The first, a House Committee on Homeland Security meeting chaired by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), tackled “radicalization” among American Muslims. Three weeks later, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) presided over a Senate Judiciary Committee panel that heard testimony about anti-Muslim prejudice. Conservatives trumpet the Muslim peril, while liberals warn of Islamophobia.

Islamic extremism is indeed a serious global problem today, to a degree unmatched by the radical fringes of other major religions. While violent fundamentalism is far less of a problem in the United States than in many other parts of the world, radicalism within the American Muslim community is not entirely an invention of the Islamophobic right. The 2009 Fort Hood shooting by U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hassan is an extreme but real example of what some Americans are willing to do. And a 2007 Pew poll found that 27 percent of American Muslim men under 30 believe suicide terrorism in defense of Islam is at least sometimes justified.

But bias against American Muslims isn’t a P.C. myth. Once confined mainly to a few right-wing blogs, anti-Islamic bigotry has become a visible presence in Republican politics and the respectable conservative media. All around the country, right-of-center activists and politicians are trying to use government force to limit the property rights of Muslims and repel the alleged menace of Shariah law. Islamophobia has crossed the line from fringe rhetorical hysteria to active discrimination against U.S. citizens of the Islamic faith.

July:27:2011 - 09:43 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

I had a great time on my break. I’m glad that I was out of reach of Internet and cell phones because I missed the early reports on the tragedy in Norway.

Now, I’m going through those reports and the more accurate ones that followed. I’d like to make a couple of points about the reporting.

First, early reports are almost always inaccurate. They are the compilation of bits and pieces of information, often contradictory. Reports from catastrophic events are all the more muddled as first, there are few facts. Instead, there are data points. As more data points come in, a larger picture starts to become visible. Very much like a pointillist painting, no single point presents much coherent information. It is only when one gets a bit of distance from those points that one sees a picture emerge. This is when the mind ‘connects the dots’. The picture that emerges, however, is not the full and complete picture. A pointillist painting is not a photograph. There are details that were not captured in the first, second, or even twentieth iteration. Some of those details may be recaptured after exhaustive research; others may remain invisible forever. And as we are now learning, even eye-witness reports are not reliable, but can only be assessed in comparison with other reports, confirmatory or contradictory.

Early reports are always—always—to be taken with a marked degree of skepticism. One has to take in those reports and hold them in suspension in one’s mind until more facts become available. And so, hate-mongers concluded, with little factual support, that the Norway disaster ‘must have been’ an act of Islamic terrorism, the next step in global jihad. These Islamophobes have such firm conviction that their mental landscapes are correct that they have a dug a rut. All things fall into it and, since they are now in the rut, offer ‘proof’ of the verity of that rut.

In opinion-based based reporting, what is portrayed is the mental landscape of the reporter far more than the portrayal of facts. These reporters that the few, early bits and pieces and immediately construct a picture that is consonant with their preconceptions. Yes, it makes a picture, but a picture that may have little to do with what actually happened.

Nevertheless, the opinion writers bear some level of responsibility for the killer’s actions. They, in much the same way as Islamic ideologists are blamed for terrorist acts by Muslims, did play a role in painting pictures inside the killer’s mind, coloring the pictures if not connecting all the dots. This is a point made by a column in The New York Times, highlighting the Islamophobic blogs the killer cites as influencing him. Similarly, Slate’s William Saletan—whom I consider a fair commenter on the media—also lays a portion of the blame at the Islamophobes’ feet. [I strongly recommend Saletan's column, by the way, but not so much the comments responding to his writing.]

The second point is the amazing dance that is going on over whether it is correct to use the term ‘terrorist’ to describe the killer’s actions. The general definition of ‘terrorism’ involves the use of unlawful force against civilians in order to promote a change in government policies. That was assuredly what happened here. The Norwegian killer was a terrorist, his actions were acts of terrorism. In its first editorial on the subject, Arab News equated this killer with Usama bin Laden, a just comparison.

This is a sticky point, though, for those who have trouble of conceiving of a terrorist act not committed by Muslims! These find it necessary to dance around the term, instead declaring that this was simply the act of a lone wolf, a mentally deranged individual that has nothing at all to do with what he read on hateful websites. They would certainly reject the use of ‘Christian terrorist’ to describe the killer, though he avers himself that he would act, in part, to preserve ‘Christian values’ in a Europe under siege.

Personally, I wouldn’t use the term ‘Christian terrorist’ because he did not seem to be more than notionally Christian. Instead, his actions seem more motivated by a political cause that blended racial superiority, a European culture ‘under attack’ by foreigners, and a mass of loosely connected political rants. I would not argue, though, were one to say that he was a Christian who committed acts of terrorism: that is a simple, factual statement.

I reject that attempts to separate him and his acts completely from his religion, though. He described himself on his Facebook page as ‘Christian’, so that title is one he chooses to wear. I note that there are websites now arguing that some other person hacked that page and inserted ‘Christian’, that he did not actually make the claim. I’ll reserve judgment on that point, but for now see no reason to assume hacking. I’m certainly not a forensic investigator, able to assess the accuracy of the claim, but then, not everyone is capable of that kind of hacking. I find the claim not unbelievable, but so far, largely unsupported by any facts.

Sally Quinn, writing in The Washington Post‘s online column ‘On Faith’, asserts that the term ‘Christian terrorist’ is apt.

There are arguments that the killer is/was ‘mentally ill’. To some degree, anyone who kills has mental issues, but that does not mean mental incompetence. It seems to me that the killer was coherent in his arguments—misguided as they might be. He knew what he was doing, knew and intended the consequences of his actions. His defense attorney would have an impossible task in a US court in asserting that the killer was mentally deficient unless he could demonstrate a physical defect in his brain. I don’t know Norwegian law, though. It’s possible that a Norwegian court could find ‘mental defect’ as an extenuating circumstance.

What happened in Oslo and on Utoya island is a tragedy, not only for those killed and the families that mourn them, but also as a demonstration of the radicalization of political thought. Hate, as much as any other emotion, is a poor source of law or a guide for how to conduct one’s life.

July:27:2011 - 09:29 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

I’ll be on vacation for the coming week, usually out of Internet range, so there will be no new posts.

Do take a look at the Books section, where I review books I’ve found interesting for various reasons.

July:20:2011 - 05:46 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Islamic laws concerning inheritance are something that bother many Westerners. Those laws set how different relations are apportioned shares of the estate of the deceased and formally disadvantage women by setting a limit on what they may inherit to one-half of what a brother would receive. At the time these laws were first formulated, this was a vast improvement in protecting women. But time moves on and sexual equality is now the rule.

Even with diminished expectations, though, women often find themselves being done dirty by their brothers and uncles, deprived of their smaller share. Arab News reports that the Ministry of Justice is working to protect women further by threatening both fines and jail for those who abuse their female relations’ inheritance rights.

It is difficult in any society to bring legal actions against a brother. It’s particularly hard in a patriarchal society that runs on an honor/shame dynamic. But women are learning to protect themselves and their interests and the Ministry is correct in helping them do so.

Ministry moves to ensure women’s inheritance rights

JEDDAH: The Justice Ministry has warned those who deprive women of their right to inheritance that they could face imprisonment and other punishments.

The ministry made the call Sunday while launching its special “Mawarith” (inheritance) program on its website.

According to ministry sources, most inheritance disputes in the courts were related to men depriving their female relatives of their legal share. They said such disputes were more prominent in tribal societies. “Any woman deprived of her right to inheritance has the right to file a lawsuit in the courts,” president of the Jeddah General Court Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Qani said.

He said the judge would oblige the male inheritors to give women relatives their rightful share or face punitive action.

July:19:2011 - 07:34 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink
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