Monday, February 8, 2016

Eradicating the scourge of racism

Nearly 12 years ago while working with a Saudi newspaper I met an eager, intelligent young Saudi woman who was prepared to take on the world.
This was a time when young Saudi women were testing the waters of journalism and were taking privately sponsored classes to learn the craft of news reporting. 
Some young ladies bowed out of the program or went on to other things once they received their certificate of completion. 
But Nawal Al-Hawsawi wanted to save the world and she persisted long after some of her colleagues in class lost interest. Even when some of her editors did not take her seriously she did not lose hope that there was a place for her.
I have kept track of Nawal through the years and have read with great interest her successes in the United States. She married an American and now has children of her own. She is a certified airplane pilot and a licensed family counselor.
It surprised me not in the least when I learned that she is working to aid victims of domestic violence. But it does surprise me to learn that she is being attacked almost daily on social media for her work and her background as a Saudi citizen.
I can identify with Nawal because we have taken similar paths in our professional and personal lives, although I give her the credit for being much more courageous and adventurous than me. We suffer some of the same slings and arrows for our work and opinions, but Nawal’s work makes mine look like I live the life of a princess.
The attacks on Nawal, including death threats, are racist and delivered by many young Saudis who have delusions of grandeur and believe somehow that there is a certain purity that can only apply to a specific group of Saudis. Nawal is black so she is perceived by the ignorant as not worthy of Saudi citizenship. As noted recently in this newspaper, there are three categories in which the residents of Saudi Arabia fall, according to those misled people. 
“The Original Saudis descend from Bedouin tribes, the ‘Vomit from the Sea,’ which is Saudis of foreign descent and ‘strangers,’ which are basically all expats.” 
To the bigoted, Nawal falls into the second category. I have heard about these categories many times and even have discussed this at the dinner table with my family. But when Saudis take to social media and ridicule other Saudis’ ethnic and regional background, it says much more about them and their insecurities as Saudis than it does about Nawal and people like her. To many independent-minded Saudis — and yes, there are a few out there — it only puts Nawal above them. In fact, when some Saudis ridicule individuals as vomit from the sea, it’s a reflection on them as narrow-minded racists incapable of being true Muslims.
Nawal was born and raised in Makkah and considers herself the daughter of Al-Hijaz, but she doesn’t carry the tribal credentials or have that perfect alleged Saudi looks that makes her, in the eyes of the hateful, a true Saudi.
I don’t deny that many Saudis divide their brothers and sisters into numerous categories and even rank them whether they are authentic. But that is true in many societies, such as what we are witnessing in the United States presidential Republican campaign in which apparently the only true Americans are white and Christian, or in Europe where darker second-generation Europeans are still marginalized.
But frankly, we Saudis think of ourselves as special because we live in the land of the Two Holy Mosques and the cradle of Islam. Yet many of us behave as if we don’t live in this special place and we don’t accept the teachings of Islam. Really, how do these racist bullies look themselves in the mirror and call themselves Muslims?

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