The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'saudi arabia'
A massive rally in the defence of free speech and in solidarity against Islamist terrorism has taken place in Paris, with the crowds estimated between 1.5 and 2 million in number, more than turned out when Paris was liberated from the Nazis. The rally has also attracted leaders from around the world, including various dictators, autocrats and authoritarians, uniting in Paris to say Je Suis Charlie, before going back to supervise their torturers giving some recalcitrant journalists a going over, or just to rush in sweeping mass-surveillance powers (which are unlikely to have helped catch terrorists the intelligence services already had on their watch lists).
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world:
- In Nigeria, the Islamist group Boko Haram (whose name, meaning something like “non-Islamic education is forbidden”, says it all) have reportedly massacred some 2,000 people, all in the name of an all-merciful God, after seizing a town. (That's about 200 times the Charlie Hebdo massacre, or 2/3 of 9/11.)
- Saudi Arabia, that most honorary of members in our world-spanning alliance of freedom-loving democracies, has flogged a man 50 times for running a liberal blog and criticising the country's religious establishment (“insulting Islam”). Raif Badawi was hunted down by Saudi Arabia's morality police, undoubtedly using surveillance technologies sold by our governments to aid in the hunting down of terrorists; incidentally, Saudi law regards atheism and apostasy as forms of terrorism. Badawi is to be flogged 950 more times over the next 20 weeks, after which he will continue his 10-year prison sentence.
Raif Badawi is probably Charlie, but Saudi Arabia's ambassador to France, who was at the Je Suis Charlie rally, not so much.
Finally, it appears that the noble French tradition of freedom of offensive speech only applies to offensive speech punching outwards.
The conservative theocracy of Saudi Arabia is embracing modern technology on its own terms; it has just implemented a tracking system for women, whereby, whenever a woman travels abroad through a Saudi airport or border crossing, her male guardian (and all women in Saudi Arabia, being perpetual minors in law, have those) is informed by text message.
“The authorities are using technology to monitor women,” said columnist Badriya al-Bishr, who criticised the “state of slavery under which women are held” in the ultra-conservative kingdom. Women are not allowed to leave the kingdom without permission from their male guardian, who must give his consent by signing what is known as the “yellow sheet” at the airport or borderSo far, the system is just tied into fixed borders, but once the principle that the men who have custody of a woman are entitled to know her whereabouts is accepted, the potential for expansion is huge. For example, the mobile phone network in Saudi Arabia could be configured to store each subscriber's sex and, if they're female, a link to her male guardian, and to allow him to get her phone's location at any moment. (I heard once that the Saudi mobile phone network is already configured to segregate subscribers by gender and disallow women from placing calls to men outside of a short list, though don't have confirmation of this factoid.) Think of it like Apple's “Find My iPhone” feature, only for your wives. But why stop there? Why not a daring programme of IT streamlining, giving male guardians real-time access to any data generated by about the women in their custody, from credit card purchases (with perhaps even an option for the custodian to approve or decline a transaction) to telephone and SMS logs of whom they're communicating with. When one is committed to using modern technology to mediaeval ends, the sky's the limit.
Technology is, however, helping to undermine traditional strictures in other places in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, here is an interview with a Saudi atheist, speaking under the pseudonym Jabir, who says that, with services like Facebook and Twitter, the few closeted atheists in the severely religious country are discovering that there are others who think like them:
“I was shocked to meet older people in their forties and fifties who been hiding their atheism for decades. They said that only recently with the young generation in their twenties had they found other people who think like them and were able to find social group that they can talk and debate about their ideas in.” Jabir politely demurs when asked about the backgrounds of these people; confidentiality and secrecy run deep in the Saudi Arabian atheism milieu.
Yet, it may also, as the political system reacts to these new conditions, be a time of tightening and ever greater social and religious restrictions. The nightmare situation for Jabir is that when the relatively reform-minded King Abdullah dies it will bring about a new monarch who will let the religious police and certain segments of the Saudi community start an aggressive witch-hunt for ‘non-believers’.Meanwhile, in nearby Qatar, censors are going through Winnie The Pooh picture books and blacking out Piglet, because pigs are unclean in Islam.
Wary of the possibility that a population of educated, frustrated women could result in pressure for political liberalisation, Iran's government has moved to preempt this by declared 70 university courses to be for men only:
It follows years in which Iranian women students have outperformed men, a trend at odds with the traditional male-dominated outlook of the country's religious leaders. Women outnumbered men by three to two in passing this year's university entrance exam.
Senior clerics in Iran's theocratic regime have become concerned about the social side-effects of rising educational standards among women, including declining birth and marriage rates.Of course, if women outperform men in academic fields, banning women may make the men feel better about their performance, but it will be less salutary for Iran's economy if half of all potential knowledge workers are prohibited by law from developing their potential.
This is at odds with the arguably more progressive Saudi approach (and "progressive" and "Saudi" aren't two words I expected to write adjacent to each other) of planning segregated women-only cities, where the nation's educated, otherwise frustrated women can work in industry on a “separate but equal” basis. (I wonder how long that will last; eventually, I imagine it'll lead to those invested in the status quo deciding that it's a threat and attacking it; starving it of resources, imposing crippling restrictions on it, and eventually shutting it down and sending the women back to the authority of their male family members, and the city will go the way the the USSR's Jewish Autonomous Oblast did once Stalin found it too threatening.)
And Iran is moving to further remind women of their place under an Islamic theocracy, by moving to legalise the marriage of girls under 10. The current age at which girls can be married in the Islamic Republic is 10, down from 16 before the revolution.
Religious dictatorships find their own use for international policing protocols, it seems. After Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari fled to Malaysia after posting a Twitter comment critical of Islam, Saudi Arabia used Interpol's red notice system to have him arrested. He has been hastily deported to Saudi Arabia, where he may face the death penalty for "insulting the Prophet Mohammed".
The Malaysian home minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said: "Malaysia has a long-standing arrangement by which individuals wanted by one country are extradited when detained by the other, and [Kashgari] will be repatriated under this agreement. The nature of the charges against the individual in this case are a matter for the Saudi Arabian authorities."
Kashgari said in an interview that he was being made a "scapegoat for a larger conflict" over his comments, Reuters reported. Amnesty International labelled Kashgari a prisoner of conscience and called for his release.This incident has brought to attention Interpol's notice regime, and ways in which it could be used to suppress human rights. While the system does have ways to challenge notices, that amounts to little when an extradition for a religious offence is fast-tracked.
The latest bounty from Wikileaks: an exposé of the Saudi royal welfare system, a system of government finely tuned for meeting certain criteria (i.e., keeping an ever-expanding ruling class in caviar and luxury cars, and maximising the number of palaces per capita; they even have palace-building grants). Alas, even the generous stipends bestowed upon Saudi princelings sometimes fall short when it comes to maintaining a lifestyle worthy of one of such stature, but the beauty of living in the top tier of an absolute monarchy is that there's always more for the taking:
Then there was the apparently common practice for royals to borrow money from commercial banks and simply not repay their loans. As a result, the 12 commercial banks in the country were "generally leary of lending to royals."
Another popular money-making scheme saw some "greedy princes" expropriate land from commoners. "Generally, the intent is to resell quickly at huge markup to the government for an upcoming project." By the mid-1990s, a government program to grant land to commoners had dwindled. "Against this backdrop, royal land scams increasingly have become a point of public contention."
The confiscation of land extends to businesses as well, the cable notes. A prominent and wealthy Saudi businessman told the embassy that one reason rich Saudis keep so much money outside the country was to lessen the risk of 'royal expropriation.'"Meanwhile, in Equatorial Guinea, an oil-rich West African country most of whose children don't live to their fifth birthday, it emerges that the son of the President had commissioned the world's second most expensive yacht, costing $380m, or three times the country's combined health and education budgets.
And in Belgium, Prince Laurent has incurred the wrath of the parliament (does Belgium have a parliament now?) for attempting to fly business-class whilst only having an economy-class ticket. The prince and his wife were asked to move back to cattle class, and apparently kicked up a disgraceful tantrum for being treated like commoners, refusing to pay for drinks.
It's somewhat heartening to see that Belgium, whilst nominally being a monarchy, is a Northern European "bicycle monarchy", in which rank hath little if any privilege, and monarchy is tolerated as a constitutional eccentricity and little more; certainly, it doesn't entitle one to demanding free travel benefits from local airlines, and any princeling who thinks otherwise won't get treated any differently than a drunken footballer would. I wonder what would happen in the UK if, say, some minor baronet occupied a first-class seat on a train or aeroplane without the appropriate ticket. Would they be told to move on as Prince Laurent was, or would the (privatised, of course, as per Anglocapitalist values) carrier swallow the cost or invoice the public purse?
During the Napoleonic Wars, a French ship sank off the coast of Hartlepool, in the north of England. The only survivor was the ship's mascot, a monkey dressed in a naval uniform. The monkey made it to the shore, where it was captured by locals, who had never seen a monkey (this, you see, was before television, widespread literacy and public zoos), so they assumed that it was a Frenchman and hanged it as a spy. From this incident, the residents of Hartlepool became known as "monkey-hangers".
Almost 200 years later, Saudi Arabian security services have arrested a vulture tagged by an Israeli university wildlife resarch programme as a "Zionist spy".
Residents and local reporters told Saudi Arabia's Al-Weeam newspaper that the matter seemed to be linked to a "Zionist plot" and swiftly alerted security services. The bird has since been placed under arrest. The accusations went viral, according to the Israeli Ha'aretz newspaper, with hundreds of posts on Arabic-language websites and forums claiming that the "Zionists" had trained the birds for espionage.The Israeli authorities have denied any espionage, and claimed that the bird was part of a long-term academic study of the migratory habits of the vulture.
It is not clear what sort of vulture-based intelligence the Israelis could be looking for.
Alarmed by the potential impact of reduced oil consumption on their fortunes, the Saudis are pushing for oil consumers to pay producers compensation for lost revenue if they reduce their oil consumption to reduce global warming:
“It is like the tobacco industry asking for compensation for lost revenues as a part of a settlement to address the health risks of smoking,” said Jake Schmidt, the international climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The worst of this racket is that they have held up progress on supporting adaptation funding for the most vulnerable for years because of this demand.”It's hard to feel sympathy for the Saudis. While they try to sweeten their argument with a line about wishing to use the compensation money to "achieve economic diversification", they're not exactly short on cash; they can always build fewer palaces and flog off a few football teams and a gold-plated jumbo jet or three to make up whatever cash they need. Or they could have a word with the recording industry's lawyers; they're quite good at turning untenable monopolies from products of economic circumstance into legally enforced perpetual hegemonies.
Four women teaching in a remote village school in Saudi Arabia had a dilemma: they needed a way to get to the village, but women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. So they found a driver who lived in the village, and married him:
They were married in a short ceremony, and all the women have agreed to pay the driver a share of their monthly salaries, Al-Watan said.
Women are still not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, while men can marry up to four women according to Islamic law.
What do Saudi Arabia, the Bush Whitehouse, the Mormons, the Vatican and former Malaysian strongman Mahathir Mohamad have in common? They are all part of an international alliance against liberal secularism:
The Doha conference, and the resulting UN resolution, provided a striking example of growing cooperation between the Christian right (especially in the United States) and conservative Muslims - groups who, according to the clash-of-civilisations theory, ought to be sworn enemies.The coalition succeeded in introducing a resolution in the United Nations asserting "traditional" definitions of the family and attacking progressive social policies including promotion of contraception, tolerance of homosexuality, nontraditional views of the status of women and sex education. The resolution, proposed by Qatar, was backed by the United States, though, unusually, Australia (with its socially conservative and vehemently pro-US administration) sided with Godless Europe. Chances are that was the result of a miscommunication and, the next time such a resolution comes up, Australia's UN ambassador will vote with the Coalition of Willing.
The family debate certainly divides the world, but the divisions are not between east and west, nor do they follow the usual dividing lines of international politics. The battle is between liberal secularists - predominantly in Europe - and conservatives elsewhere who think religion has a role in government.
On this issue, with a president who sounds increasingly like an old-fashioned imam, the United States now sits in the religious camp alongside the Islamic regimes: not so much a clash of civilisations, more an alliance of fundamentalisms.
And in another unholy alliance, US Christian Fundamentalist groups are holding their noses and jumping into the hot tub with Hollywood on the issue of file-sharing, in the interest of instituting centralised control over the lawless internet, mechanisms control which could just as easily be used for enforcing religious morality and stamping out sin as for making sure that every byte of copyrighted content is paid for.
Australia has come in in 41st place in Reporters Without Borders' annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index; which is below all EU members, several other Eastern European countries, South Africa and Hong Kong; in contrast, New Zealand ranked ninth, only slightly below the 8 nations sharing first place. Australia's dismal showing has to do partly with restricted press access to refugees, though chances are that media ownership concentration, defamation laws and attempts to force journalists to reveal their sources have also contributed.
The bottom of the list is held, predictably, by North Korea (at #167), with Cuba just above it. Saudi Arabia is at #159, three places ahead of China, while Singapore is at #147. Brazil, a popular recent poster child of the Third Way, languishes at #66. The US's arrest of journalists at anti-Bush protests and restrictions on journalistic visas have knocked it down to #22. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Israel is at #36 (shared with Bulgaria), except in the occupied territories, where it is at #115 (shared with Gabon), though ahead of the Palestinian Authority (#127, slightly better than Egypt and Somalia).
First place is shared by Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia and Switzerland.
Two US political links lifted from unsworn@lj: apparently President Bush is being heavily medicated by his handlers to control his increasingly erratic behaviour. Which is understandable, as you wouldn't want the Leader of the Free World, say, ordering a surprise nuclear strike on Cuba or suddenly sending British and Australian troops into Canada or something; on the other hand, the drugs are claimed to impair the President's mental faculties and decrease both his physical capabilities and ability to respond to a crisis:
Dr. Frank diagnosed the President as a "paranoid meglomaniac" and "untreated alcoholic" whose "lifelong streak of sadism, ranging from childhood pranks (using firecrackers to explode frogs) to insulting journalists, gloating over state executions and pumping his hand gleefully before the bombing of Baghdad" showcase Bush's instabilities. "I was really very unsettled by him and I started watching everything he did and reading what he wrote and watching him on videotape. I felt he was disturbed," Dr. Frank said. "He fits the profile of a former drinker whose alcoholism has been arrested but not treated."
Meanwhile, some congresspersons are now pushing for UN supervision of the US Presidential elections. Apparently bills banning the UN from monitoring US elections are being or have been passed, though; pity, as it'd have been amusing to see the fraças as France, Zimbabwe, North Korea and Saudi Arabia volunteer officials to the multinational election monitoring team.
Speaking of Our Saudi Friends, they've now proposed an Islamic peacekeeping force for Iraq, which the US has cautiously agreed with. Which all sounds like a case of the fox winning the chicken-coop-guarding contract. Apart from more or less putting the damper on the ideal much promoted by the neocons of a pluralist, secular, McDonalds-enabled democracy arising in Iraq (or, indeed, of Iraqi women even retaining the rights they had under Saddam's neo-Stalinist dictatorship, for that matter), the Islamic militants currently streaming into Iraq to kill infidels are likely to get a rich new sponsor than be put out of business. Osama bin Laden, if he is still alive, must be a very happy man these days.
Authorities across the Middle East are cracking down on music subcultures: form heavy-metal fans in Morocco to gay disco-dancing "Satanists" in Lebanon to anything to do with Michael Jackson in Saudi Arabia.
Among the objects exhibited in court as being contrary to good morals was a black T-shirt with heavy metal symbols on it. This prompted the judge to comment that "normal people go to concerts in a suit and tie".
Lebanese devil worshippers are easily recognised. According to one security official, they are young men with long hair and beards who "listen to hard rock music, drink mind-altering alcoholic cocktails and take off their black shirts, dancing bare-chested".
What is probably the most bizarre heavy-metal-and-satanism case occurred in Egypt in 1997 when state security police, armed with machine guns and satanically clad in masks and black uniforms, dragged about 70 youngsters - some as young as 16 - from their beds in a series of dawn raids. They took away posters from bedroom walls, CDs and tapes ranging from Guns 'n' Roses to Beethoven's fifth symphony and, in one household, a black t-shirt with a Bugs Bunny design.
"In the 1980s," Mohammed continued, "Saudis started dressing like [Michael Jackson], copying his hairstyle and doing moonwalks on the roundabouts. This is the reason most people give me about why his stuff is not allowed here.
U.S. government harshly criticises Saudi Arabia for allowing the recent terrorist attack on Western enclaves despite being aware of the al-Qaida cell behind them for two months prior. Perhaps they should have added "don't make us develop solar-powered cars" or something like that.
Meanwhile, a video has been found of the alleged leader of the terrorists holding a Kalashnikov and kissing it. Or maybe it was an old Madonna video.
While eager to ride into Baghdad and capture Saddam dead or alive, on the scantest of "evidence" of terrorist involvement, our noble leaders have been careful not to criticise Saudi Arabia, tiptoeing around its Taliban-like human rights record and going to great pains to not make trouble about its equivocal relationship with anti-US terrorists. But what's a little thuggish authoritarianism, oppression of women and financial and moral support for terrorists when you're dealing with a special friend in the region, right? I mean, the alternative would impinge on every American's God-given right to drive an oversized SUV from their suburban home to the shops, and that's not negotiable.
Apparently, Saudi Arabia has tired of its onerous role as the premier defender of truth, justice and the American way in the Arab world, and told the US to bugger off. Given that the House of Saud is essentially paying protection money to extremist zealots (of a similar stripe to Saudi native son Osama bin Laden), US bases in the country have become a liability to the beleaguered dictatorship.