The Invisible Men
Before the West goes on another round of self-flagellation about how hard it is to be Middle Eastern, and a doctor, in Britain, here's an article in the Australian describing what it's like to be black, a woman and foreign in Saudi Arabia.
During our first two months in Jeddah, my wife Faye and I relished our new and luxurious lifestyle: a shiny jeep, two swimming pools, domestic help, and a tax-free salary. The luxury of living in a modern city with a developed infrastructure cocooned me from the frightful reality of life in Saudi Arabia. My goatee beard and good Arabic ensured that I could pass for an Arab. But looking like a young Saudi was not enough: I had to act Saudi, be Saudi. And here I failed.
My first clash with Saudi culture came when, being driven around in a bulletproof jeep, I saw African women in black abayas tending to the rubbish bins outside restaurants, residences and other busy places. "Why are there so many black cleaners on the streets?" I asked the driver. The driver laughed. "They're not cleaners. They are scavengers; women who collect cardboard from all across Jeddah and then sell it. They also collect bottles, drink cans, bags."
"You don't find it objectionable that poor immigrant women work in such undignified and unhygienic conditions on the streets?" "Believe me, there are worse jobs women can do."
Enter the world of immigration viewed from the Third World, without the blinkers of white guilt. And lest anyone should think this is all partisan propaganda, here's an assessment of the condition of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia from Human Rights Watch:
We learned that hundreds of low-paid Asian women who cleaned hospitals in Jeddah worked twelve-hour days, without food or a break, and were confined to locked dormitories during their time off. Skilled seamstresses from the Philippines told us that they were not permitted to leave the women’s dress shop in Medina where they worked twelve-hour days, and were forbidden to speak more than a few words to customers and the Saudi owners.
Many women employed as domestic workers in cities throughout the kingdom reported that they worked twelve hours or more daily. Most of them also lived in around-the-clock confinement, at the decision of their private employers, cut off from the outside world. One woman from the Philippines, whose employers in Dammamdid not provide her with sufficient food, described how she enlisted help from the family’s Indian driver, to whom she was forbidden to speak. She told us that she wrote lists of what she needed and threw them out the window to the driver. He made the purchases, and “delivered” them to her by tossing the packages onto the roof of the house, where she retrieved them. Another Filipina, who also worked for a family in Dammam, said that she constantly watched the locked front gate of the house, waiting for an opportunity to escape after her male employer raped her in June 2003.
Saudi Arabia was designated, together with Bolivia, Ecuador, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Burma, Jamaica, Venezuela, Cambodia, Kuwait, Sudan, Cuba, North Korea, and Togo, as a Tier 3 country by the United States Department of State in its 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report required by the Trafficking Victim Protection Act of 2000 on which this article was originally based. Tier 3 countries are "Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so." The 2006 report shows some effort by the Kingdom to address the problems, but continues to classify the Kingdom as a Tier 3 country. The report recommends, "The government should enforce existing Islamic laws that forbid the mistreatment of women, children, and laborers..."
Saudi Arabia is a destination for men and women from South East Asia and East Africa trafficked for the purpose of labor exploitation, and for children from Yemen, Afghanistan, and Africa trafficking for forced begging. Hundreds of thousands of low-skilled workers from India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Kenya migrate voluntarily to Saudi Arabia; some fall into conditions of involuntary servitude, suffering from physical and sexual abuse, non-payment or delayed payment of wages, the withholding of travel documents, restrictions on their freedom of movement and non-consensual contract alterations. According to international organisations such as Ansar Burney Trust, young children from Bangladesh and India are also smuggled to Saudi Arabia to be used as jockeys. The children are underfed to reduce their weights, in order to lighten the load on the camel.
Runaway Iranian girls are trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and involuntary servitude. The network of traffickers entrap young and attractive run-away girls and widows with deceiving promises of a better life including marriage to rich prosperous men; then they are smuggled across legally and illegally. Iranian girls between the ages of 13 to 17 have the highest demand and price among women among the wealthy neighbouring Arab countries. These women are smuggled out of Iran and then subjected to prostitution. It is a lucrative business for the smugglers as there is a strong demand for young Iranian women among Arabs in the south.
Returning to the Australian article, the author Ed Husein says:
After a month in Jeddah I heard from an Asian taxi driver about a Filipino worker who had brought his new bride to live with him in Jeddah. After visiting the Balad shopping district the couple caught a taxi home. Some way through their journey the Saudi driver complained that the car was not working properly and perhaps the man could help push it. The passenger obliged. Within seconds the Saudi driver had sped off with the man's wife in his car and, months later, there was still no clue as to her whereabouts. We had heard stories of the abduction of women from taxis by sex-deprived Saudi youths.
One of the more interesting aspects of the Saudi Arabian expatriate scene, according to a New Zealander of Filipino origin I spoke to in Canberra, is that you tended to be treated according to your passport. At the top of the heap were the American expats, beneath which were various Western European nationalities. But at the bottom of the pile were the poor Filipinos, Indians, Bangladeshis and such. And their experiences can be radically different, each seeing the world through his own prism. And perhaps no prism is more bizarre than the one through which young Saudi radicals descry reality. Ed Husein describes an incident in a class he taught shortly before his return to London and recommend you read it to the end, but I will leave the punchline.
Two weeks after the terrorist attacks in London another Saudi student raised his hand and asked: "Teacher, how can I go to London?"
"Much depends on your reason for going to Britain. Do you want to study or just be a tourist?"
"Teacher, I want to go London next month. I want bomb, big bomb in London, again. I want make jihad!"
"What?" I exclaimed. Another student raised both hands and shouted: "Me too! Me too!"
Other students applauded those who had just articulated what many of them were thinking. I was incandescent. In protest I walked out of the classroom to a chorus of jeering and catcalls. ...
I vowed, in my own limited way, to fight those who had hijacked my faith, defamed my prophet and killed thousands of my own people: the human race. I was encouraged when Tony Blair announced on August 5, 2005, plans to proscribe an array of Islamist organisations that operated in Britain, foremost among them Hizb.
At the time I was impressed by Blair's resolve. The Hizb should have been outlawed a decade ago and so spared many of us so much misery. Sadly the legislation was shelved last year amid fears that a ban would only add to the group's attraction, so it remains both legal and active today. But it is not too late.
It is not even the thoughtful Muslims, like Ed Husein, who are asleep. It is the West's liberals, who pretend to sympathize with the Third World and know nothing of it. Who claim that terrorism is a fantasy when they live in a world of fantasy themselves. Husein is right: it is not too late. But the danger is far advanced.