Saudi Arabia is supposedly the country that practices true Islam. (The concept of a ‘true’ religion is problematic itself, as the very idea of ‘true’ is subjective to interpretation). Yet many tribal Saudis accept the claim that they are practicing the ‘true’ Islam. So why is it that a large number of Saudi students (men) contradict the norms of Saudi society when they come to the West? Is it that repression creates desire? Or is it because Western influences tempt Saudis to do what is considered haram?
There seems to be a double standard for Saudi men. They can sleep with as many woman as they want. Some even drink alcohol and get high with drugs abroad. In their debauched mentality, they feel such sins will be forgiven by Allah when they repent. Life will be perfect once they return to their homeland, right? Whenever I come across a Saudi with that mentality (sin now and repent later), I’m tempted to slap some sense into him. Then I realize there’s no point, because those Saudis (not all) will never doubt their indoctrination. Inevitably, they will marry a virginal wife, and they’ll give up casual sex or drinking……..but how long will such modesty last? Does one blame a hypocritical Saudi society? Or does one blame Western Neo-Liberal influence that has permeated almost all global societies?
Recently I met a young woman who told me that she frequents with Saudis. She seems to have a very negative view about them. She said very bluntly, “Saudi men only want to fuck you.” Of course, it’s a poor form of reasoning to label an entire peoples based on set stereotypes. While I agreed with her to an extent, I also know that a minority of Saudi students are not this stereotype. I wanted so badly to tell her about my experiences with Saudis (clients) because she had no idea that Saudi men pay for sex. I wanted to tell her how Saudi men not only want sex but they also want affection. Again, my experiences may be biased. The Saudis I’ve become close too always say how sex is not the most important thing between us. They enjoy my company, and especially my affection. Often, I feel I am acting as their Mother/Wife. I empathize with them. Saudi students studying abroad are alone often. They have plenty of male friends and can easily have sex, but many want more than that.
Generally, Saudis are unlike any other clients. I enjoy learning about their experiences and their lives. Most of them haven’t been exposed to the West long enough to have ‘contaminated’ superficial minds (yet many are becoming increasingly seduced by the so-called ‘charm’ of the West). However, for the most part, Saudis are not individualistic, but rather kinship oriented. Often, Western women wonder why their Saudi boyfriend cannot marry with them. Many narratives exist to discourage Saudi-Foreign marriages, and these narratives are propagated as a ‘panic’ and a ‘duty’ for Saudis to ‘maintain’ their scarce kinship values. Dominant discourses are powerful in essentially ‘brainwashing’ naive minds into believing the state agendas are moralistic. The problem with this logic is that there is no such thing as an all-encompassing “Saudi” culture. Being ‘Saudi’ is a modern, political identity and has nothing to do with tribalism, despite laws use the vocabulary of religion and tribalism. The indigenous culture(s) of the Arabian Peninsula have long been altered by modernity and engagement with the West. Anti-miscegenation laws in Saudi Arabia ignore a rich history of intense intercultural relations that have always occurred in the Arabian Peninsula. But with modernity and globalization, Saudi Arabian state officials have resorted to propagating ideas of ‘losing it’s culture‘ in order to maintain their hegemony. However, the real concern is NOT about a ‘culture’ facing erosion — the real concern is about the state maintaining their exploitative power and dominance. Saudi Arabia is a modern nation-state that plays the same ‘pseudo-humanity’ game as with other nation-states: nation-states use citizenship, social hierarchies, nationalism and exclusion as strategic tactics (very unIslamic) ways of maintaining power. There is NOTHING Islamic about forbidding two believers from marrying each other.
Yet despite the adoption of modernity, marriage differs in Saudi Arabia compared to versions of modern marriage in the West. In the West, couples are typically individualistic, which means they will marry whom they choose because family input is of less importance. But for most Saudis, they are accustomed to consider their family values with all their decisions. It’s frustrating knowing there is probably no future for the Sheik and I, yet at the same time I am also empathetic to the concept of resisting Western influence (but let’s face it, the West has already bombarded Saudi society though globalization). After all, my own culture used to practice the same form of arranged marriages, and to a certain extent, some still do. Yet social conditions and circumstances have changed, which means old traditions no longer mean the same in this new context. Inevitably, conflict is bound to arise.
Anyway, the young woman I met brought up a good point: If Saudi Arabia as a country was focused on true Islam, then why aren’t they helping those with less? Why aren’t they helping the Palestinians, or Iraqis? Why don’t they help those marginalized in their own society, such as labourers and maids from impoverished countries? Again, people have this belief that the nation-state is a vehicle of humanitarianism, but it’s not. Saudi Arabia as a nation-state is, again, not concerned about social justice, despite giving off this impression. I don’t think the simple Islamic ideals of social justice (through just and moral behavior, zakat, sadaqah) can coexist within the modern nation-state setting, as consumer-capitalism negates the essence of Islam. After all, Prophet Mohammed (s.a.w.) was an advocate for goodness, justice and humanity, and Islam was to solve the evils that the Quraysh had commited (greed, wealth hoarding, asabiyah, etc). The sad reality is that Islam is being negated by some Saudis, yet they try to justify their behaviour with warped interpretations of Qur’an and Hadith. Just type in ‘prostitution in Syria’ on youtube and one will find Syrian dance-halls filled with Iraqi prostitutes and Saudi clients. It breaks my heart, because these women are not selling sex for the same reasons as I. The Arab prostitutes in Syria, Bahrain, or other neighboring countries are doing it because they have no other choice. Why aren’t the Saudis protecting these women instead of just using them as pieces of meat? When I think too much about how men can use women as sex-objects at their convenience, it makes me bitter………but again I no longer blame the men. Instead, I look at how debauched societal values (based on consumerism) are so powerful at influencing norms for behavior towards others — here lies the VITAL importance in gaining knowledge (‘ilm), because one should never blindly accept what is told to them, one must always question.
On the contrary, I spent this evening with the older Saudi man I mentioned previously. I’ll refer to him as Abu Saud. I hate to admit it, but I actually enjoy seeing him. We cannot have a proper conversation because of language barriers, but somehow we manage to laugh and communicate through non-verbal cues. In his limited English, he has a tendency to tell me very personal things about himself. He repeated his home address to me, and then showed me his wallet with his ID card, which means I know where he lives and his family name. It made me laugh. All I could think was, “Why are you telling me this?” I could never imagine one of my White married clients eagerly telling me where he lives or his family name.
Abu Saud is a sweet older man. I try to suppress the fact that he’s being unfaithful to his wife. I must ignore these things, but I know it will affect me when/if I’m a wife one day.