Passed on from a friend from a friend. I can assure that the person is writing from Saudi Arabia.
As I am sitting in front of my home computer, an intense pounding is trying to break through my forehead. I am wondering how quickly the Tylenol will kick in. I have been up this morning since 5:30 AM, which any of you who know me well will be surprised to hear. I was awakened this morning by a telephone call from the Booz Allen senior employee in Riyadh who works on the Saudi Navy Project and lives on the Arizona Compound. He informed me that an American had been kidnapped either late last night or early this morning. I was aware that an American had been shot and killed yesterday in an area not far from my place of work. For those of you who know Riyadh, the shooting occurred in the Hayy Al-Dhubat area, behind Shola Mall and the former Hyatt Hotel. If memory serves me correctly, this is the fourth shooting this month in Riyadh. To enumerate, there was a shooting of an American leaving ESKAN, a shooting of a BBC reporter and his cameraman in the Al-Suwaidi District in the south of Riyadh, a shooting of a Vinnell employee as he entered his home in Al-Khaleej District (to the east of Rawdha), and now an AEC employee last night in Malaz. With the exception of the ESKAN vehicle and the BBC reporter, all other shootings have been fatal. I assumed that the Booz Allen Principle was calling to inform me of the shooting yesterday. “Have you heard about the kidnapping?” he asked. Still groggy, my mind raced to process the words I had just heard. “Kidnapping?” I thought. “He must be talking about yesterday’s shooting.” But he was not. In addition to yesterday’s shooting of an AEC employee, an employee of Lockheed Martin has been kidnapped. “Until we get further information about the circumstances of the kidnapping, we are advising all Booz Allen employees to stay home on their compounds,” said the voice on the other end of the line. “Do you have anything pressing today?” he asked. While I hated the thought of falling even further behind on the mountains of work in the office, I realized that it was not worth my life. “No, I will stay on the compound,” I said. It is now nearly 1:00 PM, and I thought it might be interesting to inform you of a few stories I have heard over the past week, to give a flavor of the mood in Riyadh. While I feel that we Americans are the prime target, I believe that all Westerners are feeling the tension. After all, it was a German citizen who was shot last month in Riyadh. I sincerely doubt that the terrorists can distinguish between an American and the various European nationalities, many of us sharing a common European heritage. And even Saudis are feeling uptight, with many parents who have the means making plans to place their children in schools outside of the Kingdom next year – either Lebanon or Europe.
It has occurred to me over this last week, in talking with my educated Saudi friends, that current events in the Kingdom are not only resulting in an exodus of expatriates from the Kingdom, but also a brain drain of locals. Certainly this will have negative implications for the future of this country, for it is the educated and open-minded intelligentsia who are considering their options outside of the Kingdom, as they contemplate life in a terror-ridden – or worse, a Taliban-style – country. I worry for my Saudi friends what the country will be in another ten years. I wanted to present a few anecdotes from life in the Kingdom:
1) A friend was speaking to her boss last week. The boss is a Saudi physician, bearded but well-educated and fond of Westerners. He informed my friend that in the mosque he attended earlier in the week, the Imam was preaching death to Westerners. “Did you speak up about this?” asked my friend. The physician stated that he was afraid to speak up in the crowd of people. I was personally surprised and disgusted to hear this story, as I thought that the Saudi government had cracked down on this type of preaching of hatred and violence.
2) A friend reported to me that her friend was performing duties as a nurse at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital. A Saudi man was standing in the hallway, blocking access. The nurse requested that the interpreter ask the man to step to one side, making room to move equipment through the hallway. The interpreter and the Saudi had a conversation in Arabic, after which the interpreter said to the nurse, “I think you should just leave the floor and return to your station. Do not ask any more questions, and I will explain to you in a moment.” When the interpreter returned to the nursing station, he explained that the Saudi had asked what right the nurse had to request him to step to one side. “Besides, she is a Westerner and we do not want them in our country,” he said. The interpreter suggested to the nurse that she should avoid contact with Saudis as much as possible, and try to avoid any confrontations whatsoever. It appears that local sensibilities (or perhaps insensibilities) towards the West have been emboldened by recent events.
3) A Saudi friend has a cousin who is quite fair. His 9-year-old son is blond and blue-eyed. Within the last two months, the son and his mother paid a visit to a clinic in Jeddah. While in the waiting room, another Saudi woman began hurling insults in his direction in Arabic, calling him a dirty American. The boy approached her and informed her that he was a Saudi. “Who is your father?” she demanded to know. “An American?” The boy told her the name of his father. “Well, you had better dye your hair black, because people will mistake you for an American,” she responded.
4) A Saudi employee of King Faisal Specialist Hospital is concerned about where the country is headed. He is of the opinion that the security forces have been infiltrated by members of the terrorist organizations. He stated that while many Saudis do not approve of the murders that are taking place, they are happy that the government is under pressure. Being no fans of the House of Saud, they would like to see the downfall of the government. Being an enlightened and well-educated man, this Saudi knows that the regime that would replace the current ruling family might be something closer to a Taliban-style rule. He is therefore looking into establishing a business and home in Egypt for his family.
5) Saudi friends have had occasion to speak with security guards and members of the Saudi security forces. One guard in Jeddah stated, “I make two-thousand riyals a month (equivalent of $533). Do you think I would put my life on the line for that amount of money? If a terrorist confronted me and threatened to kill me, I would open the gates and run away.” Another friend presented the following analysis to me. “These soldiers in the security forces make around two-thousand riyals per month. Their counterparts in Kuwait make three times that salary. They have a wife and ten children at home to feed. Do you really think that they are going to lay down their lives for your protection?” I thought about it, and wondered what the guards in front of my compound must think. They see Westerners – “nonbelievers” in the minds of many - driving their nice company cars, and living in what appears to be relative luxury behind the walls of the compound. We pay for all of this with money earned from the riches of their country, while locals are struggling to make ends meet. We contravene their perception of Islam – and I do mean THEIR perception of Islam since it is not shared by all Saudis and certainly not by Muslims in other nations – with men and women mixing together in what must be construed to many as akin to a brothel. Should we expect unmotivated, poorly-paid soldiers to lay down their lives defending a compound of decadent nonbelievers?
I have recounted these snippets of life to illustrate that the anti-Western sentiments are shared by a segment of the society.how large, I do not know. Of course, not every Saudi thinks this way. My friends certainly do not. Already four Saudi work colleagues have called me at my house to make sure that I am doing fine. An hour ago, the Major General, Commander of the Armor Corps, called me at home to check on my state and inform me that I should do whatever I believe necessary to feel safe. “Your safety is the number one priority,” he said, “and as long as you feel that you need to stay on your compound, please do so. God willing, we will overcome these bastards.” I felt that I heard a tinge of dismay and sadness in his tone. Until a few years ago, one could go anywhere and leave your house unlocked, knowing that crime was virtually non-existent. For Saudis who have lived their lives in what was once one of the safest places on earth, it must now be shockingly unbelievable to see what is happening. And as a long-time resident of the Kingdom who has many Saudi friends and a great investment in the success of the SWORD Project, the decisions that lie before me are difficult ones.