When I read this article from the New York Times on teasing, I was reminded with an incident that occurred on my last class before the Eid holiday…
Instead of speaking about the class topic, hospital pharmacy, our teacher began with a comment on the low attendance and how we, as Saudis, do not show enough commitment to science and education. He talked for a few minutes about his experience as a college student in the UK, and then continued to criticize those who undermine the achievements of the West simply because they are “infidels.” At lest those infidels have contributed something to humanity, he added. He asked: what did we contribute to the world? What did Najd contribute to the world?
I was sitting at the end of the left side of the classroom. When the teacher asked that question, I jokingly said: “terrorism?”
Some students laughed, while others did not take my remark very well. They looked at me angrily and said: what the hell do you mean? The teacher ignored what happened and finished what he was saying. As soon as he finished, one of the angry students asked for a chance to speak. He repeated his question to me about what did I mean by saying “terrorism.” Before I was able to respond, the teacher said “let’s not talk about this,” and he moved to talk about something else. In one hand I was ready to answer and wished that the teacher would give me the chance, but on the other hand I understood the teacher’s position in trying to avoid what could result in a heated debate.
After the class, I was standing with some friends in the hallway talking about our plans for the Eid holiday when I heard someone shouting my surname from the other end of the hallway. I looked at the source of the sound, and sure enough, it was one of the angry students. He asked the same question: what did you mean by what you said? I told him it was just a joke, and I’m sorry if it was insensitive or anyone felt offended, but it certainly was not my intention to offend.
That was not enough for him. He repeated the same question, followed by another one: how dare you insult my region and my people? I told him again it was a joke and no offense was intended. He was not convinced and kept raising his voice. I told him, look, although this was just a joke, but it didn’t come from nowhere, and I’m willing to discuss this with you if you want.
He did not seem to understand. I told him: well, I think that terrorism that invaded the world and our own country in recent years is linked to the ideology that came out of Najd. That enraged him even more, but one of his friends pulled him away while he was still shouting and repeating the same things on how dare I talk like that about his region and now his religion.
The drama was over, but later some of my classmates who happen to know me better told me that they get the joke but alas they did not agree with me on linking terrorism to Wahhabism. I was surprised how they firmly refused to admit that at least some of the Wahhabi teachings can be considered extreme and call for hate of the other. We agreed to disagree and left it there.
I thought that we rarely get to discuss politics and religion in class, but once in a blue moon you get a chance like this and you are shocked by how shallow, chauvinistic and politically ignorant your fellow students can be. One week later I was reading the book Kingdom Without Boarders when I found this piece by Madawi al-Rasheed: “Saudis not only reject the term Wahhabiyya, but also argue that linking it to terrorism is a false accusation based on jahl (ignorance of religion in Saudi Arabia).” I guess then that I should not have been surprised.