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Politics or religion - do the nationals ask us about ours?

 
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JalanJalan



Joined: 15 Apr 2004
Posts: 5
Location: USA

PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2004 2:24 pm    Post subject: Politics or religion - do the nationals ask us about ours? Reply with quote

I spent time in Indonesia last year and was only asked once about our involvement in Iraq (I'm American). However, almost everyone I met asked me about my religion when we first met. The people were friendly so I didn't mind and had no negative reactions from the Muslims although I had problems explaining it.

I practice no organized religion. My mother is a born-again Christian and to someone who knows, my last name gives away the fact that my father (deceased) was a Jew. I'm not going there to spead my beliefs.

Most people whom I've met in this world are good. However, neither my nationality nor my dad's religion will engraciate me with the fanatics. Since it is the center of Islam and close to where we are at war, I was wondering if politics and religion are types of question that are asked of us? If so, are there any culturally sensitive polite ways of saying "It's none of your business"? Have you ever met any Jews working in Saudi?
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scot47



Joined: 10 Jan 2003
Posts: 12304
Location: Ultima Thule

PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2004 4:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

You will get questions about your religion. Best to sidestep them.

Also best to avoid talking abouit politics, Iraq, Palestine and all the rest.
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Bindair Dundat



Joined: 04 Feb 2003
Posts: 1123

PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2004 7:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think most people in the M.E. will assume that you are Christian. I suggest that you not disturb their sleep. If asked directly, I always say I am a Christian (in truth, I'm about as much of a Xian as I am a Martian) because saying that I am agnostic or atheistic just might cause an error, if not a crash, in their operating systems. I often frame it as something that's out of my hands, such as, "My family has always been Xian". That way they know right away there's no point in trying to convert me.
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12705
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2004 10:08 pm    Post subject: Touchy subjects Reply with quote

Dear JalanJalan,

Quote:
Have you ever met any Jews working in Saudi?


Probably - but I can't say for sure. The ones I think might have been/likely were Jewish sure didn't advertise it, and I never saw any reason to ask them. Scot 47's got the right idea - sidestep such subjects (the usual suspects: politics, religion, sex, forbidden items of food and drink, etc.) and, if really pressed, fib a bit. By the way, what did you put on your application for your job in Saudi Arabia? I put Roman Catholic on mine, though it's been many a year since I practised that religion or even considered myself to be one. Don't try "agnostic" or "Theist" (if either of those is even applicable) as an answer; that'll just get you in even deeper. And, if you're talking to the wrong person, could be unwise indeed. Some of your students may try to "revert" you; I've known colleagues who were angered by that, but I always considered it to be a compliment. They wanted to save my soul, so that meant they probably cared about me. I amassed quite a collection of pamphlets, books and tapes over the years (and I even read/listened to most of them). But, having done their duty of exposing me to the One True Way, almost all of them respected my decision not to "revert" (which is rather odd, actually, since once I knew "The Truth", thanks to their interventions, and rejected it, I suppose I was really doomed to perdition.)
Regards,
John
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khmerhit



Joined: 31 May 2003
Posts: 1874
Location: Reverse Culture Shock Unit

PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2004 10:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I had some refugee friends in Cambodia who tried to get me see the light. One of them was a complete nutter who was stuck there because every time he received some cash from his Japanese girlfriend, he blew it on hookers and booze, blowing at the same time any chance of departure. Then he would renounce his sinful ways and go to the mosque five times a day, talk about religion, etc etc, and even went so far as to give me a copy of the Koran so that I might see the way. I did appreciate that, it was nice, but I got the feeling the gesture had nothing to do with me. Anyway, soon enough the cycle would continue. We all go off the rails in Cambodia.
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Saudi4Ever



Joined: 25 Mar 2004
Posts: 130

PostPosted: Sat May 01, 2004 5:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting, very interesting. why is it that this group seems to be Attention Deficit? Seems we can never stay focused on the topic Confused

Anyway...why is everyone so weary about dialougue? this is the same board that complains about not having the oportunity to learn about the locals or get to know them. The best way to get to know them is by learning from them what it is they believe. If you avoid these discussions you miss out on a lot.

From our experience the Suadis are very social people. If they ask you what your religion is and you tell them then not many of them will be interested in knowing more about your religion. So you will not have to sit back and explain much. They will probably just give you a breif rundown of islam, some information material, or an invitation to some sort of gathering. I would accept the invitiation. It's fun.

My husband says its usually either a formal talk followed by a meal or light snacks, a 'istarahah' (one of the fancy tent parties), or a personal invitation to their home. My dh has attended all of them and really enjoyed himself. According to him the guest is not made to feel uncomfortable. he is usually shown islamic mannerism more so than being 'nagged' all night. Yes, islam will be brought up, but more time is spent eating, drinking, chai and gawa and chatting.

The same is for the women. Most of the women do not do hard core conversion. If your wives ae sitting with their wives the talk is usually centered around 'girl talk' and the westen woman will be the center of attention. again islam willcome up but usally indirectly. They may say, "we" or "my People" are good (after apologising for 911) and then go on to tell you some of the islamic teachings regarding such (mis)behavior and ask you how you like Saudi.

I think it's the bad attitude of most of the expats in their host country that can make any discussion go sour. If a muslim approaches you and ask your religion...tell them but leave the 'its none of your business' attitude. Be gracious and say thank you this was very informative and let them do all the talking if you are uncomfortable with sharing more about your religion. We are in their country. Learn something. Experience something. Ask questions. Get to know the people that you find so strange.

I have a neighbor. A Wsternerner, but I wont mention the coutry. She has no interaction at all with anyone. Not even the other westernerns. Her child is not allowedc to play with the locals or the other westernerns. He goes to school and comes home. After 2 years here, I saw her for the first time last week taking ut her trash. I said hello to her and she gave a quick hi and ran back in her house. I was warned when I first came that she was extremely unfriendly. If she is like this towards her own I can only imagine how she would react if a saudi woman approached her. God forbid they ask her what her religion is...she may have a panick attack.

O well...i'm sure you will all disagree. Stay in your shells if you like.
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Bindair Dundat



Joined: 04 Feb 2003
Posts: 1123

PostPosted: Sat May 01, 2004 5:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Saudi4Ever wrote:

I have a neighbor. A Wsternerner, but I wont mention the coutry. She has no interaction at all with anyone. Not even the other westernerns. Her child is not allowedc to play with the locals or the other westernerns. He goes to school and comes home. After 2 years here, I saw her for the first time last week taking ut her trash. I said hello to her and she gave a quick hi and ran back in her house. I was warned when I first came that she was extremely unfriendly.


Why would she want to talk to you? Look at the way you talk about her. I don't think I would want to talk to you, either.

Saudi4Ever wrote:
If she is like this towards her own I can only imagine how she would react if a saudi woman approached her.


Her own? Maybe she doesn't think of you as "her own". Maybe she thinks of you as an overly critical, self-righteous busybody, but I couldn't imagine why.

BD
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scot47



Joined: 10 Jan 2003
Posts: 12304
Location: Ultima Thule

PostPosted: Sat May 01, 2004 5:51 am    Post subject: Mammon, Yahweh and Allah Reply with quote

I agree with some of what saudi4ever says but I would not accept an invitation to a "reversion" party any more than I would go to a revivalist meeting in the USA if my hosts there tried to persuade me to go.

Do you think for one minute that your Saudi friends would accept an invitation to attend a Baptist service or a Roman Catholic mass ? The idea of reciprocity in matters of religion is foreign to them. If in doubt just consider the rules on marriage between Christians and Muslims.

As for expats here you have to accept that most of them are focussed on one thing - MONEY. Anything that interferes with the worship of Mammon is avoided. And that can include having any acquantainces or friends that might involve them in spending a halala.


Last edited by scot47 on Sat May 01, 2004 4:23 pm; edited 1 time in total
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12705
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Sat May 01, 2004 1:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Saudi4Ever,
I reread all the posts before yours on this thread and I'm darned if I can see what you're objecting to here. I can't believe that you'd think it a good and wise policy to encourage "dialogue" on matters that most who've been in the Kingdom for a while would recognize as being "sensitive topics". Oh, I've certainly known a good number of Saudis for whom a discussion about religious differences/preferences wouldn't necessarily entail any unpleasant consequences, but heck, such topics can be "touchy" even among people who may share the same "basic faith" (i.e. Christians of different denominations, Sunnis and Shi'ites), so why would anyone want to go out of their way to engage in that sort of "dialogue"? When I'm talking to a "fervent Christian" back here in the States, I'm NEVER very comfortable when the subject of religion comes up, as is the case if I'm speaking with a fervent Republican and politics rears its ugly head. Why? Simply because I know my opinions/ideas are radically different from those of the other person and I also know that many people can get very excited/upset when "discussing" such topics. So I ALWAYS have to "monitor" what I say in order to avoid possibly/probably offending the other party. And that is NOT my idea of a "fun conversation".
Sorry, Saudi4Ever, but I think you may be "leaning over a little too far backwards" to be "sociable" (and, incidentally, you may actually feel "proud" of being "different" from those other "stand-offish, insular" Western ex-pats). Well, that's entirely up to you, of course, and I hope it continues to work out well. But I'll stick to trying to avoid such potentially touchy subjects no matter where I am, in the belief that, sooner or later, some unfortunate consequences are sure to transpire.
Regards,
John
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shadowfax



Joined: 31 May 2003
Posts: 212
Location: Pocket Universe 935500921223097532957092196

PostPosted: Sat May 01, 2004 4:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Her own? Maybe she doesn't think of you as "her own". Maybe she thinks of you as an overly critical, self-righteous busybody, but I couldn't imagine why." BD[/quote]

Indeed, Mr. Dundat.
And rather than with the expositor Rolling Eyes , I should prefer even to hold converse with an inhabitant of Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, a play that seems most germane to the context under consideration.
regards,
shadow.
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Cleopatra



Joined: 28 Jun 2003
Posts: 3657
Location: Tuamago Archipelago

PostPosted: Mon May 03, 2004 2:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting discussion.

I find myself sort of between the extremes of Saudi4Ever’s enthusiasm about being open with the “natives” and Scot’s “don’t’ mention religion” caution.

I must say I was often surprised at what I could get away with discussing in the classroom. I frequently had conversations with my students about such topics as religion, the driving ban, and even the “I word”. Mind you, I generally adopted the strategy of letting my students do most of the talking, and only rarely offering my own opinion. So perhaps it is going too far to call it a “discussion”. However, I do feel quite strongly that, by not mentioning “controversial” subjects at all, we are allowing misunderstandings and stereotypes to continue. That said, I do of course perfectly understand why ex-pat teachers and others would be reluctant to wade into what is still a potential minefield – we have our jobs to think about, after all!

Also, I should point out that my view on subjects such as Western policy in the Middle East of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, are in some ways not in fact all that different from those prevalent among many Arabs. Put it this way – I’m more likely to get into a huge argument over politics with one of my fellow “Westerners” than I am with many (though obviously not all) Saudis.

I think everyone has to decide for themselves the wisdom of entering into “controversial” discussions, bearing in mind how well you know your interlocutors, and how willing you yourself are to silently listen to views which you may well find bizarre. I remember reading somewhere about how the tendency is for Arabs, in a discussion, to only focus on those areas in which you, the foreigner, disagree with them, rather than on the points where you are in agreement. I have found this to be very true on many occasions – Saudis assume that just because you are “Western”, you are automatically pro-Israel and anti-Arab and anti-Muslim, and it takes very little to “prove” this to them, no matter how balanced you might consider your own views to be.

As for Saudi4Ever’s comment that “most of the women do not do hard-core conversion”, I am reminded of the many occasions on which my female students told me – in no uncertain terms – that, much to their sorrow, they were certain I would go to hell unless I became a Muslim. Sounded pretty ‘hard core’ to me, however well-intentioned.

And I agree with Bindair that the mere fact that you are both “Westerners” does not automatically mean that your neighbour has to consider you “one of her own”. Not that I am necessarily a big fan of your average “Western” ex-pat in KSA, as anyone who reads my posts is well aware, but I don’t believe that someone owes you friendship just because you are both “Westerners” abroad. It would be nice if it were that way – perhaps – but unfortunately it isn’t.
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Bindair Dundat



Joined: 04 Feb 2003
Posts: 1123

PostPosted: Mon May 03, 2004 3:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Cleopatra wrote:


I think everyone has to decide for themselves the wisdom of entering into “controversial” discussions, bearing in mind how well you know your interlocutors, and how willing you yourself are to silently listen to views which you may well find bizarre.


Hear, hear. You can impart more confidences while sitting around your living room with your favorite students than you can in class.

Cleopatra wrote:

I remember reading somewhere about how the tendency is for Arabs, in a discussion, to only focus on those areas in which you, the foreigner, disagree with them, rather than on the points where you are in agreement.


Hear, hear again. I think they may be focusing on points of contention because that's where they think the focus needs to be . After all, if you're going to spend all your time agreeing, why bother talking to foreigners?
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