Monday, April 18, 2016

The Saudi Religious Police

Saudi Arabia recently announced that it had stripped its religious police of its power to arrest people when carrying out its duties to enforce sharia, Islamic law. It's a subject I've researched and written about throughout my Sasha Del Mira espionage series—Trojan Horse, Sasha Returns, Arab Summer and my most recent novel, On Home Soil. The Saudi religious police, known variously by the names the Mutawwa’in, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (I’m not kidding), and Haia, enforce the strict rules of the Islamic code of behavior as outlined in sharia.

For example, the religious police will arrest women who are not "properly" clothed. That means not wearing an abaya—a formless black robe concealing any aspect of her anatomy—or a hijab—a head scarf covering her hair. Or caught driving a car. Or not accompanied by a male family member or husband; male friends or boyfriends won’t do. Or anyone, man or woman, caught drinking alcohol, using drugs or smoking tobacco in public. That’s not an exhaustive list.

What the new Saudi directive means is that the religious police will have to report those violating sharia to the police or the drug police instead of making the arrests themselves. It's not clear what that means in practical terms, but it doesn't sound like much of a change.

The Saudi regime, which has been led on and off by the Al Saud family for centuries, and which passes down its leadership exclusively through members of its royal family, was founded and is still firmly rooted in the Wahhabi sect of the Sunni Muslim faith. Wahhabism is an especially strict and reactionary interpretation of the Muslim religion, very similar to that of ISIS’ interpretation of it.

That's a scary concept, although the Saudi regime learned decades ago to pacify the Saudi masses with generous social welfare programs to keep the peace and tamp down any potential uprisings that could unseat them. That's also a fundamental element of my Sasha Del Mira series.

Lately, with the collapse of oil prices from over $100 a barrel in 2014 to the mid-20s per barrel in the first quarter of 2016, recently recovering only to the $40 per barrel level, the Saudi regime is under increasing pressure. It’s consuming its financial reserves to maintain funding of its social programs. That is it’s only means of keeping the average Saudi schlub from rising up against the Saudi royal family billionaires who live in the gilded Royal Palace and spend indiscriminately on anything and everything they want.

Think the Saudi 1% trying to placate Bernie Sanders by stuffing billions of dollars worth of caviar and fine French pate down his gullet.

So rather than looking at this recent curtailment of the powers of the Saudi religious police as a major social change, see it only as another means of the Saudi royals placating a restive Saudi public. A Saudi public that feels ever more oppressed by its elitist regime that’s been dominating the Saudi economy and culture for generations.

The situation isn’t stable.

It makes a good backdrop for thrillers.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Waiting for Jesse

Styles, our pitbull, has a high school friend, Jesse, who comes to play ball with him in the afternoons. Manette and I started hiring kids a few years ago from the Babysitters/Dog Walkers listing in a local newspaper. It’s worked out well, and over time we’ve had about a dozen come to the house after school a few days a week. At least that’s how it started.

For those of you who don’t know pitbulls, they’re working dogs who are incredibly energetic and athletic. They need to burn off energy or they come at you with their favorite form of working dog “work,” which in the case of Styles is balls. He’s obsessed with them. Somebody needs to throw them, play tug of war over them or say “What about that one,” and point to another to send him off to pounce on it after dropping the one in his mouth.

Styles quickly became accustomed to having captive playmates and so we needed to organize it on a daily basis. As I said earlier, we’ve had a dozen or so, but Jesse is his champion and he adores her like no other. She doesn’t talk on the phone, watch YouTubes or text with her friends; Styles gets her unqualified attention while she’s here. She strokes his head when she arrives, talks sweetly to him while they play, and blows kisses to him as she leaves.

Now it’s her job exclusively.

That’s Styles in the photo at left, waiting for Jesse at the front door.

I call him Mr. Clairvoyant, because he knows when it’s approaching 3:00 pm and he starts his vigil. Since Jesse recently got her driver’s license, she generally pulls into the driveway, opens the electric gate with the remote we gave her and comes in the back door. When Styles hears the gate opening he starts yelping and crying like he hasn’t seen her in weeks. The yard is fenced in because of the pool, so when Jesse pulls to a stop in the back we let him out to take a victory lap around the yard and greet her as she’s getting out of her car. On days we aren’t home because of appointments, she lets herself in with the key we gave her.

That’s her setup in the other photo at left. She prefers Earl Grey tea with sugar and cream and we usually leave her a cookie for herself and a treat to give Styles.

We know that eventually, like Nikki, Tina, Nico, Megan and the others before her, Jesse will get a job at the mall or go off to college. 

I have no idea what we’ll do when that happens, because Styles will be inconsolable. Maybe, like Manette says, we should just adopt her.