My Five Years in Saudi Arabia

As many of you know I spent my early 30’s working in Saudi Arabia for Adnan Khashoggi, arguably the richest man in the world at that time.  The late 70’s was an exciting time there as the Saudi used their new oil wealth to modernize their country and turned to the West to aid in this project.  Roads, airports, schools, hospitals, etc., you name it and it was being built.  Companies from Europe, the U.S., Japan, Korea, were all there to compete for these lucrative projects.

To do the manual labor, workers were brought in from poorer Muslim countries such as Yemen and Pakistan.  It was a win for all, or though it seemed so at the time.  (More on that later.)

Saudi Arabia was, and is, ruled by the House of Saud.  The culture was, and is, like nothing I had ever known, and apparently little has changed.  Women cannot drive or go anywhere without their husbands.  In public their clothing can only reveal their face.  Being Homosexual or Transgender is not acceptable and punishable by death.

If you wanted to work there, you had to accept their culture, and to be honest it never bothered me.  It was their country and I was a guest.  This was obviously much harder if you were a woman and there were many Western women there with their spouses.  I understood their plight but would always remind them that it was their country and their culture.  No one was forcing any of us to be there.

Many of my Muslim friends became Westernized and immigrated to the West or simply lived by one set of rules when in Saudi and another when visiting or working in the West.  “When in Rome, __________________________”!

I have always felt lucky to learn about and experience different cultures.  For the vast majority of Muslims, their religious based culture works well for them.  Too many Westerners believe that Muslims need to embrace reforms, which will make their culture more like ours.  It’s never going to happen because they believe we are the ones who need to reform.

Islam is not only a Religion; it is a Political System with very strict laws derived from the Koran.  Being concerned about the huge influx of Muslims refugees does not make one a racist.

In the past many Muslim immigrants came seeking a new life and embraced our culture.  But that is not the case today.  Muslim immigrants fleeing their war torn Country have no intention of assimilating and accepting our Western Culture.  To the contrary, they are demanding that we accept their Culture which, as I said earlier, is like nothing I had ever experienced.

“Democracy”, “Separation of Church and State”, Equal Rights”, these are all beliefs they will not embrace.  And, just as I learned to respect their Culture, in return, I expect the same acceptance and respect from Muslims for our Culture.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “My Five Years in Saudi Arabia

  1. Peter Kitzerow

    What you wrote is so true, Dan.

    As a fifty-eight year old Caucasian male, who was born to immigrants in this country, I can really appreciate this truth. My dad was a German immigrant and my mom, from France. One of the most important values stressed in my house was that I was American. With the exception of rooting for the French Olympic team until the day she died, forty years after arriving in this country, my mother and especially my father cherished their life here and the privilege of being an American citizen. While I regret it to some degree today, my dad insisted that the only language spoken in our home was English.

    In junior high school and beyond, I was fascinated learning about the lives of people from other parts of the world, particularly the middle east. In those days, their culture, being so different from ours. They didn’t tell us then about the oppression of women and non-hetero people. My point is that I valued their culture and if I ever found myself visiting, or living there, I would respect their way of life. I am flabbergasted not just form them wanting us to change to their way of thinking and living, but more so by the apparent indulgence of many native born Americans who believe that we should.

    Thanks for your always insightful comments.

    Merry Christmas!

    Peter Kitzerow

  2. Amanda Lavandera

    Dan, I agree with what you said. I am glad you wrote that. It was a reminder that we are to respect other cultures when in their home. It should be the same in our home.

  3. Jeff Wain

    Thanks Dan,

    We in the Western World take so much of our good fortune for granted and we wish the same freedoms that we enjoy for all humanity. So we mistakenly assume that our inalienable rights would be valued and wanted by others, without fully understanding their history and beliefs.

    Whilst cultural diversity is healthy and desirable there is also an important need for respect of law and acceptance of social norms and behaviours in the host country. Ultimately a degree of assimilation and compromise is necessary to avoid conflict. Not easy given differing views on what is non-negotiable.

    The reality is that this will only become more important for humanity as the world shrinks and we realise that we have to cohabit on one planet.

    Despite the doomsayers I remain optimistic that only what is truly right (the self evident truths) will be sustainable over time.

    Interesting to draw parallels with the diversity of investment philosophies and the mounting evidence of what truly works.

    It is not what we don’t know that harms us, so much as the things we believe to be true which are false.

    Peace & Love.

  4. Jeff Buckner

    Well said Dan!

    • Ian Post

      Hi Dan,

      Maybe we need to start by asking what your definition of “racist” is. My definition is that someone either finds it acceptable or not acceptable to treat someone differently simply on the basis of the color of their skin or the religion that they practice. I will leave that to you to consider.

      Beyond arguing about whether someone is racist or not, the bigger issue is what are the values this country stands for. It’s not always going to be convenient to accept equal rights and separation of church and state. What has and will continue to make this a great country is that we will stick to those values even when it’s difficult to do so. Dan, your gifts of persuasion can be used to a better purpose then making baseless claims like “…they are demanding that we accept their Culture”. Really? Who have you met that is demanding that? The Muslims I know are just regular people. Same as you and me. Why don’t they deserve the same respect that we do?

      As a final point, I wonder what your thoughts are on where you see the issues between Islam and the Western world going. Do you think we can reduce terrorism from radical Islam by isolating Muslims in this country or would we be better served by working with the Muslim community as partners to root out and destroy the radical elements?

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