Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Having an opinion can land Saudis in jail

Young Saudis are in deep trouble yet again for speaking their minds. Three young Saudis, two men and a woman, face lawsuits for “opening declaring sin” in a MTV “True Life” episode titled “Resist the Power, Saudi Arabia.”

A portion of the episode was videotaped at a Jeddah Municipal Council meeting. Now the council claims that broadcasting images of its members is “an aggression against the rights of others” because one of the youths profiled in the show complained of lack of female council members.

The show profiled a young man breaking up with his unseen girlfriend and his attempts at dating. Another subject was a 20-year-old Effat College student starting her own abaya business in which her abayas are in every color except black. Another is a 22-year-old university political science major who regularly attends the municipal council meetings and worked four months to have women allowed to voice their community concerns. A fourth profile focused on a Saudi heavy metal rock band that is unable to stage a concert in Saudi Arabia.

Unlike the young Saudi who bragged of his female conquests on LBC several months ago, at least two of the young people interviewed by MTV in the hour-long episode did no wrong and committed no sin. The rock band is harmless.

It’s not for me to judge any of these individuals. That’s for Allah. I wish the lovelorn Saudi kept his mouth shut because, frankly, he openly defied Islam. But the abaya entrepreneur and budding Saudi politician have nothing to apologize for. This doesn’t absolve MTV from its responsibilities to their interview subjects. Like LBC, the music television company abandoned the people it profiled once the cameras stopped rolling. MTV also failed to balance its show by interviewing their subjects to elicit the positive aspects of Saudi culture.

Still, Saudi authorities – in this case the municipal council and apparently the Commission to Prevent Vice and Promote Virtue, which had sought the lawsuits (Jeddah court officials said this week that no complaints have actually been filed) – have failed to take the documentary in perspective.

It’s telling that in each of the interviews, these young people freely expressed their opinions about the society they live in, yet behaved in every way like good Muslims and had sought the approval of their parents. During practice sessions, the heavy metal band immediately stopped playing their music, performed wudu and went to prayer. The mothers of the Effat College girl and the lead singer in the rock band gave their complete permission and encouragement of their children’s activities. The mothers willingly appeared on camera for interviews. Throughout the entire episode the musicians repeatedly said that heavy metal is a performance driven act that is not “Satanic” that is implied in that genre of music. Rather, their lyrics focus on their lives as Saudis. It was only the style of music they were emulating.
“There is no conflict between heavy metal music and being a Muslim,” one young man said.

Although the young man desperate for a date annoyed me, he made a statement that some young Saudis might agree: “Saudi society encourages Saudi youths to do wrong things.”

This statement is the crux of the MTV episode. Three individuals and a group of musicians swimming against the tide of Saudi society to pursue their dreams. The young abaya maker was lectured by a shop clerk that black represented modesty and was the only suitable color for an abaya.That’s not his place. It took the girl a while to find another shop owner, although he was quite reluctant, to make the colorful abayas she had designed.

There is no sin there.

The political science major’s legal issues are even more ludicrous. He is openly videotaped debating Jeddah Council members on the issue of allowing women to attend meetings. Most council members are photographed and engaging in the debate. Following a four-month negotiation, the Council agreed to allow women into the meeting. A few dozen women attended and are given an opportunity to voice their concerns about their needs in the community. A primary complaint is the lack of affordable transportation in the city.

Not until the MTV episode aired on May 24 did the Council discover that they were wronged by the young man for allowing the meeting to be recorded. Apparently no council member believes he should be held accountable for allowing the videotaping in the first place or giving the young man permission to bring women to the meeting.

Nearly 60 percent of the population of Saudi Arabia is under the age of 24. As one of the rock musicians stated in an interview, there are few ways for self-expression. He noted he could play his music or he could take drugs and drive his car aimlessly around Jeddah. His decision, he said, is to find a creative outlet to express himself.

Saudi authorities showed the wherewithal to allow MTV into the country to allow young Saudis to freely express themselves. Yet when the opinions expressed don’t match the opinions of the collective, then punishment is pending. It’s a wonder that any young Saudi would ever grant an interview to the media. The consequences of having opinions are too severe.

As for MTV, the opening narration provided a laundry list of Saudi generalizations and stereotypes, but to its credit virtually the entire documentary was in the words of the interview subjects. Leaving the young people behind to fend for themselves is unforgivable, but I’m not sure what is worse: MTV packing their bags and leaving without so much as a thank-you, or the Saudi authorities who endorsed the documentary by allowing MTV into the country, and then pulling the rug out from under these young people for speaking their minds.


Bill said...

I am not qualified to make comment on the lovelorn lad's position vis a vis Islam but my overall impression of the film was of what safe hands the future of Saudi Arabia is in if these young people are representative - intelligent, thoughtful, respectful of their religion, supported by their families and wanting reforms which are hardly extreme.

ابو عبد الله وسيم said...

If one wants to sin, he's most welcome but please not publicise it & defend it.The prophet (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) said that all of my ummah will be forgiven except those who publicise their sins.
It's not the problem with the Saudi Society that is leading men to try & date women but the corruption that is coming with the various technologies as elsewhere.
And no one believes that Saudi Society is free from sinning since all the sons of Adam make mistakes.