Unintended consequences

IMG_0200I posted about my friends’ loss of their fathers because I was thinking about Danish. He left the slum two weeks ago to work in Saudi Arabia. He will be gone two years. Away from his home, his family, his country. They saw it as the best option for Danish to begin to help the family get on their feet financially before his upcoming marriage.

Last year I wrote about Danish’s trying childhood circumstances in A Day in the Life of a Child Laborer. Danish lost his father at ten, began working 8 hours/day immediately and then upped it to 13 hours/day when he quit school at 13. Now in his mid-20s, the relocation to Saudi Arabia is just the next step in the same journey. Born into poverty, orphaned at a young age, slowed by congenital illness, yet with all the expectations of the eldest son (and for 15 years now the “man of the house”) on his shoulders. So he’s forced to go.

When I told Peregrine the news, her first words to me were, “What do you think he’ll be like when he comes back?”

Danish isn’t the first of my neighbors to make a go of it on the Arabian peninsula. The oil wealth that began flooding into the region 80 years ago has attracted foreign workers for decades.  Unfortunately, the region is as saturated with religious fundamentalism as it is with fossil fuels, and the strength of that message from a position of relative wealth and power can be difficult for some to resist. Many foreign workers who come back from the Gulf come back different. More rigid, more fundamentalist, more desirous to make the world in Saudi’s image.

This, of course, isn’t the reason that my impoverished neighbors choose to go to Saudi. And in reality most of them don’t change in this way. But some do, and it has an impact.

You see the same impact with the funding that comes here from oil money, funding used to build places of worship and religious schools and support religious teachers and preachers, all of whom are baptized into an ideology quite different from that which existed before Saudi money came into our region. Locals who have been here far longer than me have told us that you can see the changes over decades, over generations. The famous native flavor to the religious life here has been replaced by something of a different nature, the liberalness of practices replaced by a foreign rigidity.

In the last 20 years I have become engrossed in the study of history, especially the history of peoples and movements, and I am always struck by the depth of unintended consequences.

For decades we’ve funneled tens of billions of dollars into a country run by oppressive, regressive rulers. We’ve looked the other way while that money has been used to destabilize other nations, fund terrorist operations, or repress rights and freedoms for people around the globe. In fact, we’ve often sided WITH them in their violent attacks on other peoples, giving them strategic help and even weaponry and training, solely so we can maintain access to their oil.

Jamal Khashoggi and his fiancee Hatice Cengiz (photo courtesy Boing Boing)
Jamal Khashoggi and his fiancee Hatice Cengiz (photo courtesy Boing Boing)

Six months ago, the rulers of this country ordered the murder of a Washington Post columnist named Jamal Khashoggi. They sent a “kill team” to Turkey when they found that he’d be using the Saudi embassy there to get marriage documents for his upcoming wedding. The kill team grabbed him inside the embassy. He was bound, tortured, killed, and then dismembered, carried out in pieces.

They did all this because Jamal had dared to criticize the ruling family, and especially their devastating warmongering in Yemen.

When confronted with the fact of our “ally” torturing and murdering a journalist, our president chose to stand down. As we were about to send Saudi Arabia over $100 billion in weapons (weapons which they might use to kill impoverished Yemenis), Trump said:

“It’s a terrible thing. I dislike it more than you do. But the fact is … they create tremendous wealth, really tremendous jobs in their purchases and very importantly, they keep the oil price down.”

When asked who would be held accountable, he said:

“Maybe the world should be held accountable because the world is a vicious place. The world is a very vicious place.”


“My policy is very simple: America first, keep America great again and that’s what I’m doing,”

So a woman is without her husband, and a newspaper is without their coworker, and they’ll never even recover his dismembered body, and they can only imagine his final tortured minutes, because Saudi Arabia keeps the oil prices down. No one will be held accountable.

A Yemeni child  (photo courtesy Juan Cole of the Middle East Monitor)
There were much more difficult to look at photos of the victims of the war in Yemen. I couldn’t bear to post them. We just look the other way as children die. (photo courtesy Juan Cole of the Middle East Monitor)

Because Saudi oil makes our wealthy rich, and gives our middle class multi-car families, and keeps our war machine in business. And that’s too important to us to jeopardize it over measly issues like torture and assassination and thousands of dying children.

We choose wealth and ease over the cry of victims.

What would Jesus say to that?


Our oil addiction means my friend is gone for two years, and I don’t know what he’ll be like when he comes back. But that’s all okay, because they keep the oil prices low. And who among is isn’t guilty of participating in that racket?

Unintended consequences.

One thought on “Unintended consequences

  1. In a very ugly update that I didn’t know what coming, President Trump just vetoed a bill that was attempting to force him to end US involvement in the war in Yemen.


    President Trump has vetoed a bill Congress passed to end U.S. military assistance in the Saudi Arabia-led war in Yemen. In a break with the president, Congress voted for the first time to invoke the war powers resolution to try and stop U.S. involvement in a foreign conflict.

    Mr. Trump vetoed the measure Tuesday. Congress lacks the votes to override him. “This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future,” Mr. Trump wrote in explaining his veto.

    Congress has grown uneasy with the president’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia as he tries to further isolate Iran, a regional rival. Many lawmakers also criticized the president for not condemning Saudi Arabia for the killing of a Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi who lived in the United States and had written critically about the kingdom. Khashoggi went into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October and never came out. Intelligence agencies said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in the killing.

    The ongoing civil war has caused one of the biggest humanitarian crisis on the planet. According to the United Nations, a quarter of a million Yemenis have been facing starvation.

    House approval of the resolution came earlier this month on a 247-175 vote. The Senate vote last month was 54-46.

    Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, voted to end U.S. military assistance to the war, saying the humanitarian crisis in Yemen triggered “demands moral leadership.”

    Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, said that Mr. Trump’s veto “shows the world he is determined to keep aiding a Saudi-backed war that has killed thousands of civilians and pushed millions more to the brink of starvation.”

    Kaine accused Mr. Trump of turning a blind eye to Khashoggi’s killing and the jailing of women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia. “I hope my colleagues will show we won’t tolerate the Trump administration’s deference to Saudi Arabia at the expense of American security interests by voting to override this veto,” Kaine said.

    The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, acknowledged the dire situation in Yemen for civilians, but spoke out in opposition to the bill. McCaul said it was an abuse of the war powers resolution and predicted it could disrupt U.S. security cooperation agreements with more than 100 countries.


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