Thursday, April 28, 2011

Saudi Man Dies Saving American Child

The following article is reprinted from Arab News. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be much at all written about this story in the American press. This young man died a hero, and America should hear about it.

Mourners hail Saudi's heroic act in US

Published: Apr 26, 2011

JEDDAH: A large crowd attended in Jeddah on Monday the burial of Mashari Abdul Mohsen Al-Siraihi, a 21-year-old who drowned in a lake in Ohio last week after rescuing an American child.

Al-Siraihi, born in 1990, was studying electronic engineering in the University of Akron. His body arrived at King Abdulaziz International Airport on Sunday.

Al-Siraihi and his friend George Raresheid III, 46, of Lake Township drowned in a cold water reservoir in West Branch State Park, Ohio, in a weather-triggered accident on April 17.

Though saddened by the untimely death of the young Saudi man, mourners were proud that he gave his life for another and described him as a real hero.

Speaking to Arab News, the mourners were unanimous in their view that Al-Siraihi’s heroic deed was enough proof for Americans to realize that Saudis are a peace-loving people who uphold moral and humanitarian values.

They said his deed was no strange act to Muslims, who love others regardless of their race, color or creed.

Nasser Al-Siraihi, a relative of the deceased, said he was deeply saddened by the death.

“Though we are sad, we are also proud that Mashari was able to save the American child, who was the son of his friend,” he said.

Muhammad Hamdan Al-Sirahai, Mashari’s uncle, expressed similar sentiments and said he saved a child who was not from his race or religion.

“Mashari was able to project the true picture of Islam. He was a hero who died saving others,” he said.

Naif Al-Siraihi, another uncle, who is a master’s degree student in the US and who accompanied the body back home, said his nephew was sailing with his American friend and his son Michael, 13, in the lake when their 14-foot flat-boat fishing boat capsized in bad weather.

He said Al-Siraihi swam with the child to the shore and went back into the water to rescue the father but could not. He finally succumbed to the water.

He said when American rescuers reached the scene it was too late and both men died.

Naif Al-Siraihi, who shared the same room with Mashari, said the search for his body continued into the next day. “After 20 hours of searching using helicopters, Mashari's body was found near the shore,” he said.

Al-Siraihi's relatives and friends who received the body at the airport said amid tears that his heroic deed would live long in the memory.

UPDATE: Apparently there are two versions to this incident - the way Arab News chose to report it on April 26 with Al-Siraihi dying as a hero, and the version published on April 18 in the whereby the American boy who survived was the actual hero. Another issue is the fact that the CantonRep reported that Al-Siraihi was in fact the boyfriend of the daughter of the other man who drowned. This was completely omitted in the Arab News article - because good Saudi boys/heros don't have girlfriends. I believe Arab News has intentionally hoodwinked its readers, myself included. And I'm not happy about it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Inside Outsider

Many children of mixed marriages in Saudi Arabia (usually the father is Saudi and the mother is not) have identity issues. They do not particularly feel accepted by or part of either of their parents’ cultures. Certainly when my son moved to Saudi Arabia at 14, he felt much more American than he did Saudi. Had he been exposed to the Saudi culture at a younger age, perhaps he would have felt differently. Or maybe he would have felt even more confused about his identity.

I’d like to introduce you to “The Inside Outsider,” who is half-Saudi and half-American. She and her siblings were raised as “citizens of the world,” attending schools in Saudi Arabia, America and Europe. Now in her mid-30s, she is married to a Saudi man and is raising her own children. They live in KSA but travel frequently outside the country, exposing her kids to the many wonders and complexities of our globe.

The following is sage advice and unique insights she has for newcomers to Saudi Arabia who are trying to fit in and make a normal life for themselves in this country that has many cultural roadblocks in the way, as well as attitudes hostile to the modern world. So here, in her own words, is “The Inside Outsider.”


About this place they call "Saudi," I have a lot to say about it. I have many feelings that are buried deep down inside, and for the first time, I am going to bring them out. I am turning my thoughts and feelings into words; these have been building up since childhood.

Saudi Arabia is a unique place. It’s a place where the ancient wisdom that it was once renowned for is long gone, buried under the mineral and black gold that seems to have given it new character and personality. A wisdom that has no more value, a wisdom that is now considered worthless and those who try to practice it are shunned and pushed aside. The ancient leaders of Arabia, the well-known prophets, scientists, romantics, poets, and many others would be appalled at what it has become today.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia often reminds me of the television series "LOST." It is a place with a strange power that controls everybody - a power that is unseen, unexplained, scary, yet resourceful. It is a place that is a "goldmine," a "safe haven," and a "no mans land," where if you place yourself properly, you can get away with murder - literally. This place attracts the most insufficient, unprofessional, unethical, dishonest people from all around the world. It attracts people who cannot make a decent living, people who have been convicted for something minor or even major, people who escape taxes, people who cannot get it together in their own countries – they all come here.

Saudi Arabia has a very low standard for anything ethical or professional. Its people are lazy, consuming, demanding, self righteous, spoiled and incapable. During the past 20-30 years, they have been in a slumber induced by a lack of leadership and tight controls on everything, which retarded any kind of growth. Losers from other countries come here to make a quick buck. I personally know and can name a few. These people come from all walks of life - the Americans, the British, the Indians, the Bengalis, the Filipinos, the Egyptians, etc, etc.

Saudi residents tend to group together to create little clicks, gangs, mafias - whatever you want to call it - survival groups that are bonded by the same goals, mentality, and mind set with strong loyalties to each other. These groups are very difficult to infiltrate if you are not like-minded. They are based on a commonality that each individual has while excluding any others. This grouping can be among siblings, extended family members, school friends, college friends, colleagues at work, or specific social classes and groups. If you find yourself trying to fit in, you will not be able to unless the majority in the group find a commonality that they can accept you for. They are in control not you; so don’t even try to fit in.

This is where I tell you not to be concerned with cultural differences or racial differences, because these are not what the society is based on. I don’t feel like there is a real culture in Saudi Arabia anymore. Society doesn’t practice true Arabian or Islamic behavior of generosity anymore. No more open homes, free food, kind words, smiles, helping hands, or anything that the Arabs or Muslims were previously very well known for. There no longer exists the Arabian Knight on a shiny white horse.

Don’t be afraid; be proud that you don’t fit in. I personally felt extremely reassured and relieved when I realized that I don’t fit in fully and that I never will. I have been brought up in a multi-cultural home, which is non-judgmental, considerate, kind and forgiving. I was ecstatic when I finally accepted that I would never be a full part of the Saudi people of today. I may never really fit in anywhere, but I know that the human characteristics that really matter in the end are the ones that I want to practice and hold on to even if that means that I am estranged from my own “home town.”

This place has to have a purpose for you, besides it being a home. You have to find something that you can only be able to take advantage of in such a country - maybe like completing a higher degree because of the long empty hours you will have affording plenty of time to study, or work experience that is unique, or exposure to others who may get you a foot in the door somewhere. Make this place work for your personal gains. Don’t just exist here for the sake of your children; they will also never really fit in. Let them be who you want them to be, not who you think the society will accept - because it’s not going to happen. They should be good people with beautiful human characteristics, with universal rules to follow - people who can live anywhere in the world and make you proud.

Always make sure you have an escape - yes, a way out! Always keep your passports with you, especially the American ones. Make sure you have the consulate’s number with you at all times. Always have a plan that will get you and your kids out of here if necessary. Most Saudis have and or seek dual citizenship for this reason - an escape route. Those who don’t have dual citizenship truly envy those who do. People may mistreat you only because they know that you and your kids can leave if you ever wanted or had to, and that the American government will support you as a person no matter what. YOU ARE THE UNTOUCHABLES, and that’s why you feel the hate.

Of course there are many good things here, but you must wade through the bad and scrape it off before you can see or appreciate the good. That’s just the way it is - the most annoying stuff just gets right up into our faces. In my opinion it is one of the most difficult countries in the world to live in. This place is “special” in many different ways. You will find those few and far between people whom you will not be able to live without. These are the people who will appear when you are most in need and they can keep you afloat. These people will be your friend no matter where you go, and they are in the same position you are in, so they understand.

Don’t be who you are not, and don’t try to change. That is the biggest cause for distress and depression when living in Saudi. Because no matter how hard you try to please family members, friends, or “the group,” they will never appreciate it and never be pleased because you are just not one of them - and you will never be. It’s the painful truth; they will just laugh at you and talk about you behind your back. So be your beautiful Californian blonde self and enjoy being that. Their envy is killing them!

A very strong tool to use in Saudi is silence. If they can’t hear your thoughts they can’t control you. If they can’t see what you are all about they can’t get to you. Saudi people are experts at reverse psychology and mental manipulation. They have a skill at finding your weaknesses and going for you. If they don’t hurt you today, they will tomorrow. Keep your thoughts to yourself and that is your power against them.

I know that it is tough because you must live in survival mode constantly. You must become accustomed to protecting yourself and building a strong defense mechanism. It is exhausting and sometimes not worth it. But if you choose to live here, this is the advice I have for you. This is what I have learned living amongst them as an “inside outsider.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Arguing Over French Law Banning Veils

As France's new law banning face veils went into effect on April 11th, more than twenty veiled women and dozens of others have been arrested in protests at Notre Dame Cathedral against the new ban. Belgium was the first country to pass a similar law last year, but Belgium's ban has gone largely unenforced and unchallenged. Several other European countries are also considering passing laws which ban face veils as well.

In this video, Hebah Ahmed and Mona Eltahawy, both Muslim women, debate France's decision to ban face veils (niqab) in public.

People who go to Saudi Arabia to work or visit have to follow KSA's laws. For example, practising another religion other than Islam is prohibited and proselytizing in KSA is punishable by death. Also, if a man and a woman who are not married to each other are caught alone together, they will likely be sentenced to jailtime and lashings. These are examples of existing laws in KSA, and even though most other countries do not have laws like these, they must be followed or suffer the consequences.

Arab News published this article about how there is mixed reaction among Saudi women about the new French law. It quoted Sarah Kazim, a 30-year-old housewife, expressing her feeling that people everywhere should respect the laws of each individual country. “If women are made to dress a different way and wear their hijab in Saudi Arabia and we respect it, then we should respect the laws of the French constitution. Why treat them differently when we have laws that are most distinct to any other country?”

While I believe in freedom and choice, I am leaning toward agreeing with Sarah Kazim. Since I moved to Saudi Arabia in 2007, every time I step out the door, I must wear a black cloak (abaya) because, as my husband says, "It's the law of the land." He also insists that I cover my hair for the same reason, although in Jeddah, one can see some women without head coverings (hijab), especially at the malls. However the vast majority of women in Saudi Arabia not only cover their hair, but they wear the face veils (niqab) as well. Saudi women supposedly wear all of this garb because it is "their choice." This is not a religious requirement, nor is it a law. It is a cultural thing, although the women's dress code is enforced by the religious police who have been known to whack women on the ankles with a stick if too much ankle skin is showing.

All I know is that I feel I am forced to wear the abaya and the hijab when I'm in Saudi Arabia - because it would not be my choice to dress like that. And I doubt if I am the only woman in KSA who feels that it is not my choice.

Other related posts:
Voice Behind the Veil... (Sept. 22, 2010)
The Veil and the Hijab (July 9, 2010)
Hair Do or Hair Don't? (Feb. 7, 2009)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Where is Khaled?

The planned "Day of Rage" which was set for March 11, 2011, in Saudi Arabia was squelched due to a humongous police presence and threats of prison and loss of Saudi citizenship. In an attempt to subdue protests like those seen in many other countries in the Middle East region the past few months, billions of dollars worth of financial aid in social benefits was offered up by the Saudi government as a bandaid to try to assuage any discontent. How much of the billions of dollars in this package will actually reach its intended targets is questionable in a country where corruption is rampant and those responsible for it are not held accountable. More than likely, much of this money will wind up lining the pockets of those entrusted with disbursing it as it has in the past.

Khaled Mohammed is one very brave man. He is a Saudi teacher and father of four who has not been seen or heard from since he spoke out on March 11, expressing his desire for freedom and democracy. He knew he would be hauled off to jail after he spoke out. There are many people in Saudi Arabia who want the same things that Khaled does but who are afraid to let their voices be heard. A government that bullies its citizens into silence in this manner is only in denial about the pressure cooker of problems brewing beneath the surface.

The video has English subtitles.

A Facebook page has been erected for Khaled. Please click "LIKE" to show your support.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Saudi Woman's Perspective: Going Back in Time

As an American woman, I certainly don't feel that I can speak on behalf of Saudi women. One of the most articulate and insightful voices coming from within the Kingdom is that of SaudiWoman, a well-traveled and educated Saudi wife and mother. This is her latest post from her blog SaudiWoman ...

These past couple of weeks have convinced me that the government has made a huge scientific discovery, the time machine, and is now using it to pull the whole country back into the eighties. The King’s decrees, which included a generous package for the ultra-conservatives and gave absolute impunity to the senior clerics council from media criticism, were just an indication of what was coming. Since then, it has been made official instead of being just a religious recommendation; women are banned by law from working as cashiers. This was due to a complaint and proposal by sheikh Yusuf Al Ahmed to the Interior Ministry.

A forum, “Women and Development”, on March 13th here in Riyadh called on the authorities to grant women incentives and stipends to encourage them to stay at home, and to push forward early retirement by reducing service to just 15 years. Also they suggested a special system of part time work just for women and to limit their hospital work to women only wards and ER.

The only moderate muttawa in the PVPV, Dr. Ahmed Al Ghamdi, has been relieved of his post as head of the Makkah PVPV division. He was the only PVPV member who stated openly that women are allowed in Islam to not cover their faces and that there is no such thing as extreme gender segregation in Islam. The latter view is also shared and researched in depth by another high official in the ministry of Justice, Shiekh Eissa Al Ghaith.

Yesterday the interior ministry has announced (ambiguously) that over five thousand detainees were released in the past after they repented from terrorism and others are awaiting trial. Why was this statement made now though? Many of those in political prisons in Saudi were arrested because they belonged to the same ultra-conservative group in the eighties and nineties that produced people like Osama Bin Laden. The free ultra-conservatives are currently apolitical and have focused their energy on the safe and easy misogyny trend except when it comes to the matter of their imprisoned brothers. So this statement can be categorized as of more of the aforementioned appeasement of the ultra-conservatives. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s a huge leap forward and I completely support and celebrate their release. Imprisoning anyone without a clear case and fair trial only creates more terrorism. I just hope that the human rights activist Mikhlif Al Shammary would also be released.

Another blast from the past is that women again will be banned from voting. The municipality elections were announced to start on April 23rd and it was confirmed that women will be completely excluded from the process. For a country that states that it’s constitution is the Quran, excluding women does not fit in with the statement; the Prophet (PBUH) and later caliphs took pledges of leadership (very close to the concept of voting) from both women and men. These are the second elections to take place in the kingdom, and the first excluded women too under the pretense that the logistics of including women and avoiding gender mingling would postpone the elections too long. This was six years ago, and all these years obviously have not been enough time to prepare for the impossible task of actually treating women as full citizens.

I prefer to end on a happy note. The Saudi Women Revolution is now a healthy cooing toddler. A group of women headed by one of Saudi’s biggest women rights activists Dr. Hatoon Al Fasi have decided to start their own municipalities parallel to the government’s. If only we would start parallel cities where women can enjoy their full rights, I bet more and more Saudis will want to move there until the parallel becomes the majority and the current status becomes a margin.

Also this video is a actually a collaboration between a multi generational group of Saudi women who prefer to remain anonymous for now but are currently planning and working towards a bigger online presence.

I can’t wait until the women revolution here hits it’s teen growth spurt.

Finally, in case you missed it, the BBC had an excellent video documentary and radio show on Saudi women. I’m featured in both but more so on the radio show.