Of Lawrence, Saudi Arabia, Arabs & the West

Saudi marriages_1.jpg
To read the story on ‘arranged marriages’ in a Saudi paper please click here.

We had interesting comments that followed two TMV posts – The Lessons of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ by Shaun Mullen, and my post on Myth of Muslim Support for Terror

A few comments came from Laura. In one of those Laura says: “We ought to be prejudice towards our own civilization because it is superior to islam, which is a misogynist culture that brutally oppresses women and is anathema to our western ideals of tolerance and freedom and so forth. Stop perpetuating the PC garbage that all cultures and civilizations are equally worthy. A civilization which sanctifies ‘honor killings’, practices beheadings, hangs homosexuals among other medieval, barbaric practices is not worthy of our respect. It amazes me how so many western liberals, claiming to champion the rights of women and gays, tolerates and defends such brutal fascism in the name of multiculturalism.

My reply was: “Laura has a point. But the issue here is different. We live in a world that has diversity – cultural, religious, economic and political. It is foolhardy to hope to change the people and their lifestyle overnight by invading countries. By doing that we create a climate of confrontation and violence. Change is inevitable.

We need peaceful campaigns not forcible conversions, especially when the other religion’s roots go back deep in history. If one studies Islam it has seen its glorious past as well as brutal past and present. There was a time in history when women enjoyed great respect in the Arab world.

The rise of Wahabis, or extreme conservatism, in Islam was owing to murderous factional fights between Arab tribes in recent times. Although this movement suppressed the intra-tribe violence and fights, there has been no powerful reformist movement to restore basic social/political freedoms.

So anger, hurt and retribution on the part of the West would not solve any problem. Please remember that the US has been supporting such Arab regimes in the recent past. This has complicated the issue because the Arab common people are not necessarily happy or support their rulers.

It is the common people (especially women and children) who are suffering the most, caught between their own rulers and now the might of the US and western forces.

I wish to add that from experience gained during my stint with the Saudi Gazette that it would not be right to believe that the Arab population fully believes/supports the stance of their rulers. As I said earlier their is enough dissent. But the Arab population, not much unlike the American/British population at present, is a helpless witness to the doings of their leaders/rulers.

I wish to give a few samples of visible dissent in a newspaper. Please click here for my earlier post.

Recently, I discovered that the Saudi Gazette has a web edition. I read an interesting discussion about ‘arranged marriages’. Remember this article appeared in ‘ultra conservative’ Saudi Arabia. To read it please click here. Then there is another article on drugs and teens.

I also recommend that those interested in the subject may also read my post on “Legendary Gertrude Bell of Iraq and Arabia”. Please click here..

Author: SWARAAJ CHAUHAN, International Columnist

Swaraaj Chauhan describes his two-decade-long stint as a full-time journalist as eventful, purposeful, and full of joy and excitement. In 1993 he could foresee a different work culture appearing on the horizon, and decided to devote full time to teaching journalism (also, partly, with a desire to give back to the community from where he had enriched himself so much.) Alongside, he worked for about a year in 1993 for the US State Department's SPAN magazine, a nearly five-decade-old art and culture monthly magazine promoting US-India relations. It gave him an excellent opportunity to learn about things American, plus the pleasure of playing tennis in the lavish American embassy compound in the heart of New Delhi. In !995 he joined WWF-India as a full-time media and environment education consultant and worked there for five years travelling a great deal, including to Husum in Germany as a part of the international team to formulate WWF's Eco-tourism policy. He taught journalism to honors students in a college affiliated to the University of Delhi, as also at the prestigious Indian Institute of Mass Communication where he lectured on "Development Journalism" to mid-career journalists/Information officers from the SAARC, African, East European and Latin American countries, for eight years. In 2004 the BBC World Service Trust (BBC WST) selected him as a Trainer/Mentor for India under a European Union project. In 2008/09 He completed another European Union-funded project for the BBC WST related to Disaster Management and media coverage in two eastern States in India --- West Bengal and Orissa. Last year, he spent a couple of months in Australia and enjoyed trekking, and also taught for a while at the University of South Australia. Recently, he was appointed as a Member of the Board of Studies at Chitkara University in Chandigarh, a beautiful city in North India designed by the famous Swiss/French architect Le Corbusier. He also teaches undergraduate and postgraduate students there. He loves trekking, especially in the hills, and never misses an opportunity to play a game of tennis. The Western and Indian classical music are always within his reach for instant relaxation. And last, but not least, is his firm belief in the power of the positive thought to heal oneself and others.

25 Comments

  1. Every nation deserves the right to find it’s own way. If Venezuela wants to nationalize every industry in their country, that’s their business. If Vietnam, China and Cuba want to be communist, that’s their business. If the people of Iran want a Islamic autocracy, that’s their business.

    Sure, it would be great if liberty could take hold in all of these countries, and we should try to help that happen if the people are being oppressed. But we should stop short of selling/providing weapons and military intervention to achieve these goals.

    Because we’ve resorted to violence in many of these cases, we’ve given up claims of a superior culture. We’ve killed countless Vietnamese, Iraqis, Cubans Cambodians and for what? Sure, we treat our own okay, but do the people that live in other countries have no worth?

  2. Swaraaj:

    You are a voice of reason. It seems almost naive to say so in this day and age, but I still believe — as I have for many years — that guns and brickbats are never replacements for opening dialogues.

  3. Chris’s post made me think of a line from “Full Metal Jacket”:

    “Inside of every gook there’s an American trying to get out.”

    Swaraaj’s post is interesting as it touches on a major faultline in US foreign policy: the realists vs the activists.

    This faultline cuts across party lines. Look at how Pelosi and the Democrats jumped to their feet at Bush’s mention of Darfur in the State of the Union. The Activist impulse goes back to Wilson at least.

    A Realist – including a lot of Republicans from Bush 1 – would ask why should the US be in Darfur (as Scowcroft did in his public criticism of the Iraq war).

    Why should the US see it must intervene or protest everywhere about activities in foreign countries?

    Remember the US outrage over Australian Prime Minister Howard’s comment on Obama?

    “Keep out of our politics!” everyone shouted, including here at TMV.

    Uhhh, couldn’t other countries say the same to the US?

  4. Laura has yet to make a sane statement. Like our oil consuming, Native American killing, African enslaving, Dictator supporting culture is the best, Laura..FOH

  5. Chuck -

    Yes, even with all that we are the best (although how truly PC to point out past sins as if they are current, and current behaviors that are not exclusive to our culture, because the White Man’s guilt can never be washed away by time or mitigated; that absolution is reserved for any other culture but ours).

  6. Austin,

    The reason why those are relevant is because we haven’t learned from them (using slave labor for our consumer goods and services via outsourcing, continuous military support of suspect regimes, the “Manifest Destiny” attitude of the majority of this country). The only way out of this is to lead by example and humility and respect. That’s how I feel about it.

  7. CP- Manifest Destiny is a good way to put it. I think our occupation of Iraq and plans to remake the ME in our own image fit that description.

    The motivation to occupy a foreign country to modernize their society isn’t that much different than what the colonial powers of Europe did in the 16th-20th centuries. The belief that another culture is inferior or uncivilized, somehow justifies our actions. We persist in the fallacy that making them over in our own image will somehow be welcomed by the native populations- that we are doing it for their own good.

    I hate it that so many have become so xenophobic since 9/11.

  8. What I find particularly troubling about Laura’s comment is that every negative in Muslim societies is assigned to “Islam’ generically, as if the religion of Islam has some malevolent gene that is fated to produce these symptoms.

    That is very faulty reasoning, in my view. Any religion is practiced by people in particular cultures, and they interpret the sacred texts to fit into their secular view of the world.

    How to explain, then, Chrstendom’s footdragging re the role of womnen, which is being argued in some quarters even today? Is it Christianity that bans a woman from becoming a Pope or an archbihsop, or is it the culture of the practioners of Christianity
    who are responsible?

  9. domajot,
    First, no one is forced to practice Catholicism, but the same can’t be said about fundamentalist Islam. If you don’t feel that women are treated with respect by the Catholic hierarchy, you are free to…not be Catholic. Of course, those of us who do practice Catholicism recognize that women’s roles are highly respected; separate but equal really does apply here, and again since this is voluntary and not being imposed, it is a choice that should be respected.

    Second point is, don’t you think that it’s ludicrous to compare the inability to become Pope with having one’s genitals mutilated and sewn together because you are strictly considered chattel? I find it breathtaking that anyone could even make comparisons about two situations that are so disparate.

    I agree with your general point though, that the religion itself isn’t at fault, it’s that it is being twisted.

  10. We should all keep in mind that these missions to civilize other peoples were never really about that at all.

    “Democratizing” Iraq is really just a facade for strategic control of Middle East oil.

  11. I agree with your general point though, that the religion itself isn’t at fault, it’s that it is being twisted.

    I can use a comedy quote in the same vein…”If guns can be blamed for killing people, that means I can blame misspelled words on my pencil” – Larry the Cable Guy

  12. CS – I do refuse to tar Muslim countries problems solely with the brush of Islam. All religions at various times have been twisted and turned against their very followers. If you ever get the chance to visit moderate Muslim countries like Dubia or Jordan, you will come away with a different perspective.

    Chris –

    “Democratizingâ€? Iraq is really just a facade for strategic control of Middle East oil.”

    Absolutely, no doubt. That has been the goal of all European, Russian, and US foreign policy (and now China, too) towards Iraq and Iran since oil became such a critical and strategic commodity.

    My question is what better reason than securing or protecting vital national strategic assets is there for going to war? Any other reason that doesn’t serve the true interests of the country is wasting the lives of our soldiers. When you get right down to it, that is the real reason we entered WWII, which is always held up as ‘The Last Moral War’.

  13. My question is what better reason than securing or protecting vital national strategic assets is there for going to war?

    There isn’t and shouldn’t be. But the architects of the Iraq War considered it to be in our vital interest, which is a dangerous line of thinking.

  14. CSTANLY: “.. religion itself isn’t at fault, it’s that it is being twisted. ”
    =============
    Thet was NOT my point.
    I tried to say that all religions are INTERPRETED by the people who practice them. To say ‘twisted’ implies that there is one true interpretation, and all else is folly. This leads to a dead end discussion of which is the best religion?

    It is my contention that how a religion is applied reflects the people who subscribe to a particular interpretation of it, not the
    religion itself. Thus when we assess Islam or Christianiy, we should really address the practioners of a certain interpretation instead, and this is a matter of culture and social groupings.

    It follows that I must reject all your comparative examples. If Muslim countires are intolerant of other religions, this reflects the thinking of the leadership in these countries, not Islam. There have been numerous examples in history (notably in Spain before Queen Isabella) where Islam co-existed with Christianity and Judaism remarkably peacefully. Apparently they applied a different interpretaion of Islam.
    ———–

    “Second point is, don’t you think that it’s ludicrous to compare the inability to become Pope with having one’s genitals mutilated”
    ===
    ??? I made no such comparison. Again, what you bring up demonstrates cultural and secular differences.

    —–
    I’m sincerely sorry if you felt I was singling out the Catholic Church for attack. It was my intention to simply point out the different interprestations of what Chirstianity is.
    Not being Catholic, I don’t have a vote. But as an observer, I can’t help but form views of different applications of Christinity as well as Islam and Judaism and Budhism, et al. Personally, I can’t accept the ‘separate but equal’ position in any religion, but it’s up to the women in each religion to come to their own conclusions.

  15. domajot,
    On the issue of “twisting”, I see your point more clearly although I still don’t see why you see my interpretation of your remark as so much different. I don’t agree that “twisting” means that there is one pure interpretation; I simply feel that we can pretty easily say what religions like Christianity and Islam are NOT meant to be. It is not meant to be violent or coercive. I think most reasonable people would agree that those who use the writings or tenets of the religion for those purposes are “twisting”. That seems to be what you are saying in regard to various groups or governments in their misuse of religion, isn’t it?

    And I brought up the example of the extreme misogyny practiced by some Muslim groups because by even discussing ‘inequality for women’ as you might see it in Christian churches in conjunction with discussion of the “ills of Islam” as defined by Laura, you are making a false analogy. You may see Christian interpretation of gender roles as unfair, but there is just no comparison between this and the kind of oppression that is taking place against women in some Muslim cultures today.

    As a side note, it might surprise some people to learn that the current Pope has issued new guidelines in order to get back to the idea that priests are servants of the people and servants of the Lord. One example: the priests must clean the vessels after Communion. When you look at it in this light, it’s easier to see that women aren’t being demeaned when they aren’t granted the right to become priests. The priest position is not supposed to be an exalted one and you have to take all of this out of the context of secular society to better understand it. That said, I’ll repeat that if people disagree they are free to do so and refrain from joining the Catholic Church. It’s not a democratic institution and isn’t meant to be one, so the talk about “dragging feet” on an issue just doesn’t make any sense. The Church isn’t supposed to conform to popular views of the day, it’s supposed to speak universal truth for all time.

  16. XSTANLEY: “I simply feel that we can pretty easily say what religions like Christianity and Islam are NOT meant to be.”
    =====
    The answers to the question of what a religion is meant to be can be as many as the number of people answerting the quiz.

    You are making value judgments based on results, not anything inherent in ancient texts. Christianity has evolved enormously over the centuries and continues to evolve, according to the societies from which the successful leaders emerge. For Christianity to evolve, the society had to evolve.

    The interpretations and applications we don’t like, you call ‘twisted’. That’s what Islamic scholars are doing even as we argue. That is good, because it leads to conclusions that we like.
    But any religion can be made to turn a corner, according to the people claiming authority over its application.

    Our major difference is that I believe, even though Gad may be God, religions are man made. It is men who interpret and apply. Men do not share God’s transcendence, and sometimes they can be just flat out wrong.

    A more fruitful approach, in my view, is to stop classifying religions on a good/bad scale and seek to find lessons in any and all that can enlighten us, to benefit all humanity.

  17. Play nice you two.

  18. It is foolhardy to hope to change the people and their lifestyle overnight by invading countries

    I didn’t say we should invade every muslim country. But what I am saying is that we ought not pretend that these medieval cultures are equal to our own and ought to be respected. We should at least shun countries that engage in such barbaric practices.

    Also there are ways of effecting change other than militarily, however with regards to Iran, the danger from that country acquiring nuclear weapons is too near to wait for change. That doesn’t necessarily mean an invasion, but it does mean an air attack on its nuclear facilities.

  19. What I find particularly troubling about Laura’s comment is that every negative in Muslim societies is assigned to “Islam’ generically, as if the religion of Islam has some malevolent gene that is fated to produce these symptoms.

    Who said anything about genetics. I’m talking about ideology and the koran.

  20. Native American killing, African enslaving

    Here you are comparing things America did centuries ago to the practices of the muslim world TODAY.

  21. Dictator supporting culture

    Here you are contradicting yourself. You condemn our support for dictators, and simultaneously condemn us for getting rid of saddam hussein and attempting to establish democracy. It seems that the left is about nothing more than being a movement to oppose America regardless of what we do. We are bad for supporting dictators, and we are bad for overthrowing dictators.

  22. Swaraaj,

    “I wish to add that from experience gained during my stint with the Saudi Gazette that it would not be right to believe that the Arab population fully believes/supports the stance of their rulers.”

    Never underestimate how much the image of some of those common people partying in the streets on 9/11 burned into the minds of lots of Americans. Later some tried to claim the footage was fake. Some said it was staged. Some quick research makes it seem more likely than not that it was true. That many in the Arab street thought it was a justifiable comeuppance. Look it up on snopes.com which has one of the best summaries of it.

    Look at how the tribes of the borderlands of Afghanistan/Pakistan support the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The minority isn’t as small as you make it sound and even a minority of extreme fanatics out of a billion people makes for a lot of murderers and those who support them.

  23. The political and religious leaders do not hesitate to play with fire by spreading disinformation and creating a climate for revenge and violence. This applies in equal measure in democracies and dictatorships. So when ill-informed people act in a certain manner, this fact should be kept in mind.

    Afghanistan is the most volatile region. The present ill-informed rulers in Europe and the US have fiddled with that country without learning any lessons from history. Afghans have never been kind even to their rival tribal leaders/groups, leave aside the occupation forces from the West.

    Afghans are fiercely independent and to get involed in their affairs is suicidal. You may call them fanatics or by any other name…they are fiercely independent. And the US/NATO forces would have to kill each and every Afghan to claim any victory.

    If the US has failed to locate Osama bi Laden in such a long time, the forces should concede defeat and move out with dignity. If it is going to be a fight to the finish, as the Bush administration appears to claim, then don’t complain. Be brave and just face the music!!!

  24. And, yes, Jim Satterfield, the longer the US/NATO forces stay on in Afghanistan, the more united the warring tribes would be against the foreign troops.

    Public memory is proverbially short. The former Soviet Union’s back was broken in Afghanistan and the Soviet empire disintegrated owing to its failure to subdue the independent Afghanis.

    In history all empire builders always avoided taking on Afghanistan directly or for a prolonged period.

    But some people simply refuse to learn the lessons from history.

    When will they ever learn…Oh! when will they ever learn!!!

  25. Laura,

    Now that you have seemingly pulled your head out of the sand, let’s review:

    1. Like I said waaaaaaaaay up there, we haven’t learned from our mistakes in the past.
    1a. What was Christianity doing at 1200 years of age? Exactly.
    2. We had our chance to get Saddam outta there in 1991 and didn’t do it.
    3. Supporting the Shah’s dictatorship fostered the Iran we have to deal with today.
    4. If we invade Iran, we need to also invade Saudi since they’re a terrorist supporting regime who wants to go nuclear…

    Got anything else for me, Laura? You try so hard but can’t come through…*smh*

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