Monday, June 21, 2010

Double Parked

My husband has started driving again since his open heart surgery the end of March. Last week we had some errands and shopping to do, so Hubby, son Adam, and I climbed into the car and we were off. In many business areas around here, parking seems to have been more of an after-thought than preplanned. So parking spots are often hard to find and lots of haphazard double parking happens along the streets in front of businesses, or there is lots of parking on sidewalks or even just in the middle of the streets.

There were no parking spots available at one place my husband needed to go into, so he double parked behind another vehicle. Adam and I stayed in the car waiting. Before too long, two men came and got into the vehicle that our car was blocking. I instinctively got out of the backseat and into the driver's seat. I pulled our car forward so that the other car could get out. Once they had pulled out and were on their way, I then backed our car up and then pulled it into the parking space left vacant by the other car that had just left.

Adnan arrived shortly afterward - and he was fine with what I had done. But what really surprised me was Adam's reaction. What I did had apparently terrified Adam. He tried to talk me out of doing it and was afraid that I would get arrested. Adam told me that the two guys in the car just stared at me like they couldn't believe their eyes - a woman behind the wheel in Saudi Arabia - how scandalous! I've driven Adam around since he was born, so he knows I'm perfectly capable of pulling a car forward a few feet and then pulling into a parking space. But he was scared that I would get into trouble, and I wasn't scared of that at all. I have never been one to live my life in fear - but I feel that many people here in this society (and other societies around the world, for that matter) live in fear on a daily basis - fear of what someone else or society will think of them (this is a BIG one here), fear of breaking the rules and getting caught and punished, fear of not earning enough points to get into heaven.

I don't think what I did was any big deal - what do you think?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

No Kissing Allowed

Ihave a hard time trying to be upbeat and positive here in a country that is so restrictive for me as a Western woman - which makes it even harder to try to write about positive aspects of this society. There are many good things about living here. I feel very safe here, although I wonder why my husband is so paranoid my safety, for example, that he doesn't want me taking a taxi by myself just to go to the grocery store five minutes away. Overall I believe there is much less crime here than in the USA, but I wonder if that is because people live in fear of the severe penalties doled out for "crimes" that aren't even considered crimes in most of the rest of the world.

Public Displays of Affection (PDAs) are strictly prohibited here in Saudi Arabia. While being overly affectionate in public might make others feel uncomfortable and may push the limits of bad taste, are PDAs so bad that a person should be arrested, thrown in prison, and be lashed?

Al-Yom, a government owned newspaper here in Saudi Arabia, has reported that a Saudi man has been sentenced to 4 months in prison and is to receive 90 lashes for being caught on camera hugging and kissing a woman in a shopping mall in Riyadh. Another term of his punishment is that he will be banned from going to shopping malls for two years. It is not clear from the article whether the man and woman are related. Men and women are not allowed to date, not allowed to work together in most settings, and not allowed to socialize with one another in this country because of strict interpretations of Islamic law regarding gender segregation.

The religious police here have been known to whack a woman sharply with a stick on her ankles if her black cloak isn't long enough and routinely make sure that women are not wearing makeup out in public. There have been many reports of the religious police chasing down vehicles with men and women inside to make them prove that they are related. The religious police also object to women exercising and have closed down many women's gyms here in the Kingdom because they are "decadent" and only women "with no manners" would go to gyms to exercise - I still don't understand these reasons why and apparently neither do many Saudis.

This country still conducts public beheadings. So it's perfectly okay for people to view a spectacle like a beheading, but to witness a little peck on the cheek is too scandalous for anyone to bear here in this country. I read that a man who kissed his wife's forehead (because she had a headache) as he dropped her off at a mall was jumped and beaten up by the religious police. Is that just? Is that deserved? Something seems very wrong with this whole picture. Which is more offensive - seeing someone's head chopped off or witnessing a man kiss his wife on the forehead?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

MTV Update

It's good news for the young Saudis whose fate was in question after appearing on an MTV program called Real Life a few weeks ago. It appears as though there will be and have been no lawsuits filed against them. Arab News published the following story by reporter MUHAMMAD HUMAIDAN just hours ago:

"Judge rejects reports of lawsuit against MTV"

JEDDAH: Judge Muhammad Amin Mirdad of the Summary Court in Jeddah told Arab News on Tuesday that rumors that appeared in the local press recently regarding a short documentary that aired on the US version of MTV are false.

"The Jeddah Summary Court has not so far received any lawsuit (pertaining to the controversy)," he said, adding that he was also unaware of any cases filed with prosecutors that would lead to court proceedings.

Local media reported that complaints have been submitted to prosecutors against MTV Networks and the Saudi youths that appeared on the short documentary.

On Sunday, the Jeddah Municipal Council discussed the possibility of filing a complaint against MTV for airing footage of a meeting it claims was filmed without members' knowledge or consent. The meeting took place on the premises of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which claims the producers of the documentary did not obtain permission to film on the premises.

Some of the youths that appeared in the documentary were also targeted as possible defendants for discussing issues such as meeting at malls for dates.

Sheikh Muhammad was the judge who presided over the case of Muhamamd Abdul Jawad, aka the "Sex Braggart," who was sentenced to jail and lashes for appearing on an LBC program boasting about extra-marital sexual encounters in Jeddah.

Published: Jun 8, 2010 22:56 Updated: Jun 8, 2010 23:00

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Arabia 3-D Movie

In February 2010, a new film called Arabia 3-D was released and is being shown on a limited basis in some IMAX Theaters. This is the first film ever that was totally shot within Saudi Arabia. From the depths of the Red Sea to its ancient ruins to covering the largest human assemblage on earth, Arabia 3-D offers a rare glimpse into the mysterious desert land of Saudi Arabia. It is narrated by British actress Helen Mirren. Rich in culture and steeped in history, religion, and tradition, this film is a must-see for those wanting to know more about one of the most misunderstood and secretive places on earth. Arabia 3-D is a visually spectacular masterpiece which can hopefully dispel some of the negative images that many Western people have about Saudi Arabia.

Arabia 3-D was the brainchild of a young Saudi filmmaker, Hamzah Jamjoon, a graduate of DePaul University's Fine Arts program in Chicago. From start to finish, the film took three years to make. There were some unique problems. Since Saudi Arabia has no film industry at all to speak of, government rules and regulations had to be invented along the way to provide for the making of the film, as well as bringing in professionals from 17 different countries around the world to produce the film. The extreme heat also had to be taken into consideration and special refrigerated trucks were employed to cool down the crews and the cameras themselves.

Although there are no movie theaters in Saudi Arabia, Jamjoon hopes to erect some temporary theaters to be able to show his film in his homeland to his fellow countrymen (and women too, I hope!). Here is a review of the film and below is a short movie trailer.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Awesome Arabic TV Commercial

Most commercials here in Saudi Arabia are lame and incredibly annoying (like many elsewhere in the world) but once in a while they get it right. The commercial below is for a phone company here called Zain. Every time this commercial comes on the TV here, I always stop whatever I'm doing to watch it. Zain named this commercial "Silent Beauty," which I believe is the name of the accompanying song. The graphics are colorfully creative and awesome, and the music is elegant and haunting. The version here has English subtitles, and I've also included the written lyrics below. I don't know who wrote the words of the poem/song, but poetry is a huge part of Arabic culture and history.

Did you see the sun lighting up the sky,
Nourishing life with its radiance and rising above?
I called out to it with the songs of my voice...
But it wouldn't speak.

Did you see the flowers bloom in spring?
Their beauty captivates the heart,
and quenches its thirst.
I reproached them for being away too long...
But they wouldn't speak.

And then in the distance I see
A beautiful girl playing with her dolls.
I asked her why she plays alone,
But she couldn't speak

Then I realized after all of this...
That we've become blind to the truth.
So much beauty is around us
But it cannot speak.
Beauty everywhere.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Sad Day

There is a word in Arabic - I think it is "muhjahara," or something close to that - which refers to when a Muslim openly announces his sins. It is a crime in Saudi Arabia to do this. Announcing one’s sins is seen as encouraging others to also break the rules, or in other words, promoting crime. This might explain why many people in Saudi Arabia seem to be in denial about the existence of crimes and bad behavior here in the first place – because it is not to be discussed. But is this healthy for the society?

During the past several months, there has been unprecedented talk of reform here in this country. Several religious leaders have spoken out in favor of sweeping changes and a loosening of the strict codes of enforced morality that grip this country, ranging from support of women driving to relaxing the stiff rules which prohibit gender mixing. I wrote about some of these topics in a recent post on this blog.

My last post told you about an MTV True Life program that showcased four different Saudi young people here in Jeddah. Each of their stories focused on different challenges that these youth face living in Saudi Arabia. This program has caused quite a stir here in the Kingdom. I think it showed how very normal the youth here are and how they have similar feelings and aspirations to young people all over the world. But it now appears that the religious police have filed a suit against these young people for the crime of muhjahara. By next week, the Islamic Sharia Court will make the decision as to whether to proceed with the charges against the show’s participants or not.

I truly hope that the court decides against pursuing this case. The outcome will reveal exactly how deeply committed the current leaders are as far as reform and progress for Saudi Arabia. Although these young people are not representative of all youth here in KSA, there are many that feel the same way as they do – and many adults as well. They took a giant courageous step to appear on the show and articulate their feelings about the changes they would like to see in Saudi Arabia, their homeland. They only want to better their country and make it more livable, especially for young people. It is widely agreed that the kingdom is sorely lacking in activities for its residents, and when events are planned, many times they are shut down. Instead of punishing these spirited youngsters for bringing attention to problems here, Saudi Arabia should focus on making changes to improve the quality of life for all of its citizens.

Dr. Khalid Alnowaiser, a Saudi lawyer, wrote this excellent op-ed piece recently for Arab News called "Challenges Facing Young Saudis," which emphasizes the changes he feels are necessary for Saudi Arabia to move forward in today's world.