Thursday, October 13, 2005

Censorship and Paranoia

Fear and Loathing in KSAFear and Loathing in KSA
One of the things that really got on my nerves was the amount and quality of censorship. I understand that Islam presribes modest dress, although how that comes to be interpreted as meaning women should cover every inch of skin, including the face and hands in solar-friendly black fabric is beyond me.

Whenever I bought a foreign newspaper I was appalled to find that perfectly innocuous photos and adverts had been vandalised by thugs with thick black markers. And that CD covers would be given the same treatment. I bought a CD once where the image of the female singer had been blacked out up to her neck and even her lips were blacked out.

I was also getting irritated by the way that women were treated. One of my local record shops was closed down by the Muttawa because a female customer had been allowed inside! Women were not allowed to drive, and could only leave the house with the permission of their husband and in the company of a male relative.

I quickly developed a form of paranoia. One of the reasons was the fact that after a couple of months I still had no residence visa, and as far as I knew my visit visa had expired. I always carried a letter from Bongo with me explaining that my visa was ‘in process’. So I was wary of encounters with policemen. Another reason was that I was a stranger in a very strange land.
I began to practice a form of thought-censorship, trying not to think about how crap my personal situation was, and trying to believe that there must be some goodness and logic in all the censorship, the oppression, the apparent lack of warmth in human relationships. Whatever I said or did was always accompanied by me thinking ‘is this an ok thing to think/say/do in Saudi Arabia?’