Sunday, July 15, 2007

Saudi's Racial Divide

I was reading some of the comments on my previous entry on racial stereotyping when I realized that though I may have taken the lighter side of the issue I've never actually spoken of the ugly side. The side we see every day. The side that spouts this kind of ugliness (Crossroads Arabia).

For the benefit of any foreign visitors (Hellooooo? Anybody out there?) let me paint you the racial landscape around here. You can take a piece of chalk and draw a very clear line between the two major racial groupings here in Saudi Arabia. On one side we have Saudi Arabia's original inhabitants; the various Saudi tribes, collectively known by the un-PC term "Bedouins" due to their nomadic past. On the other side you have the "Hadar" (city dwellers), mostly descendants (though not entirely) of non indigenous people from all over the Islamic world.

The two sides loathe each other.

Most of this is just plain old human-pack-mentality invoked response (yes, I do believe that racism is a natural impulse), but its more than that. Like many things, economics play a vital role.

Before we discovered we had this expensive smelly black liquid running under our sands the playing field was mostly even here in Saudi Arabia. The professions market was more or less neatly divided between the two groups. The Bedouins, being either nomads or dwellers of agricultural areas, were mostly herders or farmers. The Hadar, being city born, were mostly merchants and craftsmen. Then came the oil drills and everything changed. Suddenly there was all this money floating around. Trade boomed. And as in all economic surges it was the merchants who benefited most. The Hadar became richer, and as a consequence their children got better education and later held all the important positions. The Bedouins took several generations to catch up.

Money is the root of all problems, they say.

Although most of the old merchant families are still Hadar, the economic divide is long gone. Yet old prejudices are hard to kill. If you believe the stereotypes then Saudis are either uncouth covetous barbarians or immoral thieving money bags. I don't know about you, but barbarians are definitely not exclusive to one side or the other and I seem to have misplaced my hoard of stolen gold. We (Saudis) either pretend that these tensions don't exist, or we play the finger pointing game and try to lay the blame at others' door steps. When in reality we should be pointing the accusing finger at ourselves. Both sides are equally to blame for prolonging the long standing hatred. Both sides have contributed equally into making this hatred ingrained in our sub-conscious.

As a child I was warned against playing with those naughty Bedouin children. A dear friend of mine has been taught by his elders that those sinful Hadar have stolen his legacy.

Do you have any idea what kind of an effect this sort of talk has on a growing child?

Yet I still see this invisible indoctrination happening all the time.

I would love to see the culture of tolerance (both racial and religious) being taught in schools. I would love to see a Bedouin marrying a Hadar without any eyebrows being raised. I would love for all the surnames, stereotypes, racial slurs, and blind prejudice be part of a history book that future generations would laugh at.

But first, let's start with ourselves.



Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

although you Hijazis may have it bad, I think the racial divide is much worse in the Eastern Province between Sunni and Shia. You can't belive the slurs I hear!

Saudi Jawa said...

That's true. I'm not too familiar with that aspect of racism, since the few Shia who do live in the Hijaz tend to keep a very low profile. Thanks for the heads up.

Marie-Aude said...

YEs foreigners are here... and reading your blog with a great interest !

أبو سنان said...

Good post. We are used to the raised eyebrows since I am a white guy married to a Hijazi lady who happens to be 1/4 Indonesian.

I have never gotten this whole thing, but I was raised outside of it. Like any other prejudice it is based on ignorace.

My SIL was called "Hijazi vomit" when she went to Riyadh to teach. Incredible.

I think in the home of Islam they ought to teach the non prejudicial nature of Islam a bit more.