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In the shop next to my house, there is a home delivery service which is run by an Indian. He is a good man, hardworking and devoted to his job. I talk to him whenever he delivers something to my house and he talks to me about the time he spent working in Abu Dhabi and of his dream to live in London.
Last week I asked him to deliver a newspaper to my house. When he delivered it to me, he asked me whether I wrote in it. I told him that I did and he asked me to write about why young Saudis hate foreign workers, particularly Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. He asked, “Why do they throw rocks at us when they see us in the street?” He said that in India they were taught to love others because that is the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). I was moved by his words and promised him that I would write on the subject.
I took his question to my students and started a discussion in class. The students agreed that they had harassed foreigners, particularly South Asians, in the street. One said that seeing a worker in the street was a perfect chance for them to beat him up and then run away. Some admitted searching for foreign workers to beat up, throw eggs at and generally abuse. I asked my students why they behaved in this way, what was the reason. Some said it was just fun, nothing more or less. Some said it was because those people were weak and unable to fight back. Some said that their favorite pastime was to catch cats, kill them and skin them. I was shocked and disturbed by all this violence and wondered what was causing it.
The classroom discussion ended but my questions would not go away. Is this violence only committed by children or can we see it at other levels in other forms? How do older people deal with foreign workers? Do the workers feel that we respect them? Sadly, the rude and sarcastic way we often refer to them sprang to my mind. Can such relationships be called humane? Are they based on equality? Are they in keeping with the tenets of Islam?
Do we adult Saudis who sponsor and employ foreigners fulfill the conditions of their contracts — which both we and they have signed? How many housemaids never get a day off?
I remember a worker in the school where I work who was on the job every day and who had not been paid for six months. I remember another unpaid worker who asked humbly and politely for his dues and received nothing but curses and insults. It seems to me that our children’s violent behavior has its origins and roots in the behavior and attitudes of adults. My Indian friend’s question should have thus been directed toward all ages and not just at the young.
Are these things related to education? Can we blame this shameful behavior on a lack of education? The answer came all too quickly to my head. I remembered one of my colleagues, a teacher who belongs to a certain tribe. He believes that a student lacking a tribal name is a man with no roots and hence of no importance. Then I remembered a preacher who visited the school after 9/11 and warned the students against dealing with non-Muslims. I also remember a sheikh in a mosque who would not allow a foreigner to pray next to him — simply because the man was not Saudi.
It is not difficult to come up with examples of our relations with people in our country who belong to different religions and cultures. And I will not discuss our own relations with other Saudis. Many of us will not allow our daughters to marry someone just because he is from a certain place or because, for some reason, we look down on him. Behind all these examples are beliefs and thoughts toward “others” which glorify us and our egos and degrade them and theirs. Such a situation is fertile ground for the idea of hate and infertile ground for the idea of love.
Those brought up to love people will not throw rocks at them and curse them. Those brought up to love people will not degrade those who are different from them? Where is love in our lives? Has it given way to hate? What answer can I give my Indian friend? Is he going to understand that it will take a long time to change this culture of hate? I do not think that it will be easy since so many of us do not want to and so many believe they are unique and the best in the world. I remember when I was in England last summer, arriving at the front door of the house where I was staying. I saw a little girl standing outside the house next to mine. I wondered if she would curse me or throw stones at me or whether she would just look away in disgust. Instead, she carried on watering the flowers in the small garden; then she looked up and waved at me, with a big smile on her face. Could that have happened here?
(Posted on March 28, 2006)