Scurrilous

The sorry state of traditional media in the country has encouraged some Saudis in recent years to start news websites aka electronic newspapers. Some of the most well-known names in that field today include Sabq, Alweeam, and A’ajel. I have no idea what is the size of competition between such websites and traditional media, but considering that the likes of Turki al-Sudairi don’t miss a chance to attack the news websites you can probably guess they are not exactly thrilled about their existence.

Traditional media people try to attack the news websites by suggesting that they they lack professionalism and credibility, but I believe the same thing can be said about the traditional media in Saudi Arabia. So let’s not even get into this.

There are two advantages online news sites here enjoy over traditional media: speed and scandals. They can report news as they happen and don’t have to wait until the next day. They can report on scandals that traditional media would usually avoid for reasons related mostly to their red lines and sometimes to their standards. Scandals sell, and in a conservative country like ours they carry more weight due to the conformist nature of society.

You could be someone who enjoys reading scandals and celebrity gossip. Or you could be someone who hates the whole thing. But in this case that does not matter much because I think that these online websites should do their best to use these advantages to deliver a better service to interested readers.

Earlier this week Alweeam website reported on what they called a “missionary party” sponsored by several Saudi and foreign companies to celebrate St George’s Day. Alweeam said the British Ambassador and his wife attended the party, as well as “many women and businessmen, and they partied wildly until the morning.” The site added that the party violates the country’s laws, which calls for punishing the Saudi companies that sponsored the event.

It is obvious from tabloid-like reporting and pictures published with the story what Alweeam are trying to do. They are screaming: A missionary party in the heart of Saudi Arabia! How scandalous!

Now this story could be actually scandalous, except for one thing: Alweeam have added one little, but significant, false detail which is the word “missionary.” The Robin Hood-themed party has nothing to do with missionary work, and the St.George Society Riyadh (SGSR) describes itself as a “charitable and social organization, set up in September 2006 with the aim of promoting England and Englishness.”

You could argue that St George’s Day has a religious origin, but it is also England’s national day, and like Christmas and other holidays is no longer seen in that context. More importantly, there is nothing on SGRS website that suggests that the organization and its activities are missionary or related to religion. Unfortunately, the website is no longer accessible. It seems to me that after publishing the news about their party they decided to take the website down in order to avoid more controversy. You can still view a version of the website using Google’s cache.

Please note that I have no comment on the event itself. I’m only commenting here on the coverage of Alweeam which ignored obvious facts, included false information, and did not bother to talk to pretty much anyone from the people involved. They had a chance to make a real scoop here, but they miserably failed. The only aspect that will be worth watching from this rather ridiculous story is how those Saudi companies that sponsored the party will deal with their PR nightmare.

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20 thoughts on “Scurrilous

  1. Ahmed,

    I agree with you on two points.

    First, one can hardly imagine a more unlikely sponsor of Christian missionary activity than the British ambassadour.

    Moreover, how ironic in that our own ambassies abroad regularly do in fact engage in religious conversionary activities.

    As such, I fully agree with you that it is absurd to suggest that the British embassy or the ambassadour is in any way engaged in Christian missionary work. Indeed, I would be surprised if he were a religiously pious, religiously oriented person. Many extremely moral British have little interest personally in the Christian religion.

    Finally, it is interesting at least that the historical St. George person may have been from an Arab land long ago (or so I have read).

    Secondly, I agree with you about the fondness for scandal in our society. I often wonder whether indeed there is a stronger preference for scandal and gossip in our nation, precisely because of our conservative social views and our constrained press. Perhaps love of gossip plays a role of serving as a release for inherent interests?

  2. I’d say that traditional media in most countries is losing viewership, especially here in th UK and in the US.

    As for the ‘scandal’, like Andrew said, it’s nothing compared to the flurry of activity by Saudis over here, some religious, others not. Just the other day, I went to a Saudi Open Day, which was meant to promote Saudi and attract investment.

    And as Andrew said, St. George was probably Turkish or Middle Eastern, and St. George’s Day is celebrated by both Christian and Muslim Palestinians. Seeing as Britan is a secular nation and the vast majority of Britons are atheist, I very much doubt this was a missionary party

  3. The British community in Riyadh as well as the companies that sponsored the event could easily explain the promotional role of St. George’s organization and it’s social and non religious nature.
    It would put the whole matter to rest for people with genuine unbiased concern.
    Themed parties are almost always problematic!
    They could easily be misinterpreted by those who don’t know.

  4. @Shafiq

    “Seeing as Britan is a secular nation and the vast majority of Britons are atheist”

    I would say that Britain is overwellmingly secular but I doubt anyone would say that the vast majority of British are atheists.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_of_Great_Britain_and_Northern_Ireland#Religion

    In the 2001 census, 9.1 million (15% of the UK population) claimed no religion, with a further 4.3 million (7% of the UK population) not stating a religious preference.[141]

  5. Andrew–interesting article thanks. A surprise finding (to me) from the full paper, Key Findings:

    Anonymity: In general, Arabic bloggers are more likely than not to use their name
    when blogging, as opposed to writing anonymously or using an obvious pseudonym.
    The exceptions are Syrian, Kuwaiti, and Maghreb/French Bridge bloggers, as well as
    a small cluster of Egyptian Baha’i bloggers, who write about their persecution.
    Generally, women are more likely to blog anonymously than men.

  6. Shafiq and Jerry–I believe there are a couple of confusions here. England has a state religion, The Church of England (Anglican) and the Crown is required to be the representative/ defender of that religion, and to marry within its confines–hence the problems for Prince Charles. In that sense it is not secular.

    Since atheism is a disbelief in the existence of God or a god, religious affiliation is immaterial. Instead in the 2001 census: 38% of the respondents believed that “there is a God”, which does suggest that the majority of the English are atheists by that definition.

    Returning to the post itself, the St George Society Riyadh strikes me as more neo-colonialist than religious, or in fact more of a business networking opportunity, and a cultural club for Brits, as well as doing admirable charity work.

    The Royal Society describes St George as born in Cappadocia, Turkey, a Darrian (tall and fair), an officer in the Roman army, and a defender of the Christians against their persecution by the Romans, for which he was put to death at Lyddia near Palestine. As the patron saint of England he is historically associated with its military defense and conquest.

    That plus a Robin Hood theme (Robin Hood is intricately associated with Richard The Lion-Hearted of Crusades fame), sounds more and more neo-colonialist, except that having attended these types of functions from the corporate side, I think it was rather more about business.

    So yes, corporate PR nightmare, indeed!

  7. Ah, so Alweeam ”reports” in the same style as the mainstrem media does, add a small word, and leaving out a few others, and hey! presto! The world has spinned around as they like it.

    Sounds like a great party btw, I’d loved to have gone dressed up as maid Marian….
    ;)

  8. Jerry M and Chiara,

    My mistake, I should have put a-religious instead of atheist. From my experience, most people don’t deny the existence of God, they either don’t know or don’t care. I went to a Church of England school and out of all my friends there, only 1 went to church at times other than weddings, funerals and baptisms.

    As to whether Britain is a secular country or not, this argument has been growing for the past couple of years. The few Christians that are left would like to see a revival in the same way as the American evangelical movement, and the die-hard Atheists are doing all they can to resist it.

    I don’t think it’s that surprising many Arab bloggers use pseudonyms – some Arab governments routinely arrest bloggers for posting things they don’t like.

    I just checked the charity website for Riyadh and it’s been suspended for some reason. From what I can see, it’s run by people still reminiscing about past colonial glory.

  9. Jerry M–agreed.

    Shafiq–thanks for the clarification and the elaboration. Lord (the Abrahamic one, in whatever language) spare us from American-style right-wing evangelicals (they’ve driven out the more admirable sharing type ones like Carter and Clinton who are part of a movement to reclaim the Southern Baptist Convention from them).

    Shafiq and Andrew–Andrew, yes I remember your pseudonym well, and all potential meanings of it LOL :) . The part that surprised me was:
    Anonymity: In general, Arabic bloggers are MORE LIKELY than not TO USE THEIR NAME
    when blogging, AS OPPOSED TO writing anonymously or using an obvious PSEUDONYM. [emphasis added since it is a confusing sentence structure with an academics’ use of an extra qualifier “more likely than not”]

    I thought in retrospect that more are blogging in their own names in Arabic than in English (with which I am more familiar given my difficulties in following an Arabic blog), but that would be even more surprising.

    Any ideas?

    Shafiq–yes in my experience of some Brits, as my professors, my colleagues, and social acquaintances, they haven’t quite gotten over the loss of the Empire. A great collection of academic articles on Anglophone literature is entitled “The Empire Strikes Back”, very apropos given who is winning the literary awards, and critical kudos.

    Oh, oh, now I’m having flashbacks to select phrases in English accents from a high school teacher, professors in English lit, my med school interview, a tyrannical surgeon … :( :)

    Chiara–born and raised in “the colonies” (Canada) LOL :D

  10. ah the English…but you just have to love them! What is it about them (and the Irish too) that no matter where they are int he world they just have to create clubs. But there is something just a lltile bit suspect and perverse in their psyche with their tendency to dress up in frocks and funny costumes at the first opportunity. The Brits,however, were unfortunate that it was they and not the Irish who were the subject of official attention for after a few supps of the “uisce beatha” the Irish would have given much better value – as they always try to do.

  11. Tortured Expat–are you from the “Fair Isle” then? No need to confirm, if anonymity precludes it.

    As an expat in Hong Kong I encountered many English clubs but none so colonialist seeming as this one–although the Hong Kong branch of the Royal Society of St George has admirable charitable and education goals, and activities, as this one probably does but we can’t read about them.

  12. Atheists don’t believe in any spiritual aspect. Can’t see it, feel it, hear it, etc.? Not real. Like Santa Claus.

    (Considering that the US strains of Christianity treat God like Santa Claus, I am not surprised about more and more in the US are becoming agnostic or atheist. It’s either that or rolling around on the floor “speaking in tongues” which is babbling or those various televangelists that are swindling money out of you)

    People who believe in maybe there is a God, or something, are properly classified as agnostics.

    Agnostics aren’t sure. They may believe there is a God, but even if they do, they don’t much see the point in ceremony and organized religion. Which is why they don’t go to church on their own.

    Anyway.

    Seriously, I hear English clubs and I think…

    Aha! Here is where the expats go to chatter about cricket and slurp down marmite by the bucketfull!

    I don’t think…

    THEY ARE PREPARING TO FORCE BIBLES ON PEOPLE!

    And anyway, I think most English just know that the Anglican Church isn’t a very sensible sect of Christianity anyway. Really. Pope didn’t let King Henry VIII get divorced, he threw a tantrum like a great big BABY and made up his own Christianity that allowed him to get divorced. That’s it. And as comedian Eddy Izzard notes, it wasn’t until Queen Elizabeth I that “some principles were added, at last, some principles!”

    Given that less than illustrious founding history, why would any English want to convert others into that sect of Christianity? Especially in places that do not know the lyrics to God Save the Queen (or King, what is up with having a national song where the lyrics change because somebody dies and makes it all messy).

    Anyway, on gossipy online “news” blogs. I suppose they aren’t being journalists so much as entertainment sources in a country where entertainment is on short supply. It’s not bad so much as annoying. That’s what I think. If there weren’t so many rules that mean that mathematically there are more chances to break them, it wouldn’t be half as profitable for the blogs to make things up or leave things out for an interesting story.

  13. Norvegica:

    You indicate that “Atheists don’t believe in any spiritual aspect. Can’t see it, feel it, hear it, etc.? Not real. “.

    Yet I have always understood and my readings seem to confirm that [see http://www.atheisme.org%5D that atheism is a belief that primarily sets itself in opposition to God or similar supernatural beings.

    Thus, I have understood atheists to belief in philosophical qualities such as love, beauty, etc that have a spiritual aspect and yet cannot be objectively measured.

    Yet, English I find may have a different meaning than perhaps other languages of the term?

  14. Andrew-André

    Merci pour la référence!

    Atheism in common English means a rejection of the existence of God, whereas agnosticism is not knowing whether there is a God/god or not.

    Atheism is often understood as part of communism’s philosophical materialism, or liberal philosphy’s secular humanism.

    Atheists usually do believe in abstract or spiritual concepts like love, beauty, friendship, morality etc. but deny there is a god/God or religion that has anything to do with it.

    Like the first article in the reference you gave stated, atheists believe gods and religions are creations of man, and some have an activist agenda of communicating that to the “misguided” ie believers.

    In my experience theactivist ones are very active on campus and in certain political or social movements. However, some of the most humane, compassionate, caring, and fair people I know are atheists of either the communist or secular humanist kind.

  15. There are pushy atheists, no doubt of it.

    (And I think that’s fair. Because “There is no God.” is actually less offensive to me than “REPENT OR YOU’LL BURN IN HELL!” The first isn’t personal. The second one? Very personal. Insulting, in fact. What crimes did I commit, that I should be yelled at in public while trying to mind my own business?)

    But I know far more atheists that really just want to be left alone by the spiritual establishment. Ontological questions about souls and what happens after you die holds no interest for them.

    And furthering that, the idea that you only have this one chance of living and not an eternity of salvation or damnation means that logically, you have to do the best you can right now and right here. Therefore, real human relationships such as love relationships, friendship relationships, become that much more important, because that’s real. It’s something that makes day to day living significant, no matter what your own personal spiritual belief or non-beliefs are.

    It is a very basic morality, that doesn’t rely on fear of damnation by any deity that they just don’t believe in. It’s a trust in the human concepts of fairness between others and upholding civil law, which is definitely not divine in provenance.

    It simply is very much like reading up Greek Mythology and knowing academically that there were long ago peoples who prayed and sacrificed and feared gods with names like Zeus and Athena and Ares. There aren’t (maybe there still are. Maybe. I assume not.) any people right now that sincerely worship those old pagan gods. Similarly, most atheists that I know also just don’t believe in a monotheistic God and the auxiliary beliefs in salvation or damnation that go with that religious narrative.

    And as for other philosophical things like what is beauty, etc. A lot of people can’t define it. But they know it if they see it, even if it’s different from person to person. It’s not a question of one true standard for beauty. (I personally don’t think there is. After all, the Japanese culture has come up with “wabi sabi” which is the aesthetic appreciation of imperfection. So beauty isn’t even perfection, as a concept)

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