Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Muttawa in the News

There have been quite a few stories recently published in both of our local daily newspapers, regarding The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice [commonly known as the Muttawa or the Religious Police]. Yes, of course I have read the articles but have not posted on any of the specific situations because with the exception of sharing some of the misery of my daily life in The Sandbox, I want, for the most part, to avoid subjects which might be considered controversial, and thus not raise the ire of my neighbors any more than I've already done.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice -
the Muttawa - or The Religious Police, have in no way interfered with my life except for that ONE time three or four years ago at Rashid Mall where I was followed through the corridors of shops by two of them - and a security guard - for not wearing an abeya - as they shouted at me, "Young woman! Young woman! Where is your abeya?" It took them several minutes to actually catch and confront me - the whole while they were yelling I didn't turn around to see what the ruckus was all about because I honestly didn't realize at the time that it was me they were chasing and shouting at. [The secret, which has been shared with me since this occurred, is to immediately go into any one of the many lingerie shops as they will not follow you in there.] And why didn't I have my abeya on? At the time this incident took place I had not yet purchased one of those ridiculous sack-like black pieces of apparel because I was told prior to moving to The Sandbox, at the orientation sponsored by the company that employed my DH and was moving us from the States to this Country, that Western women, provided they were dressed respectfully, did not have to don this wretched black garb, when leaving the walls of the compound where we would be living. Yep. I was gullible and I believed this. My bad.

When I ventured to the mall that fateful day - it was a good year and a half or two years after we'd moved here - and I wore the same thing that I'd been wearing to the mall and outside the compound previously: jeans and a crew-neck t-shirt - but fully covering that outfit with one of my DH's blue denim workshirts - which comes down to my knees! There was virtually NO skin showing - so as far as I'm concerned - this was just one of those little displays of power forced upon me by men afflicted with - oh, how to say this politely - little man syndrome - just to make sure that I knew that I had to be put in my place simply because I am a Western woman. Suffice it to say that as a general rule, Western women are not particularly "adored," here. Whatever. My solution to not having to conform to what I consider to be some sort of neandrathalic mandate is to just
not leave our compound - except to leave the country [i.e., go to Bahrain] - unless it is an absolute necessity and there is no other possible solution to obtain whatever goods it might be that I am needing - so I don't have to wear the black hefty bag very often [I probably wear it once a month - and that is to go to the grocery store off our compound because you can't get good bread or decent paper towels at our Commissary any more].

So, as the news goes, here, there have been a couple of occurrences where The Muttawa have arrested people for being in the state of "khulwa," which, judging from the severity of how the culprits were treated you might think would mean that a man and a woman were caught in the midst of having hot, sweaty, wild, passionate, all out, full butt naked sex in public but really only means that a man and a woman who are NOT related were together in some public venue. That is NOT allowed. Ohhhh noooo. Men and women, if they are not related [and let's face it - when you only marry first cousins and each man can have three or four wives - somehow most of the men and women here are probably related] MUST be separated! If an unrelated man is with an unrelated woman, that is "khulwa" and it is "haram" [forbidden]! It is no secret that there is no mixing of the sexes here - men get one entrance to a restaurant and women and families get another - and if they are caught together "in the state of khulwa" the punishment includes jail time and lashings.

One of the first instances that made world-wide news was the American woman who went to Starbucks with a Syrian male colleague. The American woman who was accused of "wearing makeup, not covering her hair and 'moving around suspiciously'" was arrested
, strip-searched [did a woman perform this strip search???], forced to sign a confession and told by a Judge that she would "burn in Hell." [Exactly what is meant by "moving around suspiciously" is not stated, but you can rightly assume that the woman wasn't doing a pole-dance on a table in a g-string.] Good fucking grief. You just have to shake your head in awe that something like this really could happen to you as a foreigner in another country - but it can and could, especially here, in The Sandbox.

And then just a week ago, the next story to hit the newswire which was reported world-wide, involved a female Filipino nurse who was caught by The
Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice having dinner with a male colleague. The Filipino nurse was immediately taken to jail and has not been heard from since; as yet, even the Philippine Embassy has not been allowed to have any contact with her. Her male colleague says he was "dragged out of the restaurant by his belt with his feet in shackles" at the time of their arrest. Almost unbelievable... Yet, unfortunately it is true...

In other news on
The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice there are reports of fatalities that resulted from car chases, another of the alleged beating of a man in hand-cuffs while he was in the custody of The Commission, one of a man leaping to his death from a third-floor window to avoid pursuit of The Commission, one of a woman being hit by a truck as she ran from the Commission, and one of a young undercover Saudi intelligence officer claiming physical abuse at the hands of The Commission.

An archive search at Arab News brought up 155 published articles - most of which detail the actions of The Commission
for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. And, an archive search at the Saudi Gazette brought up 38 published articles. So, just a quick archive search gives us a total of 193 articles which have been published in the papers and are on the internet... Keep this thought in mind - because the Western media gets the blame for airing this Country's dirty laundry...

General consensus, judging from the Letters to the Editor in the papers [which I can't seem to get to in order to link, here], about the role of The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice is mixed - with some saying it is a necessary branch of government to keep people in-line with laws and culture, here, and some saying the very opposite. Again, although incredibly difficult for me to do so, I am going to refrain from injecting my opinion - it certainly wouldn't take a Mensa candidate to figure out where I stand.

However, what is truly most irksome to me about all of this is that both papers are competing with each other to see who can get the most mileage out of how the Western media is "deliberately trying to malign the commission." "The media glare has put the Commission under a spotlight. And, naturally, the Western media loves to report this stuff." Umm, no. Not really. It's not the Western media that put these stories out there for the whole world to discover - it's the media, here! With special thanks, of course, going to the invention by a bloated former Vice President, the internet has thrown open the windows of what was once a very, very tightly closed society, and allowed the rest of the world to catch a glimpse of dirty laundry - the
purported wrongdoings by this strong arm of the local government. So, then, that would be the West's fault, how, exactly? By mere association that the internet was invented by someone from the West is quite a stretch. The Western media didn't write or publish the original stories; that was done by media in the Middle East.

...but, as usual, and as is typical, if there is some "bad" in any act or deed or thought, it IS once again the West's fault. Damn. Isn't it always??? Just once, just one fucking time, it would be nice if the evil "West" didn't have to be culpable for the perceived exploitation of transgressions for which the blame must be laid solely upon the press here! Yes, believe it or not, everything awful in the world is NOT always the fault of the West and perhaps the sooner people in other parts of the world started realizing this and taking the blame for their own actions, the sooner there could be some minor steps taken to achieve world peace. Ahh. Forget it. Just never mind. I think we all know that that is NOT going to happen.

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