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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

 

Something Serious for a Change...

I just received an annonymous comment to my May, 2004 post entitled A Nice-Jewish-Boy Yankee In King Faisel's Court I thought I'd reproduce the comment in its entirety below, and then answer some of the points raised.

I am a Saudi who studied once in the States. Never once did I make fun of the country or the people, eventhough I met some who made fun of my country and my language. I know that some of the Americans hated colored people. Did I go to their places and take pictures with hidden signs of my religion and country? No, I was above that! As there were people who hated us there were people who were nice and hospitable. Jeddah does have beautiful historical sites. Forigners visit them daily. In addition there is Mada en Saleh the city built in the rocks with beatiful art work. The rocks on the ground are taken by some of the visitors and sent to Singapor to be made into diamonds. They are called Saudi Diamonds. There is also a dead volcano near Mecca which is also visited by tourists or forigners. Yemenis although many did the lowest work, many became among the richest families in Saudi Arabia. Just take a look at all the last names of the rich people and you'll get the picture! They started low but moved up to the top! Poverty yes we do have, but go a few blocks from the white house and check the poverty there. Are you not the richest country of the world? As for torrerisim, doesn't your country supply a country which kills children and pull people out of the houses to give it to the ones who came recently to the land? Don't they pull down olive trees which took hundreds of years to grow just to make room for a wall! Do not mix between giving money to suffering people to live, go to school and get health care and giving money to torrerists! From the way you spoke about and acted in our country, it seems you had preintentions and certainly not noble ones. You did not even mention meeting one Saudi family or eating at their place! We are generous and kind people just as there are geneous and kind people in States. As for non Muslims not allowed into Mecca is just as the case of some of your scared places where non Jews are not allowed to enter! You were issued the visa, how did you react to it is shameful.


Dear Annonymous,

Thank you for your comments. I'm sorry you found this story so offensive.

I did not include in that old post that I acted in a very friendly and respectful way to every Saudi with whom I came in contact during those trips. As far as the Saudi people that I met, almost everyone was kind and hospitable towards me.

But that's not what the post was all about. It was about the policies and attitudes of the Saudi government.

I re-read my post, and I will have to let what I said stand. I've re-checked my memory and re-checked the facts, and don't find anything that I would change.

"Did I go to their places and take pictures with hidden signs of my religion and country? No, I was above that!"

Actually, in the United States, there is no reason to "take pictures with hidden signs..." As you know from living here, you can pretty much stand in any public space in this country and shout out whatever you want to say and display whatever signs you want to display without fear of government interference.

As you also know, the same was not possible in Saudi Arabia in 1977, nor is it possible even today. While you or I could walk around in Times Square wearing a t-shirt with verses from the Koran and Islamic religious symbols, when I traveled to Saudi Arabia, I had to hide the small gold chai I wore around my neck. My Christian colleagues had to hide or leave home any crosses or other Christian symbols they might ordinarily worn, without thinking, in our democracy. I had to leave my siddur (Jewish prayer book) at home, lest it be found in my luggage, and pray from memory while in Saudi Arabia.

In 1977, except if you were Henry Kissinger, it was almost unheard of for a Jew to be allowed into Saudi Arabia. In fact, I learned months later that, despite my straightforward and honest manner of filing my visa application, my visa (completely in Arabic and thus unbeknownst to me) had not identified me as a Jew, but rather as a Christian! This was done at the Saudi consulate in New York without my knowlege, and caused me all sorts of problems the next time I applied for a visa - a story for later.

So am I sorry I made some mild photographic fun of the policy of the government of Saudi Arabia of intolerance and disdain for other religions? No.

"Jeddah does have beautiful historical sites. Forigners visit them daily."

Sorry, I just didn't see any such thing during my visits 1977-1980. But of course, although I saw large parts of Jeddah, I didn't see it all. Also, I'm sure that by now, over 25 years later, much of what I saw "...as if it were in the process of being torn down or built up." has in fact been built up quite nicely.

"... Forigners visit them daily. In addition there is Mada en Saleh the city built in the rocks with beatiful art work. The rocks on the ground are taken by some of the visitors and sent to Singapor to be made into diamonds. They are called Saudi Diamonds. There is also a dead volcano near Mecca which is also visited by tourists or forigners."

Again, sorry, I didn't see these things. However, I wouldn't recommend that anyone hop on a plane to Saudi Arabia expecting to indulge in some fantastic tourism. May I quote from this United States Department of State Consular Information Sheet


Visas are issued for business and work, to visit close relatives, and for transit and religious visits. Visas for tourism are issued only for approved tour groups following organized itineraries.


"Poverty yes we do have, but go a few blocks from the white house and check the poverty there. Are you not the richest country of the world?"

Yes, of course, you are absolutely right about that. And there are lots of people in this country who write about that very fact all the time. But my post was about what I saw on my visits to Saudi Arabia. And what I said about the living conditions of guest workers, especially the Yeminis, was true. And it was just as shameful for Saudi Arabia as the sight of a ragged beggar standing at the base of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue is shameful for us as Americans.

"As for non Muslims not allowed into Mecca is just as the case of some of your scared places where non Jews are not allowed to enter!"

I do not know of any place where non-Jews are prevented from entering Jewish holy places. Not in the United States, not in Europe, not in Israel.

But I don't have a problem with not allowing non-Moslems into Mecca. I didn't feel that this was any concern of mine. On the other hand, as I said in my post, "I was actually thrilled to be involved with this work, as the Mecca station was critical to the Kingdom's committment to the yearly Hadj, or pilgrimage to Mecca.... I felt that I was doing my small part of an endeavor that would enable millions of faithful Moslems fulfill the fifth of their Five Pillars of Faith, a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime."

If you read my blog over a period of time, you will realize that I often write with an ironic, and I hope, humorous, tone. That was the point of the subheading, which read, "... How Come No Hebrew?", by the photo of the "No Entry for Non-Moslems" sign. Believe it or not, I still pray that some day, the sign will have an additional "No Entry for Non-Moslems" line, in Hebrew!


"As for torrerisim, doesn't your country supply a country which kills children and pull people out of the houses to give it to the ones who came recently to the land? Don't they pull down olive trees which took hundreds of years to grow just to make room for a wall! "

Please! You're swallowing too much of your own propaganda. As far as killing children, please see this report as to who is doing the killing of innocents.

"pull people out of the houses to give it to the ones who came recently to the land"

Well, if you can find any documentation or photos of Israelis pulling people out of their houses to give them to others, please send it to me. Oh wait... that will be happening this summer when Israeli soldiers pull Jewish inhabitants out of their houses in Gaza to give that land to the Palestinian Authority.

"Don't they pull down olive trees which took hundreds of years to grow just to make room for a wall!"

Yes, they pull down olive groves that were used by snipers and to launch mortars and rockets against innocent civilians.

Anyway, thanks for visiting, Mr. Annonymous!

Comments:
I am neither Jewish nor Arab, so completely devoid of ethnic loyalty in this discussion. I am originally from Romania, and I have to say that I often hear it described by foreign visitors in ghastly terms. You can say bad stuff about any place, yes, political, historical, social, etc, all true stuff. There are grave problems in all places. But surely you were not unfamiliar with the problems when you went to Saudi Arabia? Was the trip made for the sole purpose to confirm them? Of course, not. We all want a certain deep experience from travel, and the appeal of the "forbidden" I am sure colored your impressions over there. I would think that as a woman I would also see a lot of the negative in that country. But I also understand the Saudi man who says that fair is fair, if you are going to describe all the negative in one place, be ready to hear negative things about your homeland as well. When you grow up in a place and have good memories of it, it is not pleasant to always hear people tear it down and point out the faults. There are plenty of faults to go around regardless of where you are from.
 
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