In the 1980s and '90s, my stepfather worked in Saudi Arabia for a total of eight years as a project engineer with the Fluor Corporation, or Fluor Daniel, or various incarnations thereof. My mother, who has never been one to just sit at home and play dutiful housewife and hostess, took a part-time job at the US Consulate for a portion of their time in the Kingdom. My half-siblings went to Dhahran American School through ninth grade, before shipping off to their respective boarding schools in Europe.
The stories my family members tell of living in Saudi could fill a book or two (and numerous blogs like this one); several expats have published books about expat life there. One can summarize it this way: There are good reasons that engineering and construction firms would pay engineers double to work in Saudi. For most, though certainly not all, the experience is generally unpleasant, made bearable by the company of other miserable expats and third-country nationals one might encounter.
Even with all their stories, I learned a thing or two from reading Medea Benjamin's slim but powerful work Kingdom of the Unjust. The biggest learn that comes to mind concerns the Shi'a Muslim population in Saudi. I had been aware that Sunna Islam is the only religion one may legally practice in the Kingdom—which is why, for example, greeting cards for non-Muslim holidays must be secular af, and you'd better not put up a Christmas tree. However, I wasn't aware of the size of the Shi'a demographic, estimated at 10-15% of the 30 million Saudi subjects. The experts can only estimate, based on surreptitious surveys, because one may not be Shi'a out loud in the KSA. Most of the Shi'a live in the oil-rich Eastern Province, where my family lived.
It's not the Saudi royal family's Sunni affiliation that leads them to such religious stringency, but the Wahhabi strain of Sunna that the royal family has embraced since before the kingdom was founded. Without understanding the precepts of Wahhabism, one cannot hope to understand the Sauds' relationship with the US, Israel, Iran, or their own people.
I managed to keep my Goodreads review (see below) rather brief, but you can read some more extensive reviews here. One can also check out World Beyond War's David Swanson's review on Counterpunch.
Here's what Medea Benjamin does quite well: She describes, without resorting to panicky hyperbole or histrionics, the history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its relationship with the United States since its formation in the 1930s. That history includes the al-Saud family's embrace of Wahhabism and imposing this interpretation of Sunn'i Islam not just on the kingdom's subjects, but also the millions of workers brought in from other countries for menial labor (who are frequently ripped off and abused) and any Westerner who ventures outside his or her corporate compound.
Blogging Sporadically since 2014
Here you will find political campaign-related entries, as well as some about my literature, Houston underground arts, peace & justice, urban cycling, soccer, alt-religion, and other topics.