Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My Saudi Identity


During the past several years, Saudi Rights Activists have been propagating the idea of a Saudi Identity shared amongst the people of Saudi Arabia.  Such an identity has been sponsored by King Abdullah since he has consumed kinghood.  This was displayed in the national dialogue and has also been re-emphasized in both the Janadriya festival and the Saudi National Day.   These events have celebrated the diversity of the Saudi Kingdom, which gives us a notion that a Saudi Identity emphasizes on the diversity of Saudi culture, tradition and even faith.  But if that is the case, why is diversity attacked in the kingdom? And why is it that the system does not prosecute against prejudices of all its forms?

When the king sponsored and organized a national dialogue, he tried to emphasize on the aspect of the diversity of the religious faiths within the kingdom.  Yet when it comes to practice, it seems that such a diversity has yet to be recognized.  When a new law is to be studied and implemented, it is considered only within the scope of the Wahhabi School.  Also, the Supreme Court in Saudi Arabia only rules according to interpretation of the Wahhabi school.  In addition, religious education in the kingdom does not tolerate any other faith but the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.  All other faiths have been deemed as insignificant and, according to some, heretic.  With this in mind, how can my Saudi Identity represent the diversity in Islamic faiths in accordance with the national dialogue?

Another national celebration in Saudi Arabia is the Janadriya festival, a festival that celebrates the cultural diversity of Saudi Arabia and is organized annually by the government.  When visiting the Janadriya festival, the diverse cultures within Saudi Arabia is quite astonishing.  Not only that, but each culture has its own set of convictions, traditions and even local folklore.  Yet, these traditions in Saudi Arabia are only remembered for the ten days of the festival.  As soon as it is over, their history is forgotten and their traditions are ridiculed.  In fact, if it is not a tradition of the Royal Family, it will be considered as valueless and alien.  Therefore, when I start to consider my Saudi Identity within this context, I fail to realize how it can represent my cultural values.

Another potential element of a Saudi identity is the notion of unity which is celebrated during the Saudi National Day, which is held on the 23rd of September.  A “celebration” that has been sponsored by the King used to enforce a sensation of an identity that is unique to the Saudi people.   However, I still cannot identify what I am celebrating.  It cannot be the unity of the Kingdom as my government has not shown a sign of respect towards the different communities that are bound by the borders of this nation.  In fact, it has not tackled those that are seeking to separate the community.  Other than the Saudi National Day, to me, it seems that there is no real attempt to encourage the development of a sense of unity in Saudi Arabia.

With the failure to identify faith, culture and unity as symbols of my Saudi identity, I thought I would seek a sense of equality in how I am viewed by the representatives of the law.  This means that I should be treated as an equal in the land of Saudi Arabia (according to the law).  This also means that the ruling system should also automatically prosecute those that discriminate against me due to tribe, region or faith.  If my Saudi Identity represents my geographical belonging and, in turn, a legal representation of my identity, it means that this system should protect my right as a partial owner of this Saudi land.  Sadly, while considering this particular notion, I feel as if I am journeying through a wonderful pipe dream waiting to wake up.   When considering this aspect of my Saudi identity, whether it is a lack of laws or un-implemented laws, it does not seem that the law is protecting me as a Saudi individual living within the Saudi borders.

What does my Saudi identity mean to me? It has not respected my choice of faith because I am not a Wahhabi (the official faith of the Kingdom).  It has not respected my culture as it has slandered it in any possible way it can.  It has disrespected my right to think freely and has attempted to set an example to me by imprisoning free thinkers from my community and other communities.  It has tried to convince me of the luxurious life a Saudi lives and attempted to hide away the poverty of most Saudis.  It has disrespected my intelligence by propagating its version of Islamic faith as the only true faith and attacking all other faiths including mine.

After discussing the issue of my Saudi identity with colleagues and friends, they usually fail to give me an answer to what this identity means to them.  Given their backgrounds, their identity is usually defined by their family, tribe or city/region.  It is never defined by a united nation that maintains their rights.  It is not the religious values that govern them and it is not a common set of traditional values that are, assumingly, shared between the communities.  One even dared to describe it as a “shameful origin”.  Through my discussions, I did hope to arrive at a justifiable reason to why I should fight for this identity and therefore be proud of.  Sadly, the only conclusion I arrived at is that a Saudi identity, to me, represents the disrespected diversity exemplified by living a lie.

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