A Female Reporter’s Experience in Saudi Arabia

From the LA Times:

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — THE hem of my heavy Islamic cloak trailed over floors that glistened like ice. I walked faster, my eyes fixed on a familiar, green icon. I hadn’t seen a Starbucks in months, but there it was, tucked into a corner of a fancy shopping mall in the Saudi capital. After all those bitter little cups of sludgy Arabic coffee, here at last was an improbable snippet of home — caffeinated, comforting, American.

I wandered into the shop, filling my lungs with the rich wafts of coffee. The man behind the counter gave me a bemused look; his eyes flickered. I asked for a latte. He shrugged, the milk steamer whined, and he handed over the brimming paper cup. I turned my back on his uneasy face.

Crossing the cafe, I felt the hard stares of Saudi men. A few of them stopped talking as I walked by and watched me pass. Them, too, I ignored. Finally, coffee in hand, I sank into the sumptuous lap of an overstuffed armchair.

“Excuse me,” hissed the voice in my ear. “You can’t sit here.” The man from the counter had appeared at my elbow. He was glaring.

“Excuse me?” I blinked a few times.

“Emmm,” he drew his discomfort into a long syllable, his brows knitted. “You cannot stay here.”

“What? Uh … why?”

Then he said it: “Men only.”

He didn’t tell me what I would learn later: Starbucks had another, unmarked door around back that led to a smaller espresso bar, and a handful of tables smothered by curtains. That was the “family” section. As a woman, that’s where I belonged. I had no right to mix with male customers or sit in plain view of passing shoppers. Like the segregated South of a bygone United States, today’s Saudi Arabia shunts half the population into separate, inferior and usually invisible spaces.


  1. Saudi Arabia is among the most backward countries on this planet, and they should have been target numero uno following 9/11. But, I forgot, they’re our “allies.”

  2. Primitive screwheads, as Ash says…

    Then again, there was a Western woman who tried to sit down up front in an Israeli bus, and was told to go to the back — the whole Rosa Parks experience. Turns out this was a “Modesty Bus,” or some crap like that, for the convenience of Orthodox Jews — who insisted that it was all for the benefit of women, and that women were ever so happy about it, since they didn’t have to endure the sexist glares of dirty, nasty men who have no control over their own behavior. And this route was run by the government.

    Primitive screwheads.

  3. Islam: Easily the worst religion on the planet. Every religion is silly, some more than others, but nothing else comes close to Islam for pure disgustingness.

    My brother-in-law, a hard-line leftist, was lecturing me the other day (in my own home no less) in how Christianity was “just as bad”. I couldn’t believe his ignorance. It was hard to get in a word edgewise, but when I did, no amount of reasoned thought or empirical evidence swayed him.

  4. Dave,

    I take it that you don’t actually know any Persians or Arabs, right?

    I’ve known quite a few, and I can’t attribute any single stereotype to them, other than they are all culturally Islamic. And every one of them I’ve known are as disgusted by the “primitive screwheads” as you are. More so, since those very screwheads are messing up their peaceful religion, as they see it, which they practice to varying degrees, but which they all culturally identify with.

    The primitive screwheads no more represent the world of islamic people than the Ulster Guard and IRA in Ireland represent average Christians. It’s simply a flag the bad guys carry, to the chagrin of others who “own” that flag.

    Americans are quick to demonize people carrying different labels than themselves, but cry foul when their own labels are criticized.

    It’s not about the religion, guys. It’s about the people.

    Aside from that, I wonder, when Condi Rice visits primitive screwhead countries on diplomatic missions, does she cover up? I wonder how the primitive screwhead world views the lead spokesman for the USA being a black female. For instance, does anyone ever ask to speak to her husband?

  5. It is indeed the religion. We must remember that Islam is in no way a religion of peace. It is a violent, backward, oppressive religion. Always has been, always will be.

  6. And how do you know this? Have you read the Koran? How does it compare to the Bible, as far as violence, backwardness, and oppression? Have you ever personally been to a moderate Islamic country, and seen how people treat each other?

    Or did you get this idea from a Christian pulpit, in a “we iz bedder den dem” sermon?

  7. One more thing. From my perspective, any person who hates another person for nothing more than the name of their religion, is reprehensible. And it’s downright wicked, as someone once said, to hate that many people all at once.

  8. Comparison of religions has come up here before (suprise!), and I’m firmly in the camp that they are all equally offensive.

    I think the way I analogised it before was “which is worse: being shot once or being shot ten times?”. It’s all the same to me, accepting the lesser of two evils is still accepting an evil – the degrees of evil are irrelevant, even a distraction, because the point is the acceptance of the evil in the first place.

    It’s your classic double-bind, and I’m not taken in by it 🙂

  9. Amazes me how some people are so hellbent on relativism that they refuse to see the obvious.

    Look at the islamic world, people. It is a hellhole. And it is a hellhole precisely because of the dominant religion there. If you can’t see that, I truly feel sorry for you.

    And no, I haven’t read the whole Koran (what a fabulous waste of time that would be) but yes, I’ve read passages of the Koran, so don’t insinuate that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I doubt you’ve read the whole thing either.

    Just for fun why don’t you just go to http://memritv.org/ and see what’s being preached thruout the middle east. This is stuff that’s going all over their airwaves buddy. Watch it. If you have an open mind you can’t possibly still think that Islam is just like Christianity.

  10. Always has been, always will be

    No, that is completely and utterly wrong. To say such a thing betrays a staggering ignorance, it truly depresses me.

    Islam has been a religion of peace and tolerance in the past. Nowhere near as peaceful or tolerant as modern, secular societies, but a helluva lot more peaceful and tolerant than what many Christian societies have been up through the years.

    Learn yer fuckin’ history, and quit spouting that kinda ignorant shit — you’re making me feel embarrassed to share an opinion with you right now…

    Now… I’ve personally known a few Arabs. The ones who’ve lived most of their lives in the US have been reasonable people. But the ones who grew up in the Arab/Muslim world, and came to the West for their education — oh, baby — completely different story…

    This is my personal experience: Dude number one: spoiled rich kid blowing daddy’s money (only on himself, never on others) and throwing a fit whenever daddy failed to send him more. Always chasing girls — always pathetically unsuccessfully. Wildly overblown ego. Party animal. However, he was extremely intelligent, so I considered him my friend. So did many others. One, to such an extent that he lent him a substantial sum of money — and this rich kid took off back home without fucking paying him back. The poor, naive bastard spent about a year trying to get him money back, but he never heard back from him. In fact, not a single person who had considered him a friend in college ever heard from him again. My buddy finally got him money back, after he sent a final letter, saying he’d send a letter to his father, explaining the situation. THEN the motherfucker paid up. Basically, this guy just cut all ties to the people he met in college, went home, got married and set up in his daddy’s business. Fucking scumbag.

    Dude number two: Not good enough looking, or rich enough to chase trim. But he’d get shitfaced drunk every couple of weeks, and then become a good Muslim and never ever drink again — until a couple of weeks later. This guy was an unscrupulous backstabber. No ethics whatsoever. He also was a wheeler and dealer. I mean, it’s ironic — he behaved like the stereotypical, anti-Semitic Jew from a fucking Nazi propaganda movie.

    I knew a third Muslim, although he wasn’t an Arab. I find that particularly ironic, because he was the only one of them who actually “stayed Muslim,” so to speak. This guy was a huge pain in the ass. His fucking hobby was to admonish people for “sinning.” Never the two other Muslims, but us Westerners. If some of us had been to a party, the tard would be up in our faces with his index finger wagging, telling us how offensive it was, that we had been drinking. One time I had the audacity to tell him that it actually was pretty offensive of him to keep trying to tell us how to behave. Holy fucking shitbuckets — the dude completely lost his marbles. How did _I_ DARE tell HIM what to do!? He was absolutely fucking livid.

    That’s my experience with Arabs/Muslims, from Arab/Muslim countries. I calls ’em as I sees ’em…

  11. …refuse to see the obvious… precisely because of… If you can’t see that, I truly feel sorry for you… If you have an open mind you can’t possibly still think…

    Yes, “I am right and anyone who disagrees with me is stupid” has always struck me as exceptionally open minded.

  12. Dave, which parts of the Koran have you read? When you assume I have not, you’re assuming too much, or haven’t you caught any of my goings on about Unitarian Universalism? Part of that, er, religion, is to study religions. I read the Koran cover to cover, admittedly an English translation, as I don’t read Arabic, in 2003.

    Islam is younger than Christianity, you know that, right? Christianity has in many nations matured over the years into a nearly secular peace. But if you want to compare religions, compare modern-day Islam (about 1200 years old)
    with Christianity of 1200 AD.

    Can you say “burn the heretics”?

  13. I have a few Muslim friends.
    They come from many different countries (Eritrea, Turkey, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Fiji and Bosnia).

    The Fijian guy is a Pacifist (fully against violence of any sort) doesn’t like swearing, likes BMW’s, prays 5 times a day, eats Halal and is currently re-reading the Koran. He is a typical guy and doesn’t stand out at all.
    He shares almost all his beliefs with Christians, including the belief that ‘every religion other than mine is wrong and stupid and full of idiots’.
    We often discuss our beliefs together (me being an atheist its quite fun).

    What I’m trying to show here is that Muslim people aren’t weird or bad and that the examples Eel Feather has shown (I’m sure they’re true Eel, not trying to critisise you here) are not representative of Muslims at large. They are bad ones, just like there are bad people from every faith (and non-faith).

    I believe a lot of the bad vibes towards Muslims these days seems to spread not only from religious intolerance but also from the media associating terrorists with Islam (rather than with other things they share in common, insanity and hatred).

  14. c.1400 B.C.E. Judaism is born. About 1400 years later they severely persecute the fledgling Christians.

    c.30 C.E. Christianity is born. About 1200 years later they wage the Crusades against the Muslims, and Inquisition against outcasts.

    c.650 C.E. Islam is born. About 1300 years later there is Islamic terrorism.

    Adolescence was hard on all of us. The only thing that worries me is that this teenager uses more than swords.

  15. Look at the islamic world, people. It is a hellhole. And it is a hellhole precisely because of the dominant religion there. If you can’t see that, I truly feel sorry for you.

    If you have an open mind you can’t possibly still think that Islam is just like Christianity.

    Islam: Easily the worst religion on the planet. Every religion is silly, some more than others, but nothing else comes close to Islam for pure disgustingness.

    Jesus Mohammed! Dave, these are profoundly ignorant “interpretations”, and I use that term loosely, of modern history. Truly, this is the mindset of people who wage wars over ‘their’ beliefs being better than others. It’s the dimwitted’s argument that “mine’s bigger than yours”; a snake which eats its own tail.

    munch munch munch munch.

  16. I read the Koran cover to cover, admittedly an English translation, as I don’t read Arabic, in 2003.

    Sorry, DaveS – English translations don’t count (and that’s ‘official’).

    Incidentally, wrt MEMRI: this organization is well known for very cherry-picked coverage. Not falsified – all the crazy shit they translate etc is real – but not necessarily representative. So bear in mind that MEMRI archives need a big pinch of salt… the stuff you see may be nutty, but lots of it is on the wingnut level and not mainstream.

  17. I would just like to say that I’m a connoisseur of assholes and I must say I am quite impressed with Saudi Arabia. Not very many can fully appreciate the subtle and sometimes complex ironies that can only arise in a place such as this where not only can you still witness public beheadings but also buy the best-of and blooper reels on dvd. It’s the kind of place where that gag grenade at the customer service desk with the take-a-number sign on it just might be real. What I’m trying to get across is that it’s got all technology and convenience of that our modern world has to offer with all the charm and culture of dark age Europe.
    That is all I came here to say. That and lighten up people. Saudi Arabia has made itself a joke because of its stubborned refusal to get with the times so just make sure to have a laugh at their expense. The sooner they realize how foolish and backwards they look to other countries the better.

  18. I didn’t know much of this before reading that article. Thanks Chris!

    Eel Feather, those were definitely some bad Muslims. And #3’s reaction to your reaction was priceless.

  19. I also question if women should really be allowed into cafés or not.

    Here in Oslo, many of the cafés have been partially taken over by convois of women who close off half the floor space with their baby carriages. Since they are now mothers and therefore by their own definitions demi-godesses, they no longer need to treat other people like human beings.

    They bring their own baby food which they demand that the restaurant kitchen warm up for free and then sit by and smile as the little brats toss spoons of food onto the wallpaper.

    Women also talk a lot more than men do. And always about men and parties and shopping. Loudly. Never anything else. “He did this and then he said that”. Very annoying.

    No… I think they should be kept out or come up with their own ideas for places to socialize. Somewhere where they can sit and breast feed and cackle all day on our alimony expenses.

  20. Outeast: [ Sorry, DaveS – English translations don’t count (and that’s ‘official’).]

    Outeast, you’re dead wrong. The Koran specifically authorizes translation into the native language of followers, as long as an effort is made to learn “the holy tongue” in order to get the unadulterated word, eventually. Since I’m not a follower, and I’m simply looking to understand Islamic people and faith, not impress Allah, it’s perfectly appropriate for me to read an English translation. I’m not planning a pilgrimage to Mecca, either.

    And it gives me a bloody well better perspective on Islam than some Christian yahoo who thinks reading Koran is more of a waste of time than ready the Bible.

  21. As someone who was raised Muslim, has recited the Qur’an in Arabic and read it to understand it in English, I think I’ll weigh in on this one, though the topic might be exhausted.

    The treatment of women as inferior beings was a practice in the Middle East before Islam came along, throughout Islam, and will most likely continue for a short while after Islam. Islam’s failings stem not from endorsing the oppression of women, but condoning the status quo.

    Is Islam the worst religion? If you interpret the holy scriptures of the Abrahamic religion literally, then yes Islam is most definitely the worst. That being said, any of these religions can be interpreted in almost any way. (Thou shalt not kill hasn’t ended the death penalty)

    Men have never needed religion to oppress women. It has occured in nearly every society and even today, in Western society, the urge to oppress shines through in music at least, (those gangster rappers with their bitches and ho’s and all that).

    DaveS: Kudos on reading that horrendous text. You would think Allah would know the word brevity, but alas, no.

    Storm: I hope that was in fun, because otherwise I would hope that any man talking about Nascar, power tools, or powerful cars they’ll never own ought to be shot.

  22. Phundit,

    You think the Quoran is bad, try the “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”, by Mary Baker Eddy. (The textbook of Christian Science.) That one’s supposed to be in English, but it’s the most painful thing to try to read I’ve ever come across.

  23. Men have never needed religion to oppress women.

    Agreed. But misogyny, and oppression, torture, terror, persecution and war has never been so systematic and efficient, so profoundly hateful and downright evil, as when religion supported it — and religion inevitably always does.

    Considering history, I see no general difference between Islam and Christianity — the current-day evils of Islam can’t hold a candle to the Crusades. I don’t know why Islam had such a golden age, but I believe that the advanced stage of the Western world today is a secular phenomenon: In most Western states today, religion has comparatively little sway. Sadly, that does not include the US.

    But for right now, Islam is a lot worse than Christianity.

  24. DaveS

    I was alluding to the very many commentators who maintain that (as USC MSA puts it),

    ‘Any translation of the Qur’an no longer retains that “official” and perfect status, [though] it can be tremendously helpful to beginning students wanting to learn more about Islam.’

    I am aware that opinions on the translatability of the Qur’an vary – and I am sure that you are yourself aware that interpretations of Qur’anic messages are themselves subject to some variation. You point out that the Qur’an itself (Ibrahim [14: 4]?) authorizes translation, and some commentators agree with you. Not all do, however – if you’ve not read it, explore Muhammad Rashid Rida’s Fatwa on the translation of the Qur’an:

    The Qur’an prohibited taqlid [imitative reasoning] in religion and denounced the imitators. Deriving [the rulings of] religion from the translation of the Qur’an is an imitation of its translator, so it is a deviation from the guidance of the Qur’an and is not in accordance with it.

    So a Muslim who bases his or her faith on a translation is guilty of doing something forbidden by the Qur’an. Nice.

    Read it: there’s lots more.


    PS Of course, when I put ‘official’ in scare quotes I was ironically alluding to the common Islamic reliance on ther interpretations of ‘authorities’. It was meant ironically: after all, if relying on an interlingual translation is to be guilty of ‘taqlid’, so too is relying on the interpretations place upon Qur’anic verses by such as Rida himself… And so too, for that matter, is relying on the Sunna. Ho hum.

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