Saturday, January 8, 2011

In the Name of Security, the Most Stifling, the Most Devastating

For the past few days, I have been hearing about the Ministry of Culture and Information here in Saudi and how a new law has been released. It restricts people living in Saudi, especially Saudis themselves, from writing whatever they want online. Saudi Jeans has a pretty good summary of the details.

Every time I have been to Saudi, I have seen censorship. In a sense, it was only a matter of time before the internet was targeted, too. People have already gotten in trouble for things they have done either on their computers or on their mobile phones, so this is just solidifying what certain groups here want to do: hold the Saudi population tightly in their grasp.

Of course, as with every form of censorship, it is done in the name of security. It is done for "protection." Already, several websites here are blocked for this very reason. Tell me, why does PostSecret need to be blocked? What harm is it truly causing me?

Really, guys? PostSecret?

PostSecret isn't the only blocked site, of course. Some sites I cannot get to are SomethingAwful, SpikeTV, Moviefone (not that I really need it), and ANY link that uses tinyurl. It's not just about annoyance - I can totally live without those sites! It is irritating but it also denies us a basic human right. I know people in the US are going to point the finger at me and shout "LIBERTARIAN!" when I say that the government doesn't need to police every damn thing I do on the internet, but seriously, the government does not need to police every damn thing we do on the internet. This isn't only about "protecting" me from what I see, either. This is also about "protecting" others from what I say. What we all have to say is so important, so valuable, that others are afraid of it.

There are so many countries who are trying to "protect" me from danger and "protect" others from me. They instill fear in others and create paranoia. All I have to do is think about international travel and I have plenty of examples of how so many people have been harassed - all in the name of security! Think about the TSA scandals we have been hearing about in the US lately. These cases display the mistreatment of so many people! I also remember hearing about how the Vagina Monologues was banned at a religious university. Apparently, it is to "protect" the students and preserve values. What it is doing instead is protecting a potential audience from hearing about the experience of women around the world. Apparently, hearing the voices of these woman is a security risk. It's completely out of hand, just like this law from the MOCI.

There is one thing that especially irks me. The new law states that Saudis cannot write blogs without prior registration, although foreigners can. The reason I wanted to start blogging in the first place was due to brilliant Saudi minds within Saudi who wrote about their experience. They are the ones who are more likely to write a knowledgeable post about the truth of what happens here. I have read many amazing blogs written by foreigners living here too, but why allow only one voice? This doesn't make sense! I guess the "protection" we are getting is from a certain type of truth; a whole group's reality - just like the banning of the Vagina Monologues.

There are many people tweeting, writing, and trying to fight this. I applaud them for their dedication to the right of free speech. To my friends reading this, I just want to make you more aware. Especially for those reading from countries where you can get everything from porn to news to celebrity gossip without a second thought; from countries where you can write a whole article about how your country's leader looks like an elephant or about how very ugly that girl in your calculus class is -  there's a world out there that doesn't make the same kind of sense.

Friday, January 7, 2011

How Bananagrams and Riyadh Saved my Family

I have been in Saudi for ~13 days now and this experience should have been Hell.

First of all, I am leaving a country I became a hermit in every summer since I started undergraduate university. I'm leaving people behind and seeing how my parents' departure is affecting people that they knew; people who cared for them.

Secondly, as we are moving out, I have to sort through all my things and pack them into boxes. I have absolutely hated packing ever since I was little and I find myself avoiding the task every time I have to do it. It stresses me out even thinking about putting things in boxes. I have been procrastinating since I got here and have made little progress. It doesn't take a leading psychoanalyst to tell you what's going on there!

Despite these things, it hasn't been Hell. It has been nowhere near the terrible experience I thought it was going to be. I am going to take a huge leap forward and say that this time in Saudi might be the best time I have ever had.

There is a sense of freedom in the house and everyone is much more lighthearted than usual.

There may be no TV and fewer trips outside the compound (or even outside the villa), but I rarely feel bored.

I may be waking up at 4pm or later every day but I never feel that the day is wasted.

You may see me online all the time, but this time I don't feel like it is taking me away from my family.

My best friend can account for the pure hatred and distaste that I feel for board games and the like. I also feel very uncomfortable in "family" situations, because I don't belong to the lovey-dovey family that kisses and hugs and wants to play board games together. I'm fine with both of those facts and cannot imagine my family life to be any other way. Isn't it ironic that it is in Riyadh where I actually find myself enjoying playing Bananagrams with my sister and Mom while my Dad listens to comedy music of the 60s (Allan Sherman's Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah to be exact)?

In person, I am kind of quiet and introverted. I sound like a stoner and usually have a very blank, unreadable stare on my face. I listen more than I talk, and when I do talk I tend to say awkward things or mix up words because I tend to think in several languages at once. I don't show my feelings. I don't think that my family realises that I'm having a good time here, but I really am. I cannot express it with my voice, but I think I can express it in writing. This is why, sometimes, I wish I could type everything!

I'm not super happy and jumping for joy about leaving Saudi, but I am not angry that we are moving out of here. I am starting a new chapter of my life, one which does not have Saudi as a base of operations. It's a confusing and stressful time. For once in my life, I don't see it as a new chapter in my life alone - I see it as a new chapter for the family. I never used to think in terms of family...

Riyadh has never been Hell for me, although it has been for other people and I am well aware of that. Riyadh is a strange, kind of crappy place. It is constantly under construction, it is sandy and dry, it is where bureaucracy is King and Queen, and it is segregated by gender. The most wonderful thing in the world is that it is the place where I found myself finally becoming closer to people who I have known my whole life. To explain how that worked out, I think I'd need to write a whole book.

I'll always be grateful to Riyadh. I'll always be grateful to Saudi. And now, I can say I will always be grateful for what it has done for me and my family.

[Dang, this kind of feels like a movie ending to a post. Does Pixar wanna pick this story up for a movie? They could turn my family and I into animals, or robots, or toys, whichever one they want (preferably robots)! I could deal with my life being turned into an animation. Pixar rocks.]