Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Beyond the Veil" What It's REALLY Like in Saudi Arabia-Seymour Gray

We got a book review this week. The book is Beyond the Veil….The Adventures of an American Doctor in Saudi Arabia…by Seymour Gray, M.D.

It’s an older book, to be sure, but even in its 1983 publishing date Saudi Arabia was centuries behind the times. Dr. Gray writes of his experiences as a doctor serving in a Saudi hospital, his encounters with Sharia law, a female populace caught in a horrible time warp, the struggles of a country as it tries to reconcile life under an oppressive religion in this modern era.

Pic of the Day

”Beyond The Veil-Adventures of an American Doctor in Saudi Arabia”-by Seymour Gray.

Amazon link for this book.

First, this book was written in 1983. I noted this factoid first thing and for several minutes I pondered if it was worth the read. This is over 25 years ago and things have changed quite a bit since that time. The book was written well before the attacks of 9/11/2001, well before the war on Terror, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What the hell, the author spells the main religion of Saudi Arabia as “MOSLEM”.

Yet I was intrigued.

As it would turn out, things haven’t changed all that much in Saudi Arabia. The country is still ruled by a bunch of sons of camels with not much going for them in terms of charisma and leadership save,…well I don’t know what. I do know that there’s a whole bunch of folks with the surname of Saud and for some reason they are worshipped as princes and kings.

Kind of like the Kennedys in New England.

Women in Saudi Arabia still are not allowed to drive and still cannot go out in public without the accompaniment of a male relative. Women still cannot participate in any social activities with the opposite sex and they must always wear a veil in mixed company.

There is still a board of morals and vice or some such, a bunch of zeroes with the authority to go “arresting” people for doing stuff in violation of that awful Koran thing.

People still get their hands cut off for thievery and are beheaded in public in Saudi Arabia.

Worst of all, men are allowed up to four wives and if they tire of one, boom, he says “I divorce thee” three times and the troublesome wench is out of his life.

Let’s get that bit about same-sex marriage passed and toot de sweet we’ll get multiple marriages that the Muslims can be happier in this country which is so old-fashioned as to only allow marriage between just one man and one woman.

Man, what a fine, fine country Saudi Arabia is. How damn happy those citizens have to be. Imagine, just imagine, such a life here in America or any other free country.

And yet the author really does his best to tell the story of his experiences in Saudi Arabia in a somewhat pleasant light.

He describes his inadvertent witnessing of an actual public beheading. He shares his insightful talks with a half-Saudi/half-American woman, how she is torn between her mother’s American culture yet called back to the culture of her paternal ancestors. She has a love/hate relationship with Saudi Arabia that the author tries to describe to the reader. HE does a right decent job of it although I don’t buy it.

A rich son of a camel Saud prince gets sick. His wives and many various children get him confined to a hospital. He is old and dying yet is simply more convenient to leave him at the hospital. The old guy yearns to go home to die but the laws are vague, the hospital is owned by the Sauds, the guy dies in a strange hospital, never seeing his home in the last year of his life.

The Saudis basically are gentle, sensitive, law-abiding people. Swearing at a Saudi is a criminal offense and punishable by a fine. A hearty slap on the back may be construed as assault and battery. Striking a Saudi, even in self-defense, is illegal and may lead to a jail sentence, fines, or deportation. The use of abusive language in public may be punished by imprisonment. In the event of an auto accident, both drivers are jailed pending an investigation. Anyone found drunk in public is jailed and deported, if he is a foreigner. Moslems caught drinking alcohol are lashed.

Yet the author doesn’t paint a bleak picture of this strange land. Not at all. He describes various activities, both in the Aramco area populated mostly by Americans, and parties, even a wedding, in Saudi Arabia proper.

Slavery was outlawed in 1962 in Saudi Arabia, my what a happening land. Yet many still serve as servants, treated nicely but hey, they’re servants is what they are.

Gray kept me through the read. The writing was solid, not overly flowery but frank, simple, to the point.

He struggles to create an image of a country that one might curse and vilify. But it’s not all that bad, the author might say.

The Saudis mean well.

I think the women are as unhappy as hell although none openly admit it to the author.

Cause no normal woman would ever be happy married to a camel-loving, smelly, sweaty dude with three other wives while confined to her home, no freedom of movement.

No matter how hard he tried, and I give him kudos for attempts to be fair to his Saudi hosts, I think that place is hell on earth.

And some 25 plus years after Gray wrote this book, not a single thing has changed.
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