Category Archives: Culture

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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UAE: Ministry of Tolerance, Ministry of Happiness, Ganja, Ganja, Ganja……

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“New post of Minister of State for Tolerance created to establish tolerance as a fundamental value of the UAE society. A board of Emirati scientists, researchers and academics set up to provide scientific advice and knowledge to the government. The Ministry of Cabinet Affairs has been tasked with devising future strategies and will become the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and the Future. New post of Minister of State for Happiness created to channel policies and plans to create a happier society…………”

Good and in fact cute idea to start with. But will this happiness idea include the overwhelming majority of the people in UAE (about 90%) who are citizens of South Asia, Philippines, Nepal, among other places?
All I can say about the “happiness” bit is that Timothy Leary is dead, but still: Ganja, Ganja, Ganja……

P.S.: now the Saudis feel under pressure to try and match this. They can probably appoint their first female minister: Ministeress of Beheading and Flogging and Crucifixion. As for a ministry of Tolerance, it might work in diverse UAE, but as for Saudi Arabia: forget about it. Tolerance is a truly dirty, and often dangerous, word in Riyadh: it can get one beheaded. The clerics say so.
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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Tale of Two Civilized Cities: Stockholm vs. Riyadh…….

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“Is there a sharper knife that tears at the fabric of society than the threat of physical violence on the basis of ethnicity, nationality, gender or political affiliation? The recent images of young men, wearing hoods and dressed in black, roaming the streets of central Stockholm looking for “north African street children” to “punish” for their mere existence reminded Sweden and the world of the worst elements of European history. People immediately took to social media to express their shock that this could happen in a country like Sweden. Or, to be more accurate, Sweden as they imagine it to be………..”

Media reports increased incidents of physical attacks on “dark” people or people who look “foreign” in some European cities. Even in Stockholm. Especially in Stockholm, capital of Sweden. The latest was a report of a hundred or so masked people beating up people who looked foreign at train stations. Which means it was probably organized, premeditated.
Now let’s go to Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia, a country I often criticize strongly for its human rights abuses and intolerance. A country most Europeans consider so different that it is “barbaric” to them, even as they happily take its money as they forget their own much more barbaric recent past.
Nobody gets attacked by mobs of masked men at a bus station for looking “different”, not even in intolerant Riyadh. Unlike cities in Europe, where foreigners are being assaulted from Paris across to Budapest and Athens. Nobody wears funny bed sheets and burns crosses in front of “others” homes in Riyadh either, even if crosses are banned.
Could it be that instinctively bigoted Europe is going back to its old habit of a few hundred years ago, especially when times are hard? When “others” were persecuted, tortured, and killed for being “different”? It could, it could.
Civilized” is truly a relative term, it is in the eye of the beholder………
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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A Dummy’s Haiku Guide to Free Speech in the Middle East: from Islamic to Nomadic to ……..

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Haiku:
About Free Speech…
Can it be free at a price?………..
Tell our leaders…….

So what is this “free speech” that many constitutions claim to allow but few actually do? Especially in the Middle East:

  • The Arab League considers free speech, to the extent that it considers anything seriously, as whatever each existing government in power wants it to be. Especially those regimes with deep pockets.
  • In Egypt, free speech is whatever does not criticize the president and insult the armed forces (apparently there is some difference), or mentions Mohammed Morsi without adding the term “deposed” as a prefix. Or anything that does not point out that Egypt (or even Cairo) are not, as the natives and a few Arabs claim, Mother of the World.
  • Al-Azhar sheikhs in Cairo define free speech as their interpretation of the  Holy Quran, the Hadith, and more importantly whatever the current president of the country says.
  • Less stable and more violent Arab countries have a more flexible definition of free speech. In Syria, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, free speech is more nomadic: it depends on which part of the country you are in (and on who you are). Which might be considered by some as an improvement over what it is in other Middle East countries.
  • In Somalia, Sudan, and Djibouti, also considered “Arab” countries, you ask anyone about free speech and he or she might respond: WTF is that?
  • Free Speech in the whole “Persian-American” Gulf region will be covered in the next post, right after this one.
  • Western powers consider free speech in the Middle East as whatever encourages the ruling avaricious oligarchs to spend more money on weapons of death and repression.
  • Ist das klar?

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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What Is In a Name: Saudi Society from Alice to Nasser and Netanyahu and Toto………

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Saudi authorities have issued a new list of names that are banned, verboten, for new-born infants in the Wahhabi kingdom. The names include: Alice, Rama, Sandy, Abdul-Rasoul, Abdul-Nasser, Abd El-Nabi, Allen, Gabriel, Malika, Iman, Amir, Lauren, Yara, Malik (King), Benyamin. Among others.
I like this last one, Benyamin: they may want to forestall anyone naming their child after Bibi Netanyahu, who can be a potential hero to some Wahhabi potentates. That depends on whether Bibi joins the paid Saudi coalition currently bombing Yemen, or maybe he could take some more action to help the Wahhabi side in the Syrian war.

It is not clear why only these particular names were banned. Does it mean all those unlisted names are acceptable? Oddly, many eligible names are not listed. For example: Stalin, Trotsky, Mao, Adolf(lol), Winston, and Pol Pot are not among the banned names. Nor is Woody Allen or Gertrude Stein or Khamenei. Nor is Whoopie (as in Goldberg) or Anais (as in Nin) or Toto (as in Kansas).

What about Kim Jong-Un? What about Sayed Qutub and Mohammed Morsi? What about Hamdan Qormut?

Better yet, how about Al Thani?

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

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Historical Hints of the Magi: Was Zarathustra Sagte……….

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“Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. It was founded by the Prophet Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) in ancient Iran approximately 3500 years ago. For 1000 years Zoroastrianism was one of the most powerful religions in the world. It was the official religion of Persia (Iran) from 600 BCE to 650 CE. It is now one of the world’s smallest religions………… Zoroastrians believe there is one God called Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord) and He created the world. Zoroastrians are not fire-worshippers, as some Westerners wrongly believe. Zoroastrians believe that the elements are pure and that fire represents God’s light or wisdom. Ahura Mazda revealed the truth through the Prophet, Zoroaster. Zoroastrians traditionally pray several times a day. Zoroastrians worship communally in a Fire Temple or Agiary. The Zoroastrian book of Holy Scriptures is called The Avesta…………….”

Arabs traditionally called them Majous (as in the Westernized Magi), probably after their priests, especially in the early years of the Muslim conquest. The conversion to Islam started under the second Caliph Omar I whose dedicated free-spirited desert fighters defeated the Sassanid (or Sasanian) dynasty surprisingly easily.
Because of their traditional symbolic fire rituals, Arabs and others have simplistically held throughout history that Zoroastrians were “fire worshippers”. That is equivalent to claiming Catholics worship statues or gargoyles (as in Notre Dame de Paris and other places).

During periods of regional political tension some Arabs, usually Salafi extremists on the Gulf, still call all Iranians, even the Muslims among them, Majous. They are a recognized but historically discouraged religion in theocratic Iran, and like Jews they hold one seat in Parliament. Nowadays especially the term is used quite frequently politically in Salafi ethnic propaganda campaigns and in social media, sometimes referring also to Shi’as, including many Arab Shi’as who don’t even speak Persian. Overlooking the fact that pre-Islamic Peninsula Arabs were mostly free pagans who worshiped chosen idols, and that ancient Egyptians worshiped their incestuous kings (Pharaohs) who usually married their own sisters.

Some aspects of their ancient religion are intriguing:
It is monotheistic (one supreme God-creator; one symbolic evil) – they worship several times a day – they have a book of Holy Scriptures (Avesta) – their God conveyed the truth to an ethnic Prophet (Zoroaster or Zarathustra), who was Persian rather than the usual Semite (Jewish or Arab)……..
Hint, hint, hint…………

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum                          Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter
m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Urban Legend of the Turkish Pregnant Hand…….

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“A Turkish televangelist has warned male Muslims away from masturbation – because it may leave their hands pregnant in the afterlife. Mücahid Cihad Han supposedly made the claim in response to a call from a man who “kept masturbating, although he was married, and even during the Umrah”, a pilgrimage similar to the Hajj. Hearing the man’s plight, Han stated that masturbation is forbidden in Islam and went on to say: “Moreover, one hadith states that those who have sexual intercourse with their hands will find their hands pregnant in the afterlife…………”

Nothing new here. Years ago when I was in Middle School (Junior High) back home on the shores of the Gulf a teacher of Islamic religion told our class the same thing. He claimed the “pregnant hand” would file a sexual assault complaint with God.
Scared the hell out of many students. Probably not me………..
Besides, my young skeptical mind suspected that he himself indulged…….

P.S.: It is not just in Islam. There are also the Christian ( and probably Jewish) equivalent of this Turkish cleric who spread similar nonsense.
    

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum                          Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter
m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

The Overlooked Faces of Real Saudi Reform………..

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Since the creation of the modern Saudi state some hundred years ago there have been three constants. These three constants have defined the country that the ruling family arrogantly renamed after themselves. They called it the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The three constants have been: (1) Wahhabism; (2) Absolute family rule and the subsequent kleptocracy; (3) Goateed kings and princes, from Abdulaziz through kings Saud, Faisal, Khaled, Fahd, Abdullah, and Salman, including several crown princes like Sultan and Nayef. The first two have been widely exported with plenty of Saudi money. Wahhabism now covers a vast area from Indonesia to Morocco, including AQAp and ISIS. It has noticeable influence in major European cities. This last expansion into Europe has led to the phenomenon of Islamophobia.

The last constant, the goatee beard (saksooka), did not take much hold outside the Arabian Peninsula. There are a few exceptions, for example Saad Hariri in Lebanon but he is the Saudi man in that country and sporting a goatee is like raising the Saudi flag. There might be one or two others in Lebanon with goatee beard, but I have not seen them nor heard of them. Inside Arabia, the goatee has ruled. Any prince worth his salt who aspired to reach the top of the hierarchy had to sport a goatee, preferably dyed jet black (Kiwi brand). Any minion who aspired to rise in the bureaucracy had to do the same.

Now King Salman has started his rule with a new face, literally. He has appointed a crown prince with no goatee beard, a first. He has appointed his son as deputy crown prince, also without a goatee, but with an Emirati style trimmed beard. It is worth noting that the crown prince apparently has no male heirs, comforting thought for his deputy.

That is the new future of the Arabian Peninsula, so long as the Al Saud rule it. That is the new face of Saudi reform, literally, and almost certainly the extent of it. No more goatee………….

(P.S: Now if they can get rid of the moustache, then they might have a slew of kings and princes who are as hairless as Francois Hollande or David Cameron or Angela Merkel).

    

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum                          Follow ArabiaDeserta on Twitter
m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com