That’s how a friend—who travels frequently to the Middle East for work—referred to Saudi Arabia to me in an email the other day, after reading about the judicial murder there of Rizana Nafeek, the young Sri Lankan woman who worked as a domestic
slave servant in that benighted country. I responded with something I’ve been saying since early in the last decade, which is that the creation of Saudi Arabia in the 1920s—of the conquest of the Hijaz (civilized) by the Wahhabi tribes of the Najd (uncivilized)—was one of the great tragedies of the 20th century. Now I’m not one to essentialize countries but there are two in this world that I consider to be particularly depraved and malevolent, and in almost every respect—politically, geopolitically, culturally, morally, you name it—, one being Russia, the other Saudi Arabia. And insofar as both countries are able to project power and influence beyond their borders, they are also dangerous, particularly in their respective regions. It is hardly a surprise that most of the peoples and nations that border Russia fear and loathe that country. Just to go to Warsaw and ask around (for the anecdote, some eight years ago a Russian student of mine—from a Vladimir Putin-supporting family and who was not particularly politicized herself—told me that Russia’s neighbors had good reason to fear her country). As for Saudi Arabia, just ask a few dozen people at random in Cairo, Damascus, Beirut, Tunis, Casablanca, or anywhere else in the Arab world what they think of Saudis (not just the royal family but also as people). Answer: a significant majority will tell you that they’re barbarians (as the Muslim Sri Lankans in the photos here manifestly deem them to be). It may not be nice to essentialize a whole people in such terms—and it is certainly not reputable intellectually—but that’s the reality of how Saudis are viewed by those—mostly other Arabs and Muslims—who’ve had to deal with them.
I’m thinking about this at the present moment, having just read Indian-Kashmiri journalist Basharat Peer’s commentary in The New Yorker on Rizana Nafeek’s beheading. Read it and fume. And if you want to fume some more, see the links in my post of 18 months ago on this same subject. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if Saudi Arabia could be broken into three parts?: an independent Hijaz restored to the Hashemites (and with Jordan becoming a Palestinian state—including the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, of course); the oil-rich, Shi’ite-majority Gulf coast area a United Nations protectorate (and with the oil revenues used to fund the UN and its specialized agencies, the World Bank, and IMF); and the Saudis in the Najd left to fend for themselves, bereft of oil and the holy places. Just dreaming…
UPDATE: The web site Migrant Rights has an informative post on “Who failed Rizana Nafeek?,” which is severely critical of the Sri Lankan government’s handling of the affair.