November 2, 2001 (Ira Pilgrim)

Saudis: A Book Review

At the Willits library's annual book sale, I picked up a book by Sandra Mackey entitled Saudis, Inside the Desert Kingdom. At home, I started to read this fat paperback, written in 1987, and found that a week and a half later, I had finished it. I don't remember ever having gone through a large book that fast.

She starts her book with "I am Michael Collins. I am Justin Coe. I am Sandra Mackey. Behind my male pseudonyms of Collins and Coe, I spent four years as an underground journalist in Saudi Arabia." Her book is investigative journalism at its best.

Having spent a year in Nigeria, the experience of a person in a country in which the industrial revolution is very new and trying to come to grips with the industrial world rings very true. It brought back many memories.

I am not going to attempt to summarize the book, because I can't. However, here are a few choice quotes that might give you some idea of the flavor of the book:

"The Moslem does not view prayer as a petition for the favors of God. Nor is it communication with God. Rather, prayer is a ritual that recognizes the power of God, while communal prayer, wherever it is performed, affirms the brotherhood of believers. Prayer is the celebration of the unity of a great tribe held together by its submission to Allah and its obedience to his teachings. Prayer affirms the equality of believers, a concept especially strong within the Wahhabi sect."

"What the Saudis most fear from Westernization is not so much that it will cause people to abandon Islam in favor of Christianity but that, in an increasingly secular world, religion will take a secondary place in society as it has in the West."

"Saudis live in large extended families. It is one of their significant differences from Western culture that, for the Saudis, the concept of individuality is absent. A Saudi sees himself in the context of his family and, to a lesser degree, his tribe. His duty is never to himself but to the group."

"Having escaped foreign domination throughout its history, Saudi Arabia was finally colonized during the oil boom. It succumbed not to foreign conquest or economic imperialism but to Westernization that was chosen, bought and paid for in the form of technologically skilled people. This colonization, under the name of modernization, disrupted family life, made women restless in their traditional roles, corrupted the devout, and subjected the society to the disdain of a large Western work force."

This book has broadened my understanding of what is happening in the world today. It took reading this 437 page book to understand the full meaning of the last paragraph of the "Afterword" (October 1990): "When I arrived in Saudi Arabia over a decade ago, the Saudis reigned as the most competent camel drivers in the world. Now they pilot supersonic jets and prepare to fight an electronic war with Western weapons. Yet when the prayer call floats across the desert, fatigue-clad Saudis stack their weapons, as they tethered their camels, and they kneel and bow toward Mecca."

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