Ed Hussain, a Muslim from London, found racism, sexual hypocrisy, and widespread jihadist sentiment as a teacher in Saudi Arabia. Read it all — here are just a few salient excerpts. “How a British jihadi saw the light,” from the Times, with thanks to all who sent this in:
…Many of the African women lived in an area of Jeddah known as Karantina, a slum full of poverty, prostitution and disease.
A visit to Karantina, a perversion of the term “quarantine”, was one of the worst of my life. Thousands of people who had been living in Saudi Arabia for decades, but without passports, had been deemed “illegal” by the government and, quite literally, abandoned under a flyover.
A non-Saudi black student I had met at the British Council accompanied me. “Last week a woman gave birth here,” he said, pointing to a ramshackle cardboard shanty. Disturbed, I now realised that the materials I had seen those women carrying were not always for sale but for shelter.
I had never expected to see such naked poverty in Saudi Arabia.
At that moment it dawned on me that Britain, my home, had given refuge to thousands of black Africans from Somalia and Sudan: I had seen them in their droves in Whitechapel. They prayed, had their own mosques, were free and were given government housing.
Many Muslims enjoyed a better lifestyle in non-Muslim Britain than they did in Muslim Saudi Arabia. At that moment I longed to be home again.
All my talk of ummah seemed so juvenile now. It was only in the comfort of Britain that Islamists could come out with such radical utopian slogans as one government, one ever expanding country, for one Muslim nation. The racist reality of the Arab psyche would never accept black and white people as equal….
Racism was an integral part of Saudi society. My students often used the word “nigger” to describe black people. Even dark-skinned Arabs were considered inferior to their lighter-skinned cousins. I was living in the world’s most avowedly Muslim country, yet I found it anything but. I was appalled by the imposition of Wahhabism in the public realm, something I had implicitly sought as an Islamist.
Part of this local culture consisted of public institutions being segregated and women banned from driving on the grounds that it would give rise to “licentiousness”. I was repeatedly astounded at the stares Faye got from Saudi men and I from Saudi women.
Faye was not immodest in her dress. Out of respect for local custom, she wore the long black abaya and covered her hair in a black scarf. In all the years I had known my wife, never had I seen her appear so dull. Yet on two occasions she was accosted by passing Saudi youths from their cars. On another occasion a man pulled up beside our car and offered her his phone number.
In supermarkets I only had to be away from Faye for five minutes and Saudi men would hiss or whisper obscenities as they walked past. When Faye discussed her experiences with local women at the British Council they said: “Welcome to Saudi Arabia.”…
Why had the veil and segregation not prevented such behaviour? My Saudi acquaintances, many of them university graduates, argued strongly that, on the contrary, it was the veil and other social norms that were responsible for such widespread sexual frustration among Saudi youth….
In my Islamist days we relished stating that Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases were the result of the moral degeneracy of the West. Large numbers of Islamists in Britain hounded prostitutes in Brick Lane and flippantly quoted divorce and abortion rates in Britain. The implication was that Muslim morality was superior. Now, more than ever, I was convinced that this too was Islamist propaganda, designed to undermine the West and inject false confidence in Muslim minds….
In Mecca, Medina and Jeddah I met young men with angry faces from Europe, students at various Wahhabi seminaries. They reminded me of my extremist days.
They were candid in discussing their frustrations with Saudi Arabia. The country was not sufficiently Islamic; it had strayed from the teachings of Wahhabism. They were firmly on the side of the monarchy and the clerics who supported it. Soon they were to return to the West, well versed in Arabic, fully indoctrinated by Wahhabism, to become imams in British mosques.
By the summer of 2005 Faye and I had only eight weeks left in Saudi Arabia before we would return home to London. Thursday, July 7, was the beginning of the Saudi weekend. Faye and I were due to lunch with Sultan, a Saudi banker who was financial adviser to four government ministers. I wanted to gauge what he and his wife, Faye’s student, thought about life inside the land of their birth….
My initial suspicion was that the perpetrators were Saudis. My experience of them, their virulence towards my non-Muslim friends, their hate-filled textbooks, made me think that Bin Laden’s Saudi soldiers had now targeted my home town. It never crossed my mind that the rhetoric of jihad introduced to Britain by Hizb ut-Tahrir could have anything to do with such horror….
The fact that hundreds of children die in Africa every day would be of no relevance to a committed Islamist. In the extremist mind the plight of the tiny Palestinian nation is more important than the deaths of millions of black Africans. Let them die, they”re not Muslims, would be the unspoken line of argument. As an Islamist it was only the suffering of Muslims that had moved me. Now human suffering mattered to me, regardless of religion….
Sultan spoke fondly of his time in London, particularly his placement at Coutts as a trainee banker. We then moved on to the subject uppermost in my mind, the terrorist attacks on London. My host did not really seem to care. He expressed no real sympathy or shock, despite speaking so warmly of his time in London.
“I suppose they will say Bin Laden was behind the attacks. They blamed us for 9/11,” he said.
Keen to take him up on his comment, I asked him: “Based on your education in Saudi Arabian schools, do you think there is a connection between the form of Islam children are taught here and the action of 15 Saudi men on September 11?”
Without thinking, his immediate response was, “˜No. No, because Saudis were not behind 9/11. The plane hijackers were not Saudi men. One thousand two hundred and forty-six Jews were absent from work on that day and there is the proof that they, the Jews, were behind the killings. Not Saudis.”
It was the first time I heard so precise a number of Jewish absentees. I sat there pondering on the pan-Arab denial of the truth, a refusal to accept that the Wahhabi jihadi terrorism festering in their midst had inflicted calamities on the entire world….
Two weeks after the terrorist attacks in London another Saudi student raised his hand and asked: “Teacher, how can I go to London?”
“Much depends on your reason for going to Britain. Do you want to study or just be a tourist?”
“Teacher, I want to go London next month. I want bomb, big bomb in London, again. I want make jihad!”
“What?” I exclaimed. Another student raised both hands and shouted: “Me too! Me too!”
Other students applauded those who had just articulated what many of them were thinking. I was incandescent. In protest I walked out of the classroom to a chorus of jeering and catcalls.