Category Archives: Culture

On the Persian Gulf: the Disappearance of Saleem the Jew……

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Saleem Yehudi, Saleem the Jew. That was what everybody that I knew called him in those days. That is the way my father and uncles called him when I was a kid. Saleem is a common name in the Middle East, and they were distinguishing him from some other Saleem(s) they knew. There are/were Arab Saleem, Iranian Saleem, Jewish Saleem, African Saleem, etc.
My father often took me along when he had some business near the port in our small capital city on the northern mainland tip of the Persian Gulf. In those days the dhows and fishermen boats were moored to piers right downtown, just behind the Seif Palace. Often my father stopped at the small front office used by Saleem Yehudi. I recall the man behind his desk, he seemed old to me as a child, but he was probably middle aged. He always gave me a piece of candy or a cookie or two, no doubt to keep me from fidgeting and getting into trouble while he talked with my father.

Then a day came when there was no Saleem Yehudi. A day when I realized that I had not seen him in a long time, maybe a few weeks. I don’t recall his name coming up at our afternoon meal Sofra (roughly the equivalent of a Western dinner table). Normally in my family we discussed all developments, everything and everybody. Adults and kids, men and women eagerly participating, interrupting…..

One day I was tagging along behind my father on the way to the port, when I suddenly asked him “Where is Saleem Yehudi, father?

There was a long pause before he said “Gone….. They’re all gone“.
Gone? Gone where, father?” I’m not sure if I was concerned about Saleem the Jew or the piece of sweet he gave me.

Another long pause before my father said “Probably gone to Shiraz, or Tehran….” Then another pause, he usually thought out what he said to me, “Or maybe some port in Iran. They can’t go to Iraq anymore……. Maybe Israel“.

Saleem the Jew, another fellow traveler who disappeared, almost certainly involuntarily……

But that has been the story of the Middle East, from the days of Babylonia and Cyrus until now. Just like Saleem Yehudi, others of other faiths, Arab Muslims and Christians, were also displaced, sometimes forcibly, by the same conflict. They still are in parts of the Old Mandate of Palestine (now Israel and the ever-shrinking Palestinian Territories). It goes on among Arabs as well: in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, the Persian Gulf and other places. The ethnic cleansing goes beyond interfaith, to inter-sectarian. A mad search for an ever narrower false homogeneity that never seems to stop these days. It goes on and it dooms the region, especially the countries undergoing this ethnic and religious cleansing.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Saudi Women in a City Without Women: Making Arabia Great Again?……….

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Saudi women face a dilemma that nobody in the Kingdom without Magic can solve, not even the new power-to-be, the young Crown Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. A serious problem of physical mobility:

  • A Saudi woman cannot drive a car anywhere in the country, she is not allowed. Illegal, verboten. Fatwas abound against it.
  • A Saudi woman can’t ride the country’s terrible public transport. She would have to ride a public transport bus with strange unrelated men, forbidden. Most of the riders of these public transports tend to be from among the millions of single woman-less laborers from other Third World countries.
  • A Saudi woman can’t ride a bicycle or a motorcycle, not allowed. Not even use a moped or roller skates.
  • She is not allowed to ride a horse or a mule or a donkey (or any unrelated jackass) or a camel either in the city.
  • A Saudi woman can’t walk to her destination, a very healthy exercise. Not really allowed: she can easily be accosted and even arrested by the Religious Police (Wahhabi Vice Squad) for ‘walking the streets’. Besides, it can be otherwise risky in a country full of hungry young woman-less men.
  • A Saudi woman can’t ride a taxi openly, technically. Since women are not allowed to drive, there are no women taxi drivers. She is not supposed to ride alone with an unrelated man, a strange male taxi driver (check this post on Mike Pence and dining alone with unrelated women and the Devil). She could be stopped and questioned if caught joyless riding with a strange man. Some of the cops will even look for the Devil in the back seat, literally.

One senior Wahhabi cleric warned several years ago that allowing women to drive would mean that there will be no ‘virgins’ left in the kingdom. I posted on that at the time here. That is how serious of a divide this issue is. A dilemma that exists in no other Middle East country, with all its economic and demographic implications. Can’t Make the Arabian Peninsula Great Again (MAPGA has a nice ring to it) without resolving it…….
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Not Coming to Dinner: Mike Pence, a Woman, and the Devil……

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“After this week’s revelation that Vice President Mike Pence prefers not to dine alone with women who are not his wife—or at least didn’t as of a 2002 article in the Hill—many members of both the entire sex he has snubbed and the sex that is still afforded the privilege of sitting across from Pence at a Chili’s have expressed their dismay on social media. How could the second most powerful man in our government treat men and women so differently? But not everyone is outraged, or all that surprised, to find out Pence never eats in the solitary presence of a woman…….”

Mr. Pence has suddenly excited the “socially liberal” half of America with the recent disclosure that he will not dine alone with a woman that is not his wife. I don’t understand all the fuss: many men would do (or not do) the same. Certainly the same applies to many, perhaps most, women. Probably there is some hypocrisy there.

There is an old Middle East saying: “whenever a man and a woman get together alone, the Devil is always present with them.” A threesome. Or something to that effect, allowing for linguistic preferences and differences.

You‘ve guessed by now that the idea is that it means there is no innocent get-together of a man and a woman (unless she is a sister, mother, aunt, etc). Right?

One of my language/religion teachers first told us that saying with suspicious relish in Middle School (Junior High). I rarely believed my teachers in matters of religion, but on that one I did at that time, given my critical age and natural obsession.

It is amazing how Christian fundamentalism is so much like Islamic fundamentalism. And how much they both resemble Jewish fundamentalism (apparently if you take a mixed-gender bus often in certain parts of Jerusalem you’d know what I mean). I suspect that they both got much of their uptightness from ancient Jewish writings. People from arid lands tend to be more uptight than others, I should know. Unless we’re talking about Arizona or Palm Springs. But Indiana? The Hoosier State doesn’t resemble our faraway places that have created Muslim and Jewish jihadis in recent decades…….

Maybe that is not it, maybe Mr. Pence knows himself as well as, say, Mr. Trump knows himself. The latter explained it all to the world in Billy Bush’s tapes. Live and learn….

(Remember: everybody’s house is at least partly made of glass. At least the windows tend to be so…..)

P.S.:  I just remembered a novel I read many years ago, Rain by one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, Somerset Maugham.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Agony of Mecca: Birthplace of Islam becomes City of Greed and Bulldozers………

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“AS THE governor of Mecca, Prince Khalid bin Faisal Al Saud has been able to compensate for earlier failings. He came to his role in 2007 from Asir province, where his plans to erect modern tower blocks in the city of Abha were largely unfulfilled. He successfully erased Abha’s quaint old town, with its beehive houses made of wattle, only to replace them with squat breeze-block bungalows. Not a high-rise was to be seen. Now, on top of what was Mecca’s old city of lattice balconies and riwaq arches, the prince has overseen the Middle East’s largest development project. Skyscrapers soar above Islam’s holiest place, dwarfing the granite Kaaba far below. Diggers flatten hills that were once dotted with the homes of the Prophet’s wives, companions and first caliphs……….. two 50-floor towers on the site of the third caliph’s house. Such is the pace that for a time the holy city’s logo was a bulldozer…………”

This travesty, nay this crime, has been going on for some years. Islamic monuments from the home of Prophet Mohammed to the homes of his wives to the homes of Omar and Ali and other Sahaba have been razed to build malls, parking lots and luxury hotel apartments. Royal Saudi greed conspires with Wahhabi Salafi doctrine that opposes all types of monuments. To destroy the history of Islam, in the Birthplace of Islam.

It is not new, it’s been going on for years while Western powers that blasted the Taliban and ISIS for destroying ancient monuments remain silent. Aiding and abetting the desecration of history. I have posted often on this sad and outrageous issue. Here are a few of my older posts on this topic:

The Wahhabi War on History Continues: Now the Grave of the Prophet……..

Biblical Monuments, Islamic Monuments………

Cultural Dichotomy: Destroying Islamic Monuments, Funding Ancient Roman Restoration……

Breaking News: Prince of Mecca Receives Mayor of Mecca, Holy Town is Doomed……….

Destroyers of Islamic Heritage, Looters of Mecca………

Birthplace of Islam: Where Dogma and Greed Face History…………

Buying the Soul of Britain, Raping the History of Islam, Sacking Mecca……………

Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum

Kingdom of Delights: ‘Pokemon Go’ Declared a Heretic, Banned by Fatwa…….

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“The decree was issued by General Secretariat of the Council of Senior Scholars on the website of the General Presidency for Scholarly Research and Ifta, Arab News reported Wednesday. The edict actually updates an existing ban on the Pokemon card and video games before they morphed into the mobile phone virtual reality game that has swept the world. The clerics issued the old fatwa, (No. 21,758), 16 years ago, declaring the original Japanese game a form of gambling, which is forbidden in Islam, Sheikh Saleh Al-Fozan, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, said the virtual reality version of the game is the same as the old one. The game has not been officially released regionally………….”

MuftiSaudi The Mufti vs. Pokemon Go

A Fatwa is a religious edict often issued by Muslim clerics, whether they are authorized or not, that aims at one of several things: (1) keeping the faithful, and the unfaithful, away from sin and abominations (not always the same); (2) making life a bit harder, making sure not everybody is having more fun than they should be decently having (excluding the princes and their minions); (3) making the faithful and the unfaithful aware that the particular cleric exists (not exactly: I Fatwa, ergo I am).

The Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Shaikh Al Al Shaikh finally had his group issue a fatwa asserting the ban on Pokemon Go in the Kingdom of Fun and Delights. No news about the fate of Pokemon Go in Iran yet: the mullahs have not opined yet. On the other hand, why would they need Pokemon in Saudi Arabia when everybody is having so much fun already?

Meanwhile, in the ultimate Salafi Wahhabi realm, in the Caliphate of Islamic State, I hear they are looking for Pokemons to behead in public in Raqqa and Mosul. You see, Pokey is suspected of being a Shi’a, hence a heretic who is behead-able, whose throat is slit-able by Salafi standards.

FYI: Gambling, gaming, and other types of sin, are banned in Islam, except for princes who can travel to Europe and Las Vegas. Having a palace with walls also qualifies one for exemptions, without reducing their chances at deferred heavenly delights.

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Beards and Zeitgeist: Leftist Beards, Zayed Beards, Islamist Fuzz, Lice and Orangutan……….

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It seems that the fate of the facial hair we call the “beard” is often tied to the political atmosphere of the period. Part of the Zeitgeist.
Decades ago, a young man with a beard in the Americas or in Europe was considered a radical, a suspected follower or admirer of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, (or even Dobie Gillis and Bob Denver). In fascist-ruled places like Chile, Argentina, and Greece they were thrown into prison or just disappeared on suspicion of radicalism or impiety or non-conformity. In some West European airports, bearded youth were often questioned more carefully. That was then, long before the world ever heard of Radical Islam.
At the same time, in Saudi Arabia any man who was ambitious grew a goatee beard (like the one Bob Denver and Dobie Gillis sported). From the king on down, they all flaunted the goatee (some Arabs called it saksooka). But that beard was not a radical political statement: just a show of solidarity with the eternal Saudi conformity rules.

FYI: I suspect that “goatee” drives from “goat“, which means these guys admired something about their goats. Maybe just the looks.

Then two events happened in 1979 that altered the history and shape of the beard for a generation to come:
First: the Afghan war erupted, with the Western secular governments and Arab Wahhabis aligned with the reactionary Afghan tribes against the God-less Communists. That war created a whole new generation of Islamic guerrillas. Al Qaeda started in Afghanistan, with Saudi money and Arab volunteers and American (Reagan) weapons. We can also say that it was the genesis of the Taliban and ISIS and Al Nusra and other cutthroat groups. The first Afghan war gave us the shaggy unruly lice-infested Wahhabi beard so loved by our Persian Gulf Salafists. One more complication: many Salafi elders, to show that they are among the top elite, tend to die their beards, often a bright red (Orangutan) color, as rusty as their brains. Maybe it is to appeal to their wives. A few let them let it go gray.
Second: the Iranian Revolution succeeded in February 1979. Mullahs with shaggy beards and heir followers with trimmed beards took over in Tehran, replacing the clean shaven men of the Shah, King of Kings, Light of the Aryans, etc, etc. An Iranian form of conformity has spread since then: all men of importance in the regime sport a short beard. Not the shaggy lice-inviting type the Salafis have, but a more trimmed grizzly beard. Long enough to be noticeable but too short to invite the lice or particles of food.

Other Muslim countries have their own variation of these two extremes of beards. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE) many influential officials now sport the trimmed neat Zayed-Brothers beard. So named after the seven or dozen (or more) brothers who own Abu Dhabi and rule the UAE. In Egypt a beard is okay if it is the shaggy lice-inviting type, for it indicates the man is an ordinary Salafist who can be bought and not a Muslim Brother. In Syria, well, no matter what kind of beard you have in Syria, it can get you killed, or worse, by any group of armed Jihadis, liberators, invited foreign guests, un-invited foreign guests, cutthroats, or just plain regime forces. You can also get bombed by Syrians, Russians, Americans, British, or Israelis.
Who was it who said: “Hands Off Syria“?

So, in any struggle in our Middle East region today, even in my native Gulf region, you need to scrutinize the beard carefully. You also need to understand the nuances and differences between the various kinds of beards and if they are dyed and what color. Your career, fortune, and life could depend on it.

Cheers
M Haider Ghuloum

Middle East Humor: Looking for Smiles in all the Wrong Places………

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“Here’s something that has always puzzled me, growing up in the U.S. as a child of Russian parents. Whenever I or my friends were having our photos taken, we were told to say “cheese” and smile. But if my parents also happened to be in the photo, they were stone-faced………… He found that in countries like Germany, Switzerland, China, and Malaysia, smiling faces were rated as significantly more intelligent than non-smiling people. But in Japan, India, Iran, South Korea, and—you guessed it—Russia, the smiling faces were considered significantly less intelligent…………..”

I have occasionally commented in my posts here on the humor or lack of it in the Middle East. Anyone who reads my posts on humor would know that the region between Waziristan through the Persian Gulf and all the way to Algiers suffers from an acute lack of humor. With a few possible pockets of ‘some’ limited humor in the region.

I have often comment about humorless Jordan. But the rest of the region is not far behind. Syria was never known for her humor, and no doubt it is much worse now. The same applies for the Lebanese who are great cooks but suck at telling jokes. Iranians and Israelis are no better. Even American Jews who move to settle in Israel manage to lose any sense of humor that they might have had. As for the Turks, they take the second prize (after Jordan): ask any Turk, male or female or transgender, about humor and they will most likely respond “what is that?

Which brings me to Egypt, the once jewel of Middle Eastern and African humor. It used to be the most, possibly the only, Arab country with a sense of humor. Not anymore. Egyptian humor was famous under Gamal Abdel Nasser, and it survived Anwar Sadat. Under Mubarak it weakened, perhaps a by-product of increased Wahhabi influence. Now under General Field Marshal Sisi humor seems to have vanished from Cairo, even as Wahhabism is going mainstream. Thousands of political prisoners, many disappearances and a rising campaign of terrorism can do that to a society.

As for my native region on the (Persian) Gulf. I recall when I first graduated from college in America and went home. I was used to people smiling at me or smiling back at me in public places in the USA. Even the dogs in the parks would try to lick my hand or hug my leg tightly and in a suspicious way, if you get what I mean.

Back home, whenever I stopped at a red light and looked at the car next to me all I saw was a frown, mostly a scowl and a silent growl. Whether I looked to my right or my left, I was always rewarded with a scowl. Later on I realized that it was just a result of insecurity and some suspicion, not hostility. Many people on my Gulf often feel that they would not be taken seriously or respected unless they scowled at others.
Nowadays it has gotten even more complicated. Other factors have entered the equation: by the time they figure out which tribe or religious sect you belong to, it is too late to smile.

Still, I never respected someone who answered my smile with a scowl anyway. But the scowls worked: I stopped smiling at strangers back home.


Cheers
M Haider Ghuloum

 

Humor and Aguafiesta Violence from Early Islam to……

Al Azhar and the Academic Laws of Physics: Sharia Rules on Human Gases

Arab Media…..

WTF: Railway Link to Yemen, from Funny GCC to Asinine GCC…..

 

Sex and Starbucks in Riyadh: Wahhabi Logic ……..

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Some Arab media report that the Saudi Commission for the Propagation of Vice (the Religious Police/Vice Squad) has issued an order banning women from entering Starbucks cafes. Saudi women who have a hankering for a latte or mocha now have to send their drivers (usually unrelated Asian males) into the shop to purchase what they need. A sign on the window of a Stabucks would read “Please no women allowed entry. Send your driver to get your order“.

So the woman are not allowed entry because there are also men in the cafe, yet the woman is allowed to be “alone” with a driver in a dark and “very private” car or SUV. Saudi women are not allowed to drive cars or ride motorcycles or bicycles or mopeds or skates. And we all know what happens when a Saudi woman in Burqa or Niqab is alone in a dark car or SUV with a male foreign driver. Satan will not be far! According to Wahhabi logic, the Devil will make it a threesome.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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Valentine in the Middle East: Swine Flu, Stag Kissing, and Excommunicating Barbie…….

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They report that a Lebanese minister has advised the people of his country this week to reduce the amount of kissing on Valentine’s Day this year. Which makes me wonder what type of neighbors does he have: I mean hygiene and not just looks. But he is worried about the spread of “Swine Flu” aka H1N1.
Yet we kiss a lot in the Middle East, in Arab and Muslim countries, much more than they do in the West. And almost always it is kissing in public rather than in private. We probably do more public kissing than the French do French-ing in Paris. Everybody does it, even the Salafis, Wahhabis, Shi’as, Sufis, Sunnis, Haredim, Vegans, Christians, Evangelicals, and possibly Jews (oddly I haven’t seen many native Jews on the Gulf in recent years for some reason). But the difference is that it is not heterosexual kissing, it is same-sex kissing, at least the public part is.

In Iran, there are reports that the police have warned against spreading Valentine’s Day culture in shops. Yes, shops. A warning which a lot of people and most shop owners will typically ignore, as they do every year.

In Saudi Arabia, red color on February 14 can send you straight to hell, even if you are not Shi’a- Safavi- Rafidhi-Jew-Christian-Animist. The Vice Squad (religious cops) are also cracking down on dolls (Barbie, etc) that expose too much plastic than is considered decent by the clerics. Barbie, of course, was famously excommunicated (by Fatwa) by a religious sheikh and professor (or Dean) of Sharia in my own hometown some years ago.

A few years ago in Gaza some vendor painted an ass red (no, I mean a jackass, donkey) on Valentine’s to promote his business. This year Egypt’s Al Sisi wants the Gazans to have a bit more red in their Valentine: he is opening the Rafah pass to the ‘qualified’ Gazans. But only for February 13 and 14, only for Valentine’s. He will close it back shut right after that, but still it is sweet of the Generalissimo.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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