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Chan'ad Bahraini

(Scomberomorous maculatus Bahrainius)

Labour Minister on TV tonight

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

If you're not planning on watching the Euro 2004 semi-final match between Portugal and Holland tonight, then you might want to watch this (from the GDN):
Labour and Social Affairs Minister Dr Majeed Al Alawi will be appearing on Al Arabiya television channel. The proramme will be aired tonight (Wednesday 30th) at 10pm (Bahrain time). The minister will focus on the role of Bahrain societies, labour issues, unemployment and the new labour law.
Hmmm... sounds interesting. Maybe I'll be able to catch some of it during half-time.

Understanding Muslims for Dummies

Monday, June 28, 2004

If any of you've been following the Muslim graduation stoles controversy at UC Irvine, here is an interesting commentary from alt.muslim:
Warping The Truth: The Panic Over Muslim Graduation Stoles

You'd think that after years of all-Islam, all-the-time news reporting, of people studying Islam both formally and informally, and so many self-styled "Islam experts" plying the radio and TV talk shows, that critics of Islam would know at least the basics about the religion. This week's "controversy" over Muslim graduation stoles at the University of California, Irvine reveals how fear can warp the truth, even when people who make a living watching Muslims are involved. Seems that some Jewish students were upset about the green, Arabic-covered stoles, finding too much of a similarity between them and green headbands Hamas militants use. It's understandable, I suppose, since the students in question can't read Arabic and their only exposure to Arabic written on green cloth (the shahada, or Muslim declaration of faith, was printed on one side of the stole; the other said "Oh, God, increase my knowledge") was what they see on their TV screens. (Muslim students could have made the same complaint about stars of David, which are plastered on Israeli army tanks & warplanes, but they're smart enough to make the distinction between politics and religion.) What is baffling, though, is that nearly every news outlet said that the word "shahada" was on the stoles (it wasn't - the phrase "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger" that makes up the shahada was) and that the American Jewish Congress said that the word "shahada" that they think is on the stole translated to "suicide bomber". The AJC also called the shahada an "expression of hate" that was a "demonstration in favor of terrorists". Thankfully, UC Irvine officials backed the 20 Muslim students who wore the stoles without incident at their commencement ceremonies, and plan to in the future. "Students wore it at last year's graduation, too," said UC Irvine Muslim Student Union president Osman Umarji. "No one even noticed it." Well, they have now - and they want all Muslims to drop the most basic declaration of their faith because some terrorists have been filmed abusing it.

I have to agree that this incident really shows how little understanding there is of Islam and Muslims among most Americans. Okay, we can't really expect all Americans to know what the shahada is, but certainly those media institutions and scholars who have been reporting about Muslims for so long should have some idea. It is amazing how many people there are in America who think they know Islam and speak with authority about it without ever having lived in the Muslim world for any significant amount of time. If you listen to what these self-styled scholars have to say it becomes obvious that they really do not understand the differences between Islam, Muslims, Islamism or Islamic fundamentalism.

And their tendency to confuse the terms Islam and Muslim goes deeper than just semantics. They seem to believe that Muslims are mere Islamic robots. Thus they think that by reading all of the Islamic scriptures (Quran, Hadith, etc.) they will be able to understand Muslims; as though Muslims have no cares other than abiding by the scriptures; as though Islam is nothing more than a collection of words written on parchment 1400 years ago.

The first thing that needs to be acknowledged is that being 'Muslim' is not the only identity carried by Muslims. Muslims are not only Muslims, but are also parents, siblings, children, employees, bosses, friends, politicians, citizens, and above all, human beings. They have interests that go beyond their Muslims identities, and may therefore be driven to do things for reasons other than Islam. Although Osama bin Laden claims to be doing everything for the sake of Allah, let's be serious. I'm sure he has his personal interests to care about, his family, his friends, his money, his comfort. And being in the position that he is, he also has to be somewhat of a politician, compromising his Islamic values for other reasons. This is why we can't try to understand his actions just by reading the Quran and the Prophetic traditions. Nor can we undersand his actions just by listening to his rhetoric. We have to understand who he is, his culture, his interests, his history. These are the things that make up a human being; not merely words written on parchment centuries ago.

And this applies to all Muslims in general... not just the terrorist kind. To be able to understand Muslims we have to learn about their culture (not just "Islamic culture" if such a thing exists). We have to understand how Muslims interpret symbols, icons and rhetoric that are used. In the case of the shahada we need to know the significance of this phrase to Muslims, and not just what it means for Hamas. Only then can we begin to make a judgement on whether its use constitutes malicious intent or not.

The second thing that must be understood is that Islam is not just a bunch of texts. As I've said before, we can't reduce it down to just a collection of words written on parchment 1400 years ago. May of these American self-styled scholars of Islam will claim that they "know Islam even better than many Muslims" because they can quote verses from the Quran and from Tabari and Ishaq, which many Muslims may not have even heard of. But we must recognize that Islam is a living religion; it is made up of human beings, not texts. There is very much an oral tradition among Muslims with information being passed on from generation to generation, from master to disciple, from parent to child, from friend to friend. Sometimes this information is not passed down through words, but through experiences, and without either of the parties even being aware of it, it enters their psyche. It is these things which determine, among other things, how the words of the texts are interpreted in to everyday life; for words are merely words and can be interpreted in any way one sees fit. Learning just the texts alone is not nearly enough to be able to understand what Islam is about.

To really understand what Muslims are, there is NO substitute for living among Muslims, observing them and interacting with them. Learning their history, their culture, their personal lives, their philosophies. Understanding what it is that makes them tick, and how they interpret social action. Judging for yourself whether these people are of the human species that the rest of us belong to, or whether they are a different beast altogether. But until they are able to do this, these so-called American scholars who have never lived among Muslims should speak with humility. By all means they should read whatever they can and make known their opinions. But they should be aware (and also make their audience aware) of the fact that their source of knowledge is limited to a few years of learning the texts, which is not nearly enough to understand how the Muslim mind thinks. And they should also refrain from casting their image of a Muslim upon all Muslims. Very often I read a pseudo-scholar saying something like "those Muslims aren't abiding by such and such verse of the Quran, therefore they are not behaving like real Muslims." The implication of such a statement is that their (i.e. the pseudo-scholar's) interpretation of that verse, and their interpretation of what a real Muslim is is the only interpretation.

My problem here is not that Americans do not know enough about Muslims, but that today many Americans speak with an authority of the subject which is not deserved. Prior to 9/11 when I would get in to a discussion with an American about Islam they would humbly admit that they do not know enough to be able to pass judgement, and would kindly ask me if I might share whatever I may know. In the aftermath of the 9/11 disaster, it seems that many Americans, understandably, feel the need to learn about Islam as soon as possible whatever source is available. All of a sudden I'm finding that more and more people who knew nothing about Muslims just three years ago passing all sorts of judgements in the media, without making it explicitly known their level of interaction with Muslims themselves.

Certainly, the Muslim world has suffered from the same problem for much longer. It is all too common to hear Muslim politicians, religious leaders and pseudo-scholars passing judgements about America based on CNN, Hollywood, and internet rumours, without ever having met an American. For example, when GW Bush used the word "crusade" in describing the War on Terrorism, all of the Muslim world jumped on it, claiming it as evidence that the war was fuelled by religion. But of course, anyone who really understands the English language in its modern-day context will know that the word crusade does not necessarily carry the same religious connotations it did in the past. While Muslims, more than anyone, need to overcome this "know-it-all" attitude, the reason I am so disturbed about it appearing in the American media is because I never though it would reach such levels. When reading some American news sources I am reminded of exactly the same style of arguments that I'm so familiar with here in the Muslim world, where people who have no idea of what they're talking about are (unknowingly) fooling themselves and others with their false authority.

Just an example of the extent of this is the whole graduation stole issue that I started off this post about. Asides from the fact that none of the media sources have any idea of what the "shahada" is, if you read the Jewsweek article about the controversy, they state:
According to a letter sent by MSU board member Jazakhallah Kair to all graduating Muslims...
Haha, really this is too much. If you're an Arabic speaker reading this, then I'm sure you're rolling on the floor in laughter. Because "Jazakallah Khair" is not a very common Muslim name. It is an Arabic phrase meaning "May God reward you well" which is very commonly used by Muslims. What must have happened is that the MSU board member who actually sent the original e-mail must have used this phrase while "signing out" (which is very common). The writer of the Jewsweek article probably got a hold of the e-mail somehow and just assumed that the MSU member's name is "Jazakhallah Kair". Hahaha. Although it is hilarious, it does illustrate the sad state of affairs, that there are so many people who are writing with authority, but so few of them have a real grasp of the subject.

The dates are cooking

Ahhh, the heat is here. It's been quite bearable so far, but this past week has marked the start of the real summer, as the temperature and humidity levels rise. I was complaining to the guy that does my laundry about the heat and asked rhetorically: "Why does it have to get so freaking hot over here?!" The laundry guy responded in a wise tone of voice: "So that the dates can fully ripen". What a smart alec. But as you can see from the above photo, the dates still have a ways to go before they're ready to be eaten... which means much more hot weather ahead of us.

Below is Bahrain's 10-day weather forecast (in celsius) from weather.com:

I'm sure these numbers will get higher as the weeks pass by.

When I was studying in New England, in the winters I'd often go to weather.com and check the weather in Bahrain. Back then I would have done anything to see those big yellow circles in the forecast for New England,... but no. So although I complain alot about the heat in Bahrain, I am actually quite grateful. Because no matter hot and sticky it gets, I'd prefer a Bahraini summer day to a Nor'easter any time.

The Gulf expat experience

Sunday, June 27, 2004
David Olivier perfectly sums up the Gulf Expat Experience:
An ex-pat in the Gulf probably more so than anywhere else east of the Suez, west of the Sea of Japan lives a life of limited empowerment. Our fat wallets mean nothing here. Here the locals drive better cars than we do and live in bigger homes. We can't bully the natives here the way we can in places like India or Nepal. The lifestyle in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE can be the most sumptuous and luxuriant of ex-pat lifestyle anywhere in the world. But there's something missing when the locals can't keep a straight face when you demand to see the manager or when you give a license plate number to the police when some young Turk cuts you off in traffic--he in his Mercedes, you in your rented Hyundai.
I definitely know what he's talking about. But I think the experiences of us brown-skinned variation of the Gulf expat is somewhat different. I've tried to explain before (sort of) but I'll probably need to explain a bit more for you to get the full picture... another time maybe. For right now, I'm still laughing over David's description. Read the rest.

There's a piece in the Guardian from a few months back which also describes the Gulf expat experience called Sands of Time. (I think Mahmood mentioned it once before also).

Jonny Wilkinson shows Beckham how it's done

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Haha, just got this in my mailbox. Click to enlarge the picture if you can't read the text.

International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

The protest rally, marking the "International Day in Support of Victims of Torture" that I mentioned on Tuesday went ahead today as planned. I was pleased to see that the event was well organized and peaceful. The people gathered represented all sections of Bahraini society (except those who are still trying to defend the accused torturers). One of the interesting things to see was the turnout of women. On one side of the road were all of the women dressed in the traditional black abayas:

And on the other side of the road were a bunch of young girls representing the secular NDA, dressed in their jeans and designer sunglasses:

The only people missing was anyone representing the large expat community as usual (I think I was the only expat there). For some reason the expat societies don't seem to care about local affairs, and neither do the Bahraini civil societies seem to care about involving the expats in local affairs. I'd like to see this change.

But the point of the rally was concise, without letting other issues get involved, as usually happens. The focus of the rally was to demand that the government acknowledge the torture that took place in the past, and to bring those torturers to justice. According to a flyer that was handed out, the demands of the societies who were sponsoring the rally were:
  • Recognition of all those who have unlawfully [been] killed as national martyrs and provide fair compensation to their families.

  • Fair compensation for all victims of torture as well as rehabilitation for those who are still suffering from torture.

  • Bringing all those who have committed acts of murder or torture to justice in accordance with the international standards; and repeal Royal Decree 56-2002, that protects torturers and grants them immunity from prosecution.

One person carried a sign stating:"Public blood is more valuable than public money", which was an obvious reference to the fact that Adel Flaifel has been charged by the Bahraini courts with mishandling public funds, but has not been charged with any of the crimes of torture that the opposition accuses him of. (Flaifel was at one time one of the high ranking personnel in Bahrain's former security apparatus. He fled to Australia at some point during the political reforms in the country).

Thankfully, the protest was not dominated by the Islamists as I feared, or any particular political society. There were a few people in their turbans and robes, but they were not trying to take centre-stage at all. The only thing was that the were playing music that was similar to the music they play during the 'Azza (a Shia' religious ceremony). But then again, over the years in Bahrain the 'Azza demonstrations have taken on a meaning that is certainly more than just religious, no?

All in all, a good protest with a well made point. Many passers by stopped to take notice of what was going on. And it was great to see so many teenagers and youths getting involved also, teaching them that demanding their rights from the government is not only their right, but their responsibility. While the government still has a lot to do to correct its former mistakes, the mere fact that protests of this kind can now take place shows that things have changed, and there's no going back.

You can see more of my photos from the protest in my Yahoo album.

You can read AFP's account of the event here.

Greece knocks out the Frogs!

Friday, June 25, 2004

France have been knocked out of the Euro 2004 tournament by minnows Greece! That leaves Holland as the only football heavyweights still contesting the cup... and if the in-form Swedes have their way tomorrow we may get to watch an all-underdog final. I don't think that the "Big Teams" have become all that worse, but it is evident that the other teams have definitely improved a great deal. A good sign for international football.

Eating my words

Thursday, June 24, 2004
A while back I complained that George W Bush was being quite ambiguous in his view on whether torture could ever be justified. I felt that he had only condemned the actions of Abu Ghraib for not complying with US law, but it seemed like he did not want to talk of whether torture could ever be justified regardless of legalities.

Well yesterday W laid out in unambiguous terms what my concerns were. He said (according to CNN):
"Look, let me make very clear the position of my government and our country," Bush said Tuesday in the Oval Office.

"We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being."
That statement does make me feel more comfortable. It doesn't get rid of all of the questions around the whole torture issue, and that the US has been trying to get war crimes immunity for it soldiers in action around the world. However, it does make me feel slightly better knowing that the administration is at least willing to present itself as being morally against torture under any conditions.

Bahrain releases six 'militants'

Uhh,... okay then. From the BBC:
The authorities in the tiny state of Bahrain have released without charge six men seized on Tuesday on suspicion of planning to commit "dangerous acts".

Attorney General Sharif Shadi announced the move after a 45-minute hearing. He gave no details. The men are reported to belong to the strict Salafi movement - a branch of the Wahhabi sect. Some of them had previously been held - and released - for allegedly being linked to al-Qaeda, their lawyer said.

No weapons

"They can all go home. They are no charges against them," said Mr Shadi, announcing the move. Defence lawyer Abdulla Hashim said: "No weapons and no dangerous materials were found either in their own homes or those of their friends or relatives." Bassam al-Ali, Bassam Bukhowa, Yasser and Omar Kamal and Mohedin and Ali Khan were arrested in a pre-dawn raid on Tuesday. (Continued)

Rap al-Bahraini

Was reading an article in the GDN that happened to mention a Bahraini rap group Infinity and a DJ Outlaw. I did a quick google search and was surprised to find out that we actually have a (small) underground hip-hop scene here on the island. The website for Infinity and Outlaw is www.infinity.coms.ph, where you can view their pictures and hear some of their music.

To be truthful, their music is not out of this world, but they're making a great effort, and I have to give them mad props for being the first rap group in Bahrain. Their sound seems like a mixture of oldskool and gangsta. I'm not too sure what their lyrics are about, but it does feature the sounds of a lot of guns and stuff. It's not too obvious what exactly the subject matter of each of their songs is. I'll have to hear a bit more of them to make a proper judgement, but I do hope they "keep it real" (in the tradition of hip-hop) and sing about issues that faced by today's Bahraini youth, rather than the stereotypical ghetto-life or bling bling subjects of most rap.

Another thing is that they sing in English. It would be interesting if they were to rap instead in Arabic, like the Palestinian rappers I mentioned before. Or better yet if they would try rapping in the Bahraani dialect that global soul posted about yesterday :)

If you'd like to hear them live, they will actually be performing (along with other local musicians) at the Alliance Francaise, Isa Town, today (Thursday June 24) at 6pm as part of the Alliance's annual Fete de la Musique.

Big ups to Infinity and DJ Outlaw!!

Kim Sun-Il, rest in peace

My prayers and condolences go out to his family, friends and the Korean people who have been so deeply affected this crime. Another innocent human being killed by senseless Islamist militants.

Once again, not in my name

Coalition: Vast Majority Of Iraqis Still Alive

Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Hot off the press from The Onion:
Coalition: Vast Majority Of Iraqis Still Alive

BAGHDAD—As the Coalition Provisional Authority prepares to hand power over to an Iraqi-led interim government on June 30, CPA administrator L. Paul Bremer publicly touted the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"As the Coalition's rule draws to a close, the numbers show that we have an awful lot to be proud of," Bremer said Tuesday. "As anyone who's taken a minute and actually looked at the figures can tell you, the vast majority of Iraqis are still alive—as many as 99 percent. While 10,000 or so Iraqi civilians have been killed, pretty much everyone is not dead."

According to U.S. Department of Defense statistics, of the approximately 24 million Iraqis who were not killed, nearly all are not in a military prison. Bremer said "a good number" of those Iraqis who are in jail have been charged with a crime, and most of them have enjoyed a prison stay free of guard-dog attacks, low-watt electrocutions, and sexual humiliation.

U.S. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt explained the coalition's accomplishments in geographical terms.

"There are vast sections of the country where one can go outside unarmed during the daylight hours," Kimmitt said, speaking from a heavily guarded base outside of Baghdad. "Even in cities where fighting has occurred, many neighborhoods have not been torn apart by gunfire. And, throughout the country, more towns than I could name off the top of my head have never been touched by a bomb at all."

Kimmitt said the bulk of the nation's public buildings are still standing.

"Throughout the nation, four out of five mosques have not been obliterated," Kimmitt said. "That's way, way, way more than half. Also, 80 percent of the nation's treasures and artifacts have not been destroyed by artillery or stolen in the widespread looting. If we were in school, that'd be a B-minus." (Continued)

Rally against torture this Friday

Tuesday, June 22, 2004
There's going to be a rally this Friday to raise awareness of the need to denounce torture. I'm not sure exactly who is leading the rally and why, but I do hope it isn't over politicized by the societies. By which I mean that I hope the focus of the rally isn't partisan, but is used to denounce torture in all its forms, regardless of whether it was carried out against Bahrainis, Iraqis, Americans, Bangladeshis or anyone else. But it does seem quite obvious what the political stance may well be, seeing that Al Wefaq is taking part, while Al Asalah is not. I encourage everyone to show up anyways though. A map of the venue is here.

Also, if anyone has any more details about the event then please post a comment.

The article from the GDN:
A peaceful rally will be held next to the United Nations House, Hoora, on Friday starting at 5pm.

Eleven civil societies, including political and human rights organisations, will take part in the rally marking the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

The objective of the rally is to make people aware of the importance of bringing torturers and human rights violators to justice, promoting fair national reconciliation, compensating and rehabilitating victims of torture.

Taking part in the rally are Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Bahrain Human Rights Society, Bahrain Society for Freedoms and Support of Democracy, the National Committee for Martyrs and Victims of Torture, Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, Islamic Action Society, National Democratic Action Society, Islamic Arab Democratic Society (Al Wasat), Progressive Democratic Forum Society, Pan Arab Democratic Society and the Bahrain Bar Society.

Weyn Rooney?

Although there is nothing quite like watching a football match in a pub packed full of loud beer-drinking die-hard English fans, the Bahraini version of this is also quite enjoyable. That is, sitting in a Bahraini coffee shop surrounded by loud shisha-smoking football fans. I am sometimes surprised (but not really) about how there are so many Arab die-hard fans of the English football team, who can't even speak English. I don't mean to suggest that there is something wrong with not knowing English... but it makes you think about how these guys can tell you the names of the entire English squad, without knowing the language. Come to think of it though, most football fans can name most of the Italian, French or Brazilian squads without knowing the languages also. Such is the international language of football.

While watching the Croatia-England game today (which was great) I came to realize just how universal the language of football is. I was sitting next to a Saudi guy who couldn't speak English, while I can't speak much Arabic. Nonetheless, for 90 minutes we were able to exchange quite detailed opinions and analyses of the game using only the names of the players, physical gestures, and the words koora (ball), hakam (ref), haris (goalie), khata (foul), and GOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLL!!!!! (goal). If only other languages were as simple.

Paul Johnson beheaded

Friday, June 18, 2004

Sadly, Paul Johnson has been beheaded by al-Qaeda militants, just like his compatriots Nicholas Berg and Daniel Pearl. My prayers go out to his family and friends. This is just another cowardly act claiming to represent all Muslims, and as I have mentioned before, I refuse to let them do this in my name. There is NO way of justifying such a horrific action, regardless of how many verses from the Quran or Prophetic traditions someone is able to dig up in support of it. One does not need a philosopher or theologian to tell you that killing innocent people is wrong.

You can read a report by CNN here.

Shura Council, now in English

Thursday, June 17, 2004
Good news for non-Arabic speakers. The Shura Council now has an English version of its website: http://www.shura.gov.bh/en/. Unfortunately, the website doesn't do a terribly good job of explaining to visitors what exactly the Shura Council is. So for those who don't know, Bahrain has a bicameral parliament consisting of the House of Deputies (Majlis an-Nawab) and the Shura Council. The 40 members of the House of Deputies are directly elected to serve 4-year terms, whereas the 39 members of of the Shura Council are all appointed by the King.

One point of interest with regards to the Shura Council is that it contains 6 women, a Christian, and a Jew. Compare that with the directly elected House of Deputies which is made up entirely of Muslim men.

No frills

Tuesday, June 15, 2004
There are several rumours going around of some more low-cost airlines being set up in the Gulf region. That is fantastic. This region has a lot to gain by importing the low cost model successfully exploited by other airlines in other parts of the world such as Southwest, Ryanair, easyJet, and several more.

The only one in the Gulf region so far (I think) is the Sharjah based Air Arabia, and they seem to have already made a significant impact on the market. I went to the websites of Air Arabia, Gulf Air and Emirates today to compare prices. This is what I found out. To fly from Bahrain to Dubai costs BD35 (not including tax) on both Gulf Air and Emirates. Air Arabia does not fly to Dubai airport, so they fly you to Sharjah, and then put you on a coach to Dubai airport (which takes about 45 minutes). This route will take a bit more time, and is somewhat inconvenient, but it costs only BD12 ! (BD11 for the flight to Sharjah + BD1 for the coach to Dubai). Sounds like a good deal to me. I think that even the bus services from Bahrain to Dubai would find it hard to compete with that price.

Good luck to Air Arabia and all of the potential new low cost carriers.

How to avenge a crime

The recent terrorist activity across the causeway in Saudi Arabia is very sad, and before all else, my condolences go out to those affected by this barbarism. However it is also sad that these Muslims think that they can achieve something meaninful through these acts. The Washington Post reports on the kidnapping of American Paul Johnson in Saudi that:
The group said in a statement that it was acting to "avenge U.S. mistreatment" of Muslim detainees. "We have our legal right to treat [American hostages] the same way they treat our people," the group said, mentioning the Iraqi prison where U.S. troops have mistreated detainees and the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to news service reports from Saudi Arabia.
Somehow, these guys think that they can actually "avenge" the horrendous acts which took place in Abu Ghraib by repeating the acts on someone else. Now I can't speak for any of the Abu Ghraib torture victims, but I don't really think they would feel any better knowing that some other innocent individual was made to undergo the same suffering.

There are so many issues in the Muslim world which need to be dealt with: poverty, human rights, health, technological advancement, democratic reforms. Yet these guys think that they're doing some huge justice for the "umma" by capturing and murdering people. When will they realize that waging a jihad against the US is of no use? We need to be waging a jihad against poverty, illiteracy, crime, child abuse, disease and corruption, for these are our real enemies. But we never hear any fatwas urging Muslims to make sure all of their children get a decent education.

Sure, I understand why anyone would be angered by the abuses of Abu Ghraib, but that does not justify it for anyone else to inflict those acts on anyone else. And this is the difference between the civilized and uncivilized world. One example of how civilized people behave is the case of Daniel Pearl. If you recall, Daniel Pearl was a journalist for the Wall Street Journal reporting from Pakistan in 2002. At the time he was trying to interview some militant extremists to understand the conditions that drive them towards terrorism. Despite the fact that he was one of the few journalists who actually wanted to hear what they had to say, he was kidnapped and later beheaded for the mere crime of being a Westerner.

However I want to focus on how those close to Daniel Pearl responded to this vicious crime. They did not issue any statements calling for the death of all Muslims, or branding all Muslims as terrorists. Rather, his family and friends set up a fellowship in his name. The Daniel Pearl Fellowship annually sponsors one mid-career journalist from Pakistan to work in a US newsroom for six months. The aim of this project is for the journalist to gain an understanding of American life, and then return to Pakistan to report from there. What a perfect response this was. One of the real problems in Pakistan, and the Muslim world in general, is that there is an abundance of disinformation about America in the local press, and this fellowship would try to recitfy the situation. Had those killers been aware of the fact that most Americans are not actually war-hungry conspirators, then maybe Daniel Pearl would be alive today. But the fellowship set up in his name just might prevent the murder of someone else in the world. If that happens, it can be said that Danny Pearl's life has truly been avenged.

If only we Muslims had the guts to avenge Abu Ghraib in the same courageous spirit with which Daniel Pearl's family and friends avenged his murder.

Muharraqi kids

Sunday, June 13, 2004

What's wrong with manual labour?

The following is from the letter's page of yesterday's GDN. I don't know if this is representative of the situation at most companies in Bahrain, but it is an interesting account nonetheless.
Hard work the key to success for Bahrainis

I am working in a large organisation wherein we need to employ 3,000 for a new and upcoming prestigious harbour project.

We asked various establishments for skilled and semi-skilled workers and we got the grand total of 38 out of 3,000. And, what did they want to do, security jobs only!

This is a job for four to five years and with prospects of moving to new jobs when the said project is completed but, unfortunately, some young Bahrainis of today do not want to work, unless it is a security job.

They don't want to work digging the roads. Look at all the major road works in Bahrain - do you see any Bahrainis?

They go off marching for their rights. What are their rights when they have been offered jobs but refuse them.

There is a lot of administrative work, manual work, operative work and the majority are unskilled. This is not a problem as they will get on-the-job training.
I have given 10 Bahrainis jobs in the past three months. The second day, one was off with a 'sore head', the second week two were of with 'sore backs' and did not come back as the job was too tiring, the third week three left to work as security guards, and two of them were dismissed the first week for not turning up.

Out of my five left three are on their second warning.

My next batch will be from the sub-continent where I know I can rely on them to come to work, and work. (Continued)
This is an issue that was discussed some time ago on Mahmood's blog. I'm wondering now, what is it about manual labour that most Bahrainis will refuse to do it even when there aren't any other jobs available to them? I understand that it is very uncomfortable to be out in the heat, or to be doing work with your hands. But if the pay level was increased enough, then would Bahrainis agree to do it? Or if it is a matter of pride, what specifically about it is so unappealing, and how might the situation be rectified?

Peculiar sighting

Saturday, June 12, 2004

In November of 2002 I was roaming around Muharraq taking photographs of some old buildings there (maybe I'll share them with you at some point). As I was driving back home I looked out of my side window and I thought I saw something out of the ordinary. I went down to take a closer look and shot the photograph that I have posted above.

When I took the shot I was standing with my back towards the airport, facing Hidd, and with the man-made lagoon type body of water in between. Yes, it looks like quite an ordinary scene: a mosque, buildings, some construction, and traffic. But wait, what are those things in the water?

A zoom (jpeg 40 KB) reveals that there are actually flamingos wading in the lagoon. Now I remember when I was very young that my dad took me to some place towards the south of the island to see the flamingos. But seeing these big dopey birds in the middle of urban Muharraq, in between a highway and the airport, really was quite a peculiar sight. They seemed somehow out of place, yet at the same time very comfortable in their surroundings.

It was actually quite a task taking the pictures though, because my camera doesn't have a powerful zoom, so I had to get as close as possible to them. As I slowly approached them, crouching, not trying to alarm them, the flamingos slowly waded away from me (presumably not trying to alarm me). I then went to other side to get close to them, but they would just as sneakily move away from me before I could get any decent shots. This continued for a while until I got fed up.

But it was quite interesting. I'm not sure if they come back every year, but I'll definitely go back to see this November. If any bird enthusiasts out there know their migration pattern through our islands, then let us know.

Is torture ever justified? Maybe, maybe not

Friday, June 11, 2004

I was watching GW Bush's news conference from the G-8 Summit on CNN this evening. At one point a reporter from the BBC asked a question about torture:
Q: Mr. President, I wanted to return to the question of torture. What we've learned from these memos this week is that the Department of Justice (news - web sites) lawyers and the Pentagon lawyers have essentially worked out a way that U.S. officials can torture detainees without running afoul of the law.

So when you say that you want the U.S. to adhere to international and U.S. laws, that's not very comforting. This is a moral question: Is torture ever justified?

BUSH: Look, I'm going to say it one more time. Maybe I can be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you.

We're a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at these laws. And that might provide comfort for you. And those were the instructions from me to the government.
The way in which Bush side-stepped the moral question of torture leaves me feeling very very uncomfortable. All this time we've been told that what happened at Abu Ghraib was the mistake of a few low-rank privates. But here we have the President of the United States refusing to condemn the use of torture. It makes me feel very uneasy. The Washington Post has a report on the news conference here.

On a slightly separate note, I thought I'd share this website with you: George W. Bush or Chimpanzee?... Very funny.

Bahrain thrashes Kyrgyzstan 5-0!

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Bahrain beat Kyrgyzstan 5 goals to nil, giving us a 3 point lead at the top of Group F!! Our hero of the day 'Alaa Hubail scored a great hat trick.

I didn't get to see much of the game since everyone was too busy involved in cheering. My favorite cheer was: "One! One! One! Bahraini number one!" Yes it didn't make all that much sense to me either, but who cares, it was great fun.

World Cup, here we come!

Support our football team!

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Come and support the national football team this evening as it plays against Kyrgyzstan in a qualifying match for the 2006 World Cup. Bahrain is currently at the top of its group. The match starts at 7pm and will take place at the Muharraq Club Stadium in Arad.

Bring your flags!

Typo (I hope)

Right, I know I'm always complaining about the poor quality of the GDN, but to be fair, they are the only source of local news in English, and I quote from them more than occasionally. However, this typo in today's paper is too good to miss. Apparently a bloke:
abused a captain and later tried to bride another policeman with cash and a mobile phone to let him escape, the court heard.
That's a new tactic.

BCHR takes up case against Bahraini employer

Kudos to the Migrant Workers Group of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights for taking up this case with the authorities. Unfortunately, incidents like this happen far too frequently for it to be feasible for the MWG to take up each and every case. Nonetheless, making sure that at least a few of the employers are brought to justice helps raise awareness of such issues in the public eye. Keep it up.

From the GDN:
Human rights activists yesterday have called on authorities to investigate a Bahraini company, from which 15 workers ran away last week.

The call came from the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) Migrant Workers Group (MWG).

It has filed complaints against Al Owainati Construction with the police, the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry and the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

However, a spokeswoman for the organisation says there had been no response so far.

Twenty-one Indian men, six of whom had already fled the company earlier than the others, claim they were mistreated, forced to work overtime without off days and that their salaries had been withheld. Another, Jojo John, is alleged to have been sent back to India last weekend by the company, just hours before he was due to visit the Indian Embassy to lodge a complaint.

Bahrainis for police and defence forces

According to the GDN:
Hundreds of Bahrainis are being recruited into the country's police, National Guard and defence forces, Interior Minister Lieutenant General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa said yesterday

He said 449 Bahrainis were recruited into various posts at the Interior Ministry last year, while the same number of expatriates left the ministry.

Another 250 will be recruited this year, under the ministry's "comprehensive" campaign to recruit Bahrainis, Shaikh Rashid revealed in the weekly "meet the Press" gathering at the Prime Minister's Court.

Forty Bahraini police cadets have recently graduated, he told the gathering, which was attended by Premier's Court Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, Cabinet Affairs Minister Mohammed Al Mutawa, Information Minister Nabeel Al Hamer and Minister of State Abdulnabi Al Sho'ala.
This is good news. Although I am generally against forced Bahrainisation (in place of a merit-based system), it only makes sense for our security and defence sectors to be made up of predominantly Bahrainis (and today's security sector is hardly merit-based anyway). This is especially necessary for those forces who may have to engage with the public in difficult positions. Today's mercenaries are generally seen as more of a source of security problems than a solution to it.

A seperate article makes obvious reference to ending the discrimination of Shia's, who are currently not allowed to hold positions in the Ministries of Interior and Defence.
Parliament yesterday approved a draft law aiming to Bahrainise the Interior Ministry, Defence Ministry and National Guard and end discrimination among different segments of the population.

The MPs voted in favour or the proposal by their colleagues Jassim Hassan Abdul A'al, Hassan Eid Bokhammas, Abdulnabi Ahmed Salman, Abdul Hadi Marhoon and Yousif Zainal to give priority to Bahrainis for jobs in the security and defence sectors and in the National Guard.

The draft law states that non-Bahrainis cannot be employed except when special expertise is required and their total number cannot exceed over five per cent of the workforce.

It is also based on articles in the constitution which state that there should be no discrimination among Bahrainis because of gender, origin, language, religion or belief.
The obvious question to ask though is what will happen to the thousands of foreign mercenaries who have already been granted the citizenship package? I would assume that they still get to keep their jobs (and passport).

In any case, it seems like the new Interior Minister was given directions by the King about where to take the ministry before being handed the post. Let's hope the steps in this direction continue.

Sex & the Umma

So Mahmood posted something about Asra Nomani's movement for women to take back their mosques. Well if you're not familiar with her, she writes a column with Mohja Kahf called "Sex & the Umma on the Muslim Wakeup website. The ladies explore the very taboo subject of sexuality in Islam. Be warned though, it may not go along with your preconceived notions of "Islamic etiquette". This is exactly the point she is making. Here is an excerpt:
“Do we get dick in heaven?” my best friend’s Aunt Maryam whispers to me during the ladies’ Quran study halaqa at the Jersey City Mosque. We are doing “The Merciful,” the chapter of the Quran where all the sexy virgin babes are promised to men in paradise. “Men get pussy. Do we get dick?” Maryam says. I snort laughing, but turn it into a coughing fit and cover it with the scalloped edge of my headscarf.

“Ecksi-kuse me?” the assistant imam says in his excessively Egyptian accent. “Does zi sister have a question, inshallah?” Dark-skinned and muscular, he’s sitting next to the visiting sheikh and fielding the questions. This session, for ladies exclusively, had been scheduled on the visiting dignitary’s agenda at the insistence of Nany Elhamadany, the matriarch of the sisters’ Quran group.

“Yes, brother,” Maryam says. Oh my God. I can’t believe Maryam is going to ask it out loud. Then again, it shouldn’t surprise me; that’s Maryam for you. “Do women get to have sex in paradise too?”

Depleting greenbelt

Monday, June 07, 2004

Here's some more stuff I dug up from my photo archive. A year and half back, I got up on top of the Bahrain Fort and took a series of photos covering the entire 360º view that I got from that point. When I got back home I pieced the pictures together making one big picture for the full circle. Because of the large width of the image file, I had to split it up in to four files before I could share them with you. Each file covers approximately 90º of the view. The first file starts facing approximately East, and ends up approximately South. This clockwise movement continues for each of the files, until we end up facing East again at the end of the fourth file. Well here they are:
File 1 (jpeg 204 KB)
File 2 (jpeg 175 KB)
File 3 (jpeg 224 KB)
File 4 (jpeg 214 KB)

One thing you will notice after looking at these pictures is that there is a thick lush greenbelt of palm trees and other vegetation running parallel to the northen coast of the island. I assume that this is the region where most of the fresh water springs were located and which was first irrigated for farming.

Unfortunately, today these palm forests are fast depleting. It's quite sad to see some very very old palm trees which are in an unhealthy state. There must be so much history and so many stories associated with each palm. When I see a wilting palm I am often reminded of the old men I often see wandering around with no one to look after them. The palm trees have already disappeared from our coins, but I hope we can do something to make sure that they do not vanish altogether.

Did someone say "petition"?

Today's GDN has a tiny paragraph about the political parties issue. It says:
A proposed political parties law was refused by MPs yesterday, who decided to submit another proposal calling for enhancements to the existing political societies role. The proposal, submitted by the parliament's legislative and legal affairs committee, will be studied by the Cabinet which will later take a decision over it.
As you can see, Bahrain's English language press have very poor coverage of domestic politics. Is there anyone else out there who might be able to give us a little bit more information about who said what and why?

Sale!! Only BD300 for Bahraini torture!

This is just ridiculous. According to the GDN:
A Bahraini man was jailed for three months yesterday after being convicted of torturing a Bangladeshi employee. The sentence will be suspended if the 26-year-old fish trap maker pays a BD300 fine. He had been charged with assault and injuring the worker, the Lower Criminal Court heard. The 35-year-old victim told police that the man had come into his room in Janussan on the night of October 19, 2002. He said that the man tied him up with a rope, beat him and then gave him electric shocks.
This guy has only been sentenced to three months of jail, which he can avoid by paying a measly BD300 fine!! Here is the stupidest thing though. Apparently:
He said he was trying to frighten the worker so he did not run away.
That is the dumbest logic I've heard in a while. Where does someone get the idea that the best way to keep your employees from running away is to beat and electrocute them? Come on... people like this should not be let out on to the streets. They really need to be seeing a doctor to get their frustrations out, before they go and harm anyone else.

But I'm sure that the judge who passed the measly sentence probably complained a few weeks back about how evil the American torturers at Abu Ghraib were. Yet somehow, we're able to let incidents like these pass by without notice. Even the people who complain about Bahrainis being tortured at the hands of the mercenaries will probably not take much notice here. The sad thing is that the only justice that the Bangadeshi victim is likely to see is his employer being fined BD300, and an article in the GDN. But then again, that is much more justice than most Bangladeshis here will ever enjoy.

Divine beauty

Some words by Khalil Gibran (from Voice of the Master):
... then make Beauty your religion and worship her as your godhead; for she is the visible, manifest and perfect handiwork of God. Cast off those who have toyed with godliness as if it were a sham, joining together greed and arrogance; but believe instead in the divinity of beauty that is at once the beginning of your worship of Life, and the source of your hunger for Happiness.
I wish we could all heed to his words.

Setting suns

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Ahhh... is there anything that can match a sunset on the serene waters of Bahrain?


I generally try and stay away from labels. But when pressed on it, I would refer to myself as a humanist. By this I don't mean to suggest that I am a scholar of the humanities, or to imply anything about whether I believe in secularism. Rather, I use the term to describe how I understand identity and the way in which I structure my outlook of the world. A racist views society as the interaction of different racial groups; a nationalists think in terms of nations; a Marxist thinks in terms of socio-economic classes; a Fascist thinks in terms of States; a feminist thinks in terms of gender; an Islamist thinks in terms of religion (sort of), etc. To be more specific though, feminists not only structure their view of the world through gender-tinted glasses, but also believe in a collective female consciousness which is their primary identity. In the same way, Islamists believes in a collective consciousness spanning Muslims the world-over, and identify themselves primarily through this consciousness.

In this sense, by calling myself a "humanist" I refer to my belief in a collective consciousness of human beings. Moreover it is a label for my desire to identify myself primarily with humans, before any other type of grouping. The meaning of this is that in my view, I am a human before I am a Muslim, a male, a member of the middle-class, a South Asian, or a citizen of a specific country, etc. I believe that the common characteristics shared by all human beings are far greater than the differences between any nationalities, ethnicities, genders, religions, socio-economic classes, etc.

The reasons for this belief are based, in part, in Existential thought. In that we enter this universe without really knowing anything at all about ourselves, but in order for us to settle on any identity, we must first be in some way aware of the fact that we are humans. An example might help. In order for me to make the active decision to embrace a religion I must first view myself as a human being. As a human being I come into contact with the sacred texts and understand the tenets of the faith, after which I might embrace the religion and call myself, for example, a Muslim. The point is, that before I made the decision to be a Muslim I must have been something. Maybe I was a Christian, or a Hindu, or an atheist. But there must have been a point somewhere in my life before I ever made a conscious decision to believe or disbelieve. At that point, I could have only made that choice with the view that I am a human. It wouldn't make sense otherwise.

Okay I know my logic doesn't really hold, as it would take me pages to fully express what I mean, and even then there are no promises (because at the end of the day none of our beliefs are completely logical). But I'm definitely not the first person to think in this manner. Although my flavour of humanism is slightly different, "secular humanism" bears the same essentials, and is a movement which was quite strong some time ago. It was often associated with socialism and Marxism, yet it is not vitally attached to these other ideologies. In the Middle East and South Asia, the movement has left behind a great wealth of beautiful art and literature which I thought I might talk about.

One of my favourite Bollywood movies is the 1959 "Dhool ka Phool", translated as "Flower of the Dust". The plot of the film involves a mother abandoning her newborn baby in the jungle, to be rescued by a villager a few hours later. He takes the baby back to the village to find someone who will adopt it. Everyone refuses to adopt the baby on count of not knowing the background of the child's parents. All of the Hindus say that "What will happen if we adopt the child and raise him as a Hindu, but we later find out he is the child of a Muslim? Sorry we can't adopt the child." All of the potential Muslim parent have the same concerns that he might be the child of Hindu parents, and refuse to adopt him account of this. Finally an old devout Muslim man adopts the baby as no one else in the village will accept the responsibility. At first he is unsure of whether to raise the child as a Hindu or a Muslim. But he soon decided that he will not raise the child as either. At this point of realization the old man sings a song, the refrain of which is:
Neither a Hindu nor a Muslim will you become,
You are the child of a human, and a human you will become.
Yes, its all very idealistic and dreamy, but there's definitely something about it.

Another piece of literature that portrays this concept is Ghassan Kanafani's short story Return to Haifa. This follows a similar story, based around two Palestinian parents who unknowingly abandoned their baby in their home while fleeing from the Israeli army as it invaded Haifa. The parents settled in a camp in Jordan and had no way of going back to Haifa (which is now part of Israel proper) to find out about what happened to their child. They had long assumed that he had died in the havoc. The story then fastforwards to the late 1970s when it becomes possible for Palestinian refugees to visit their former homes in Israel. The parents hesitatingly decide to go and see their old home in Haifa, not fully knowing what to expect. (Warning: If you plan on reading the story yourself then you should stop reading this here). When the parents go there, they find an Israeli family living in their home. They also learn that the Israeli parents adopted their baby soon after they left. Now grown up, their son is loyal to the Israeli state and has even joined the Israeli army. To the Palestinian parents' surprise, he refuses to have any relationship with his biological parents since they provided him with nothing but genes. It's a very moving story, with a stinging criticism of nationalism and Irridentism.

"Toba Tek Singh" is another short story, written by the Pakistani writer Saadat Hasan Manto. The story is based on a lunatic asylum at the time of the partition of British India into modern day India and Pakistan. It is absolutely beautiful, hilarious and tragic, with some viscious satire, all at the same time. You can read this one for yourself here. It is really short so it should only take you five to ten minutes to read it. But definitely read it.

Football superstars

Saturday, June 05, 2004

For most Bahraini kids, football is a passion. You can see them play under the sun every afternoon. Most don't have access to a proper pitch so they usually have to play on a sandy/rocky ground. And most of these kids have mastered the art of playing footy in the hot sand either barefoot, or wearing a sock on their striking foot.

But if there's anything these kids like more than playing footy, it has to be having their picture taken. I saw a group of young kids playing so I thought it might make for a few good photos. I started taking some shots and obviously some of the children started to take note. At first it was just one or two, and they immediately became very conscious of my presence. They started getting very involved in the game while sneaking looks at my lens whenever they could. Then one of them got quite close to scoring, but decided to do a few cartwheels and flips of joy in front of me even though he missed! Finally, after more of the kids saw me many of them forgot about their match and came running towards me to have their photo taken. I took some shots and then sent them back to finish off the match, but they wouldn't go. By the time I decided to leave I was quite literally being chased by two teams of 10 year old footballers posing and pleading for me to take more pictures. Each of them was shouting "Sawwirny! Sawwirny!" ("Take my picture!") hoping that I might give in one more time. I managed to get away, and they got back to their game.

Weekend visitors

Another weekend gone by. In recent months it seems as though the weekend influx of Saudi and Kuwaiti visitors has been on the rise. Now I have no problem against our Saudi and Kuwaiti friends enjoying our island with us -- after all, I myself am a guest here (officially) so it wouldn't make sense for me to keep others out. However I am a bit concerned about the calibre of the personalities we attract here, irrespective of their nationality.

One afternoon last year I happened to be walking around in the diplomatic area. I noticed that there was one car that had been circling the same block several times in search of some place. The driver then stopped his Saudi-registered '92 Chevy Caprice next to where I was walking and rolled down his window to speak to me. He had a truly perplexed look on his face as he was not able to locate his destination. The man, a middle aged Saudi dressed in thobe and dishdasha, then asked me in the most sincere tone of voice: "wayn whiskey? wayn ga7ba?" ("Where is the whiskey? Where are the whores?") At the time I really did not know what to say so I directed him to the Saudi Embassy that happened to be close by, as I'm sure they would have had a better idea than me.

Now what people do in their own privacy is not really of much concern to me. But it worries me that hoardes of Saudis come here every weekend simply for the purpose of finding what the above-mentioned gentleman inquired of me. If I recall the numbers correctly, some 50,000 cars crossed over the King Fahd Causeway this New Year's Eve. (The population of Bahrain is about 650,000 I think). Sure, these guys (yes, guys) are not directly affecting my life in any way, but for these things to be taking place on such a magnitude, it must have a significant social effect.

Now I know that the government has been trying to crack down on the institutions that cater to these type of people. I'm glad they have at least attempted to draw a line between cultural performances, and those "performances" which are just a prelude to a performance of a whole different kind. Yet it doesn't seem as though they have achieved very much yet. One of the rumours that I hear often is that the Saudi government pays the Bahraini government to keep our "entertainment spots" open for the sake of bored Saudi citizens. My sources on this aren't very credible, so don't quote me on it, but these days it's hard to rule out anything.

But surely the most annoying thing about our visiting neighbours is their poor driving skills. Again, I don't mean to judge all of my Saudi and Kuwaiti friends. I'm sure they are fine drivers. However the Saudi and Kuwaiti drivers that are attracted to Bahrain appear to be in need of some lessons (driving, or otherwise). It's been a while since I last had to use my statistics skills, but the rate at which I observe Saudi registered cars driving hazardously in Bahrain is far too high for me to be able to say that it has to do with sampling error. Among their favourite feats are driving on the pavement, creating a fourth lane in the middle of a three-lane highway, parking so as to take up two parking spaces, turning left from the rightmost lane, and exhibiting their middle fingers if you choose not to let them enter your lane from the pavement. I cringe every time I read in the newspaper that some poor fellow was injured after getting hit by a Saudi or Kuwaiti car that was speeding, or broke a red light. Conspicuously, it is very rare to read that the Saudi/Kuwaiti offender was arrested and tried.

So why do we put up with it all then? Well for one thing many of our visitors are here for quite legitimate reasons, which also happens to bring in alot of money and jobs for the economy. As always, everything boils down to money at the end of the day. Are we willing to deal with the "immoral acts" and bad driving that comes part and parcel with the legitimate inflow of money? Right now it seems so. These tourists really seem to drive our economy... just take a drive through town on any weekend and count the number of Saudi license plates that you see while stuck in the traffic jam. Or go to any parking lot and see if you can find any Bahraini license plates at all. The owners of all these foreign vehicles have to eat and sleep and entertain themselves somewhere.

But there must be a way for us to be able to get a better deal. Is it not possible to charge each entering motorist a BD20 traffic levee for the additional hassle they cause on our streets. Yes, I'm against collective punishment too, but it seems in this case that its either us or them who have to deal with it. I don't think it will drive away too many visitors since Dubai is probably too far for most of the tourists that come to Bahrain for their weekend fun. This tax won't save any of the lives, or the inconvenience caused to residents, but it will at least make sure that we aren't paying the admin costs of trouble. Unfortunately, that's the best idea I can think of right now. Does anyone else have any better ideas about what might be done to limit the damage?

Finally, I just want to repeat that I hold nothing against Saudis or Kuwaitis... only those ones that cause havoc on our streets and engage in "immoral acts".