I 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 The famous native flavor to the religious life here has been replaced by something of a different nature, the liberalness of practices replaced by a foreign rigidity.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.
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.
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?