190309 saudi arabia
The King Abdullah Financial District, north of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Image Credit: Reuters

A news item recently carried by a leading publication in the US on the grisly murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi prompted a Californian to email me her diatribe on everything bad about Saudis. Included in her email was a reference to the New York twin towers demolition and the case of the Saudi national serving eight years to life in prison in Colorado after being convicted in 2006 of sexually assaulting a housekeeper and keeping her a virtual slave for four years.

Focusing on the Saudi languishing in jail, she wrote: “Surely you must see the logic that this man and his wife came from a society where this sort of semi-slavery is the norm, so they wouldn’t see anything wrong with importing it to America. Because everyone around them does it in Saudi. But then, what else can you expect when you’re dealing with Saudis/Arabs/Muslims.”

Everyone? I cannot really fault this lady’s reasoning because most of it is based on what she reads and hears. And by and large, in the aftermath of September 11, the US press has not been very favourable to Saudis. It has become even worse following Khashoggi’s murder. Years of existing as a closed society to foreigners with very little inter-cultural exchange have led to an atmosphere of ignorance and distrust among many Americans. And flawed as her judgement may be, this lady’s perception of Saudis can be excused.

I suppose if I flipped her comments around to what happens in the United States, I would be just as culpable. If Christian priests are arrested for making advances or molesting young boys, does that mean they are all paedophiles?

When mothers drown their little ones in bathtubs or lakes, is every mother in America gifted with such a barbaric action? If teenagers go berserk in schools and attack and gun down their classmates, would it be right in assuming that all schoolchildren in America are homicidal? When white extremists slaughter blacks or others of colour, should I look over my shoulder when followed by every white American?

Should I look upon the entire American citizenry as a gang of rapists and assassins when a murder occurs every 22 minutes or a rape every 5 minutes within the borders of the United States? When a few hundred of their men in uniform were found guilty of torturing Iraqi or Afghan prisoners, would it be correct to assume that they are all a bunch of sicko sadists? If 25 of the most notorious serial killers in the world have emerged from within the United States, should that give me a cause of alarm?

The answer is obviously ‘no’! Because for each one of those criminals, there are millions of God-fearing Americans who would not perpetuate or condone such barbaric behaviour. It would smack of great prejudice to presume otherwise.

Here in the Kingdom, we do have our share of deviants, criminals and what not. But they do not make up the entire country. And more often than not it is they who capture the headlines, not because it is the norm, but because they are the aberrant ones. They are not everyone.

Good news or good deeds rarely grab the attention of most.

Extremely shaken

Neither our religion nor culture condones the harming or abuse of others. From the King down, we were all extremely shaken by the macabre events surrounding Khashoggi’s death. Nor were we cheerleading on the sidelines on that fateful day of September 11 so many years ago. Indeed, this is the trait of the greater part of God-fearing Saudis. But we will not deny that aberrations exist within small pockets. A few terrorists do not constitute the make-up a nation, nor do the few Saudis who indulge in the practice of abusing hired help.

With the number of expatriate domestic labourers estimated at more than two million in Saudi Arabia,, sadly there will exist a number who will be discriminated against. But rest assured, the majority do not excuse or condone such behaviour. And when such cases come to light, the call from all quarters of this society is for swift and harsh punishment against the perpetrators, whoever they may be. And the government has passed enough laws in the books for their legal protection. Judge me not in haste, Miss America. I do not stand alone among Saudis against such crimes and conduct anywhere.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena.