Wednesday, 12 December 2007
By Sabria S Jawhar
RECENTLY the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat, reported that a Saudi student in the United Kingdom was severely beaten by thugs and robbed of his mobile and cash. Muhammad Al-Hujilan, a student at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich reported that a dozen British youths attacked him and uttered racial expletives. He suffered a fractured nose and bruises all over his face.
He alleges the Norwich police did little about it. But a Norwich police spokesman said, "We're concerned there are reports of an increase in racist attacks at the UEA which are not reflected in reports made to police. Since the beginning of November we have had one racially aggravated assault at the UEA reported to us - the assault on Friday - which is under investigation by CID officers."
The incident alarmed the Saudi student community of almost 7,000 with many commenting on an online forum expressing fear and a sense of dread of who could be next.
The incident truly frightened me and I now think twice about taking a walk in my own neighborhood. Sometimes I feel as if my hijab is just a big sign that says "Kick Me!" when I'm out in public. Now I have more reasons to worry.
In another incident, my local newspaper reported the other day that a Nottingham law student, who appeared to be of Mideastern descent judging from the photograph, was visiting friends in Newcastle when he was attacked by a half-dozen or so men and had a portion of his ear chewed off.
This occurred within the walking distance of my bank and the stores where I shop.
As I mentioned before, I sometimes feel there is a big spotlight on Saudis - or any of the Muslim students, for that matter - as we go about our business in the United Kingdom.
The British press is full of immigration stories that are sensationalized to the point where even I am wary of newcomers.
What I find worrisome is that there has been no reaction from the British Government over this attack. What are they doing about it? If this attack was indeed motivated by ethnic or religious hatred than it is far more serious than the teddy bear teacher incident in Sudan in which the British citizen was jailed for several days for insulting religion.
Further, the Saudi Embassy has a duty towards Saudi students to notify them about the details of the attack. It should also take up the issue with the British Government and let the Saudi students know of the results thereof.
Did they or will they issue a statement? They hired a lawyer for Al-Hujilan, but their silence leaves the rest of the Saudi students in the dark.
While Al-Hujilan mentions racial slurs were made during the attack, the motive is unclear as to whether it was a crime of opportunity or racism.
Arab readers of the article presumed that the attack was motivated by nationality and bigotry. They went to great lengths to defend the Saudi's honor and to condemn the attack as if it was an assault on the Kingdom itself and our flag.
It's almost as if the Saudis have a persecution complex when it comes to criticism or attacks on us.
This young student could have been attacked because he was Saudi, but there has been no evidence to suggest it. Yet our first reaction is to conclude it could be the only reason. It reminds me of what Sigmund Freud once said: "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Well, sometimes a beating is just a beating.
Equally worse than jumping to conclusions, is the irrational, partisanship that some Arabs have a tendency to play in which the thread of comments goes from lamenting the state of Saudi students in the UK and their persecution at the hands of thugs to one of elitism and nationalism. Here, the Saudi student is forgotten and comments fall into whose country is better. "Saudis are better than Libyans!" "Libyans are better than the Sudanese!" Jordanians are superior to the Syrians!" "Everybody is better than the Palestinians!"
Good grief, we can't even carry on rational, dignified conversation about living abroad and our normal fears that come with the experience.
We have to digress into discussion about nationalism, tribalism and about which is the better Muslim country. We didn't even think how to secure justice for this poor guy. We whine all day about how Western nations don't take our opinions seriously and, in fact, ignore much of what we have to offer. But sometimes I wonder that maybe we are just a little too self-destructive.
These comments posted online remind me of the new breed of Arab rap artists whose immature songs focus on heaping disrespect on people of other beliefs.
If anything, the Iraq war has demonstrated to the West the deep divisions between Sunnis and Shiites so they are attuned to our sometimes over-developed sense of national and tribal pride that gets in the way of some of the day-to-day issues that we live with. Like, for example, this Saudi student who was beaten and robbed. Remember him?