Fiscal Pain?

How many CEOs will feel the “pain” of lowering their yearly salaries by a million or two?  How many corporations will have to feel the “pain” of having to start paying taxes on their profits?  How many corporate jet pilots will be out of a job?

None. None. None.

How many senior citizens will have to worry about their benefits? How many recipients of social services may have to do without, after they’ve already done without (and therefore found themselves in need of social services)? How many sick people may not get their treatments? How many, how many, how many….?

Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands?

I spit on the Tea Party and all that it represents.

“Saudi Men Support” Saudi Women Driving

I googled “Saudi Women Driving” just now, and here is a representative sample of headlines from publications from both the East and West over the last few days:

Saudi Women Flaunt The Driving Ban

The Dilemma of Saudi Women Drivers

Saudi women: Driven to succeed

Saudi women deserve the right to drive

Today’s Lady News: Saudi Women Flaunt The Driving Ban

Saudi Women Demand Right To Drive 

Pot of emotions for Saudi woman driver 

Women turn to technology to demand change in Arab revolution

Two more Saudi women defy driving ban 

Women driving campaign

I then googled “Saudi Men Support” Saudi Women Driving, and here is a representative sample of headlines:



That’s right— nothing. I found no headline announcing the support of Saudi men for Saudi women driving. There’s something wrong here.

Saudi Arabia is a country controlled by men. Women, especially, are controlled by men. These women who drive are not doing so except with the permission of men. The men of the households of the women who drive either support them outright, permit their participation in the campaign, or, at least do not forbid it, so why are reporters not writing about them? Why are the men, themselves, not speaking out— or are they, and I simply haven’t seen the reports?

Am I to understand that the men are more afraid of the religious fatwa-makers than the women? I think not. I think that the men are, indeed, working behind the scenes to influence whose who need to be influenced so that women will be allowed to drive soon.

I also think writers are missing the boat when they focus exclusively on women’s determination, bravery, passion, etc., while they ignore the most important part of the issue– the men who are making it all possible. Of course, no one wants to hear that the success of the driving campaign rests upon the shoulders of men, but how else can the problem be resolved, except by the will of the men? Does anyone really think that a bunch of Saudi women can demand something like the right to drive, and get it without strong support of men?  Let’s get real about Saudi Arabia. If men want women to drive, women will drive. If they don’t, they won’t.





Book Review: Barefoot in Bagdad by Manal Omar

In spite of what follows, I want to assert that I liked this book.  I liked the author’s passion, her determination, and her perspective as an American Muslim of Arab (Palestinian) descent.

Manal Omar  told this story in a conversational tone. True to most conversations, she wove in and out of it, introducing diverse elements easily and leaving them just as easily. I would have appreciated more consistency and more focus upon her actual work.

The narrative picks up drama towards the end, when Manal’s safety becomes untenable and she must evacuate.

I would have liked to hear more about the women she helped. Much of the book is wasted on prolonged accounts of her moves into various apartments, and how she found suitable quarters for establishing offices.

I would have also liked to hear more about how the love story developed. She glosses over it, and one wonders, while reading the book, whether her interactions with any of the men take on romantic tones. Of course, as a Muslim on shaky ground— both politically and morally—she cannot admit to much of a romance. Still, her almost haphazard mention of it towards the end of the book rings only half-true.

This book held me fascinated throughout, but I confess to being a captive audience because of my own Middle-Eastern experience, and also because my son-in-law is Iraqi, and I want to read more about Iraq’s recent history through the eyes of people who have experienced it.

Driving, Driving…Saudi Women Driving

Yesterday, a couple dozen Saudi women drove their cars in the Kingdom. The sky didn’t fall down, the ground didn’t open up to swallow them, and even the Saudi police did not exercise their prerogative to hunt them down and arrest them.

That was yesterday. Presumably, the women will continue driving today, and tomorrow… Their tactic to do so spordically, and not en masse—as was attempted in an unfortunate campaign on the streets of Riyadh in 1990— surely helped keep their profile low. I question, however, their wisdom in posting videos on YouTube, and putting their faith in the international community for support of their goal.

I also question their double standard in using social media—which is international in character—while at the same time asking non-Saudi women to refrain from joining them. If they want their effort to arise from Saudis only, they should look towards Saudi men, not international social media. I’ve noted that many Saudi men, even some who are quite influential in affairs of the Kingdom, support the initiative to allow women to drive. This support made yesterday’s event possible.

Saudi men will be the key players here, and Saudi men will determine whether or not Saudi women will gain the right to drive. There is no shame in this, nothing that takes away from women’s determination or desire or obvious need to obtain their driving rights. The fact is that Saudi Arabia is a patriarchal society, and that women are under the control of men, and that outward rebellion guarantees nothing but punishment.  The country is not built upon democratic ideals.

In the West, we have an historical tradition of social struggle, and of oppressed people seizing what has been denied them, and of suffering the consequences. We honor the notion of heroic self-sacrifice by certain individuals who act as catalysts for social reform. Some Westerners think that Saudi women can lift that template and apply it to the oppressive conditions under which Saudi women live. I suggest that Saudis have no need of borrowing the historical traditions of other societies. They have their own social dynamics, and need to work within them.

Oh, sure, they may eventually get their right to drive, even if they ride like American cowboys into enemy territory, galloping full-speed ahead with shouting and screaming and the intention to take by force. I can only imagine the collateral damage that would be exacted by such a strategy.

As much as they might hate to appeal to their men for something their men have denied them, Saudi women have already gained the respect and support of some men. Let those men work towards influencing other men. Let this issue become an issue of men and women working together. If Saudi men and women work together on this important task, maybe they can work together for the betterment of other conditions that put artificial barriers in front of women’s autonomy. Then, we might see some genuine improvement in the ability of Saudi women to develop themselves,  take better care of their families, and contribute in new ways towards the prosperity of their country.

The Lessons of the Bees

Summer has finally broken through our stunted spring, and the lawn is growing as I write.  By the time my lawn mower was oiled and tuned for this season, the grass had grown so long it had started to go to seed. So, for the first cutting this year, I had to collect the clippings, rather than leave them on the lawn as a nutrient. One evening last week, I fastened the bag to the lawn mower, poured gas into the tank, and steered the wheelbarrow out of the garage.

Before starting, I walked the property, looking for large twigs, stones and other debris that might get caught in the blades and dull them. When I came to the hole next to the tree stump, I froze and stared, frightened at the sudden memory of the bees that had colonized that hole last year, the bees that turned on me simply because I’d approached their home too closely.

Last year, a large branch succumbed to high winds, fell from a tree, and gouged out a hole in the grass. The bees moved right into that hole. I’ve never liked bees; I tolerate them as members of the natural order, giving benefits and having the rights of living spaces just like us. Last summer, I mowed the lawn carefully near the hole, lowering the speed of the engine as I passed back and forth.  At first, the bees and I ignored each other. I kept an eye on them, however, not wanting to antagonize them, but just to mow the grass, without evicting them.

As last summer progressed, Mom and I noticed more and more bees floating around the area. Then we noticed bees actively flying in and out of the hole. I began to wonder whether I could continue mowing the grass safely, but my trusting nature said yes. The bees would know that I wished them no harm, that I simply wanted to keep the lawn trimmed.

One day, having lowered the speed of the engine and slowed my rate of approach, a bee erupted from the hole before I got there, zoomed in on my lower leg, and stung me immediately.

Bee stings do not injure severely– unless one is allergic– but they hurt like hell. I iced the wound, cursed, and returned to the lawn mower, determined to trim the grass tufts adjacent to their nest. I pulled the lawnmower handle, the engine resumed its rotations, and before I could advance another foot, two bees shot up from the hole like a flame from Hell. I dropped the handle and ran, bees chasing me. One of them veered off, but the other grabbed hold of my trouser leg. I pulled the fabric away from my flesh, as it’s abdomen thrust in and out of the fabric trying to reach its target. I continued to hobble away from the scene, screaming for help, not knowing whether other bees had followed, but no one heard me.

I reached the front of the house, where some stiff bushes provided a surface upon which to scrape off the bee. It fell to the ground, dying, leaving its stinger to continue probing the fabric of my trousers. “You stupid bee!” I said to myself. “I meant you no harm.”

The lawn mower continued to run, standing next to the bee’s nest, but I had to return, if only to turn it off and withdraw. I did so gingerly, without further incident. I told Mom I would no longer mow the grass in that area of the lawn. The bees had extinguished my desire to approach.


Recently, I was flamed on a blog I’d been reading and commenting on for years:

I feel sad that I became the target of people who think differently than I do, and are so narrow-minded they thought I was attacking them. They do not know that polite engagement of those who think differently usually expands the perspectives of everyone. Like the bees that felt threatened when I approached their ground dwelling, those participants reacted instinctively.

Last year’s bees taught me something about the nature of instinct, and about group dynamics, but especially about my own naïve trust, my tendency to assume that I will be accepted as readily as I accept others, that my maturity, intellect, and open-mindedness will be matched.  My mistake— this year — was to ignore the possibility that my willingness to probe someone’s precious assumptions would  be perceived as a direct threat to that person’s sense of integrity.

This post is my salute to the incident, the “last word”, if you will, a good-bye of sorts to a blog I used to respect, a blog that claimed more of my time than my own blog.  Well, perhaps I’ll yet find a satisfying depth of communication somewhere on-line, or even right here, in my own back yard.  

Marahm, welcome back!

Apostasy–What is it, Exactly?

Apostasy— what a mouthful! It’s a word full of harsh sounds, more consonants than vowels. Its’ pejorative connotation suggests more than a mere disaffiliation with a religion, yet sometimes, it’s not even that.

In recent months I’ve discovered a number of blogs dedicated to apostasy from Islam, yet no one ever uses this word. Perhaps former Muslims shudder at the thought of capital punishment called for by fanatics who understand nothing about human nature. let alone divine.

What I find curious is the defensiveness that marks these writings. Islam is accused of usurping free will, and ruining lives. Islam is accused of all sorts of tricks that rob the person of something that doesn’t belong to Islam. Since most religious systems could answer to the same accusations, I wonder about the maturity of such writers, and of their original motivation for adhering to Islam in the first place.  One thing is sure– when a person tries to fill the culturally square Islamic peg with a round Western personality, some spillage is bound to occur.

I suggest that many tears and arguments have been poured into the world not because the circle doesn’t quite fit the square, but that the square was not large enough to contain the circle.

When you consider how differently Islam is practiced from country to country, community to community, individual to individual, you may be surprised to discover as much variation as can be found in Christianity. For the person who feels in need of reformation, self-discipline, or spiritual development through ritual practice, Islam offers much, and so does Christianity. For the person whose character holds tenaciously to the preservation of what little free will we think we have, Islam offers much, and so does Christianity.

Using the broadest definition of terms, a Muslim is one who believes in one God and Mohammad’s prophethood. A Christian is one who believes in Jesus. Therefore,  a Muslim is also a Christian. Since both believe in the Judeo-Christian divinity commonly called “God”, both Muslims and Christians are also Jews.

So what’s the big deal?  Hindus and Buddhists and Atheists remain.  How ironic, then, that the most violent religiously based infighting occurs historically and persistently amongst Jews, Christians and Muslims, who supposedly believe in the same divinity! One would think that Jews, Christians and Muslims would get together and make war on Hindus, Buddhists, and Atheists, because those groups reject the singularity of an almighty god.

Getting back to apostasy, then, one can rightly ask of any so-called apostate, “From what are you apostatizing?” I think the answer would have something to do with the container being too small to accommodate the spirit being poured into it.


(OK, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and all of that. Bah, humbug, I say! Let’s get on with things.)

I finally bought myself a DSLR.  I’ve been wanting one for the last few years. I’ve now “graduated” from this:

to this:


I’m so excited, I can’t resist broadcasting my acquisition of this new toy.  I didn’t buy the kit lens, but the new Tamron 270 zoom, which is smaller and longer (and more expensive) than Canon’s 135 that comes with the camera.

I’ve forgotten basic photographic principles, having become lazy with the little P&S, but my dissatisfaction with my own photography finally prompted me to buy the new camera. The money spent will now prompt me to review all those principles and learn the new ones which apply to digital SLR photography.

I’ve already found kindred photographic souls on Flickr, but I dare not join them until I can post some respectable images taken with the new camera. Maybe I’ll be able to do that within the week, insha’Allah.



Marahm Turns Sixty!

bismillah5bynafee I am sixty years old today, and I am happy.

I am happy because I’ve lived more than half my life, and I’ve been spared the worst of calamities, alhumdullilah. I’ve not been struck by the bulldozer of bad health nor the tragedy of untimely death. I’ve watched both my parents live well into old age, and I’ve seen my siblings enter middle-age in good health and security. My girls are grown and married and have magnificent children of their own, and they are taking good care of their families.
My job is secure, and my home with my mom is so comfortable. Allah has blessed me  richly, and I thank Him for everything.

My life has been marked by personal strength and emotional distress which have both left their marks. I understand much about myself I never understood years ago, thanks to my work in Progoff’s Intensive Journal, as well my general attitude of questioning and pondering everything worth pondering. I’ve had luck, both good and bad. I’ve made choices, both good and bad, but Allah has protected me from the worst consequences of either.

The decade of the sixties is the decade of retirement, of taking permission to close the door on formal employment. The decade of the sixties renews my commitment to nurturing myself in ways I’ve been unable to practice because of having to go to work. This is the decade in which I can finally give myself the opportunity to develop my talents, and perhaps achieve a few life goals.

This is the decade in which I shall dedicate myself to supporting my extended family even more. These next years are the ones during which I need to develop a regimen of physical exercise and dietary prudence . They are the years in which I will fulfill my lifelong ambition of becoming fluent in a foreign language, of delving into my writing (without being interrupted  by having to to go work), of organizing my recipe files, of sorting my belongings and downsizing my footprint. All of this begins today, inshaAllah, and I am very happy.


She Makes Us Face the Elephant in the Room

August 19, 2010

I’m reading the book Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. When I first heard of this book, I ignored it, simply because I am tired of seeing sensational, dramatic stories about poor, abused Middle-Eastern women under the oppression of terrible Islam.

Now I am reading it so that I can discuss it with a group of other women who are reading it.

I was prepared to dislike this book and its author, but instead, I find myself admiring her courage, intelligence and maturity. Unfortunately, she has become an atheist, but given her particular circumstances, I’d have become an atheist, too.

She approaches Islam not from a spiritual or theoretical position, but from the grit of everyday life in a culture festering in ignorance. She was raised in Somalia. There, the justification of sadistic cruelty was based upon an elaboration of so-called divine principles not yet subjected to the light of science or reason.

Many Muslims, myself included, will turn away from problematic verses in the Qur’an, but this author points to them, jumps up and down, and makes everyone look at the elephant in the room. For that, I do not like her. She makes me realize that I’m guilty, along with many modern Muslims, of denial, and rejection of parts of the Qur’an.

I won’t cite the particular verses– we all know they’re there– the ones about polygyny, wife-beating, killing Jews, etc.

I used to think it was OK to ignore these verses. I ignored lots of verses in the New Testament when I was Christian. How else does one deal with unacceptable verses about which one can do nothing? Can one apply the twelve-step recommendation to, “Take what you need and leave the rest.”?

Before 9/11, I did just that, and so did every other Muslim I ever met. After 9/11, denial became problematic, and there’s no end of it in sight.

This book makes me realize that denial (along with its sister, rationalization) is root of the problem of Islam with the rest of the world, and yes, one can say that denial could be the root of problems in all religious disputes. Denial is just a more accurate way of saying “interpretation”. One can interpret certain verses, but others can interpret them differently, and when the verses address issues such as beating and killing, we’ve got big problems that aren’t going to be swept under the rug.

Gaza Commentary

Gaza Commentary

The bloggers I read have either focused on Gaza, avoided the subject, or remained silent altogether. What can anyone say that hasn’t already been said? What can anyone do that shouldn’t have already been done by people in stronger positions to do it? 

I don’t know. I cannot address the issue with authority or experience. A repetition of condemnation seems redundant, and an appeal to Allah seems inadequate. Our words of condemnation may soothe us for a time, but they don’t prevent a single innocent life from being sacrificed for naught, nor do we control Allah, and our prayers are not always answered simply because we say them with enthusiasm and in the knowledge that the situation in Gaza is a black hole of evil, a cesspool of suffering, a renewal of man’s inhumanity to man. 

This blog is a place for me to record my experiences in Riyadh. Other subjects intersperse themselves, and I trust they add a spark. This subject of Gaza, however, cries for a comment, even an insipid one, even one that contributes nothing.

Could I offer anything worth reading, anything that doesn’t merely spit in the wind?

I’m out of my league here– intellectually, religiously, politically, or any other kind of way. The TV reports and blog posts with gory pictures could as easily be fictional, for all the effect they’ve had upon my life. However, something on the subject churns between my brain and my stomach. Something needs to be expressed. I don’t know what, and I don’t know why, but it’s in there.

I’d better get on with it.