Saudi public opinions expressed on social media networks, as well as on satellite TV channels and in newspapers, appear to be defending arrogant and harsh ideas under the pretext that Saudi society is distinct and particular. There is a view that behaviors are being justified by what is in the Holy Quran or religious rules, labeling those who oppose these ideas as rejecting religious teachings.
Therefore, the belief continues that these ideas are not only mandatory to those who believe in them, but that everybody is obliged to abide by them. The strange thing is that this 'Saudi opinion' stresses its particularity while veering towards media openness, and the more it feels that public opinion identifies itself with this media space, the more it confirms its particularity and unique identity.
However, this media space is a hub for common humanitarian and cultural points of convergence, and has fewer differences. It sees this Saudi public opinion as one with its individualistic thoughts that particularly differentiate it from the other Gulf countries, despite many similarities to tribal structures, religion, politics and geography.
Setting public opinion loose
If you set public opinion loose without any confines, it would say that it feels closer to Afghan society in the days of Mullah Omar, than the Egyptian society it can be compared with.
The public opinion 'trend' I am discussing defends everything that is common and known in its society. It feels embarrassed when someone challenges the flaws in its society. That is why it accusing its critics of self-flogging, even if these flaws are criticized in all societies.
A very simple example is the phenomenon of violence against women. Our society has a good example to follow: the sayings and rules of our Prophet: “The good ones among you, don’t hit them.” Also, his wife Aisha said that he “never hit a servant or a woman.” Nevertheless, there are those who still defend bad behavior and neglect noble ethics, as they see in their opinion their own justifications.
Bad habits in the society, especially intolerance, do not have any justification in the Quran or religious teachings, but the stubbornness of hardliners means they keep saying that their opinions are a direct application of the holy book.
Even if their deeds oppose their words, such people say they are Muslim and proud to be Muslim, even if they lie, cheat and abuse their powers.
Saudis are even making jokes about their contradictions. I received a joke about a Saudi student who entered an exam room, read a verse of the Quran, then a famous prayer, before taking out a cheat sheet! And a receptionist was asking a Saudi man: “How can I help you sir?” He answered: “Don’t call me sir, as this is the title of non-believers. Call me Sheikh or Hajj, as I am Muslim!” The receptionist said: “Ok Hajj, how can I help you?” The Saudi man asked: “Where is the bar?”
*This article was first published in al-Hayat on Dec. 31, 2012. Link: http://alhayat.com/Details/469175
(Dr. Badria al-Bishr is a multi-award-winning Saudi columnist and novelist. A PhD graduate from the American University of Beirut, and an alumnus of the U.S. State Department International Visitor program. Her columns put emphasis on women and social issues in Saudi Arabia. She currently lectures at King Saud University's Department of Social Studies.)