Thursday, June 10, 2004


Encouraging wassatiya in the schools.

Saudi Education Minister Mohammed Ahmed Rasheed is a reformer. And he has wassatiya in mind. The word means "being neither to the extreme right nor the extreme left"—sort of a Saudi middle-of-the-roader.

But reading about the problems Rasheed faces in the Desert Kingdom and the stark parallels with educational problems in America, I'd say he has his work cut out for him.

Take this, for example: "A few of our teachers used to try to indoctrinate our young students." His use of the past tense suggests that the problem has been resolved in Saudi Arabia, but one suspects otherwise, if the United States is any sort of model.

Here at home, indoctrination is our first priority. Math and science have to be squeezed in among the flag-raising and Pledge of Allegiance in the morning, the noonday voluntary prayer session held around the flagpole by Christian athletes and other student opinion-makers. Then there's the flag-lowering, to be followed in the evening by Christian events such as football, which typically requires playing the Star-Spangled Banner, a few words from a member of the clergy, to be capped by the footballers kneeling in a circle before they go out and kick some ass.

What has piqued1 the Washington Post's interest in Saudi education was the publication of the face of a Saudi female CEO2 last January.
[T]he kingdom's

The face that launched a thousand rants.

religious leaders were outraged, particularly after a picture appeared in Saudi newspapers the next day showing Olayan without a veil.

"Such a practice is agreed upon unanimously to be forbidden, as is newspapers' publication of photographs of such women in this unseemly, Islamically unlawful state," intoned the grand mufti, Sheik Abdalaziz bin Abdullah Sheik.
If that wasn't clear enough, another source reveals that he went on to say,
“I decree3 that Muslims should beware, be alert and avoid being carried away by this propaganda, which destroys religion, morals and virtues... What was published in some newspapers about this being the start of liberating the Saudi woman—such talk is null and void. One's duty is to obey Shariah (Islamic law) by complying with orders and shunning that which is forbidden.”
Now I know that being deprived of a glimpse of any portion of the female anatomy since you last saw your mother's teat will cause strange reactions, and I will not even speculate upon what Saudi men may have done to themselves when they saw that face. But in any case, it can't be as bad as the teaching of Darwinism, which is what Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell have to put up with.

But what we're really talking about here is preserving the regime.

Preserving the regime

The single most important pillar supporting the ruling Saud family, the Wahhabis, are under siege at a time when the Sauds need them more than ever to bolster their rule against Islamic radicals.4

Again, the parallel with the Bush regime is striking. It too depends for its preservation upon grand muftis such as the Revs. Robertson and Falwell. But a part of Bush's problem is that he can't seem to elicit the same degree of fervor from his religious followers as the House of Saud can.
"Seeking to overthrow existing legitimate regimes is forbidden," the grand mufti said in a late January sermon.... "Praise the leaders of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia who are providing us with peace and security."

Terrorism must be "crushed," he continued. "God says the penalty of those that fight God and his prophet and spread violence and terror is to be killed, crucified or have their hands and legs chopped off."

While Bush may be able to count on Pat Robertson to call down a hurricane or two come November, the effect is just not the same.

A teeny part of the dilemma for both King George and the House of Saud is that neither really believes in the beliefs of their supporters. So they're forced to appear as radical moderates, or moderate radicals (that's wassatiya, to you), and the hypocrisy is just killing them.

In his heart of hearts our Great Leader probably wants to support stem-cell research and go to Mars in hope of finding dinosaurs or something (which could wreak havoc with the Christian fundamentalist idea that the universe was created just 5,000 years ago). But he knows how precarious his regime really is, so we'll go to Mars, but he just won't mention the dinosaurs.

As for the Saudis, if you've ever seen a Saudi prince in a hotel bar, you know what I mean. To put it succinctly—they don't give a shit about Shariah and admit that they're often miffed by the muftis.

If all this weren't enough, there's the media problem.
[M]any Saudis contend the House of Wahhab's iron grip is slipping. Shobokshi, the Jiddah businessman and columnist, ascribes this to expanded access to more moderate Islamic preachers elsewhere in the Arab world. "Saudis have discovered there are other ways to get interpretations of the Koran from other sheiks on the Internet and satellite television previously not available," he said.

You see what I mean? I have written elsewhere on the corrupting influence of foreign journalists and our government's efforts to prevent it, but the Internet and satellite television may require something more drastic.

What that "something" may be remains unclear. While the government already has the capacity to survey your every mouse click, it is not—so far as I know—actually coming between you and your clicker. That could change.

The satellite television component of the media assault on the population is more easily contained. Our newly activated Star Wars antiballistic missile system needs something sufficiently immobile to shoot at, since so far it has been absolutely hopeless at shooting down anything that moves. A geostationary satellite should be just the thing.


1 "Piqued" may be too strong a word here. The events described in the article took place last January, and the article itself appears on page 18. [back]
2 Lest you get all weepy about the plight of Ms. Olayan, let me reassure you by mentioning that she is hovering around #34 in the billionaire's list and can raise a private army of mercenaries, should her naked face require it. [back]
3Don't you love that word "decree"? I've been expecting our Great Leader to use it any day now, as in "Today I am decreeing martial law." [back]
4I'm really not clear on this. I thought the Wahhabis were the Islamic radicals. [back]

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