Malise Ruthven

  • The Helen Smith Story by Paul Foot and Ron Smith
    Fontana, 418 pp, £1.95, February 1983, ISBN 0 00 636536 1

Lawrence was attracted to Arabia by what he called ‘the Arab gospel of bareness’, as well as by his desire to play the Middle East version of the Great Game. The present generation of adventurers are simply there for the money. The doctors and nurses, teachers and businessmen, truck-drivers and skilled workers who flock to ‘Saudi’ in search of markets or higher incomes would be the last people to dress up in Arab costume or to subject themselves to the austere rules of the desert. Unfortunately the Kingdom is obliged – at least publicly – to live by the puritanical Islamic traditions from which the ruling family derives its legitimacy. Under normal circumstances the Saudis are content to turn a blind eye on forbidden infidel activities, providing no Saudis are ‘corrupted’. Europeans may brew their home-made hooch, and discreetly indulge in extra-marital sex, so long as they remain in their hotel rooms or compounds, though technically these are crimes punishable by imprisonment, flogging or worse. When Abdul Aziz became king after conquering the Hejaz in 1926, he allowed Jeddah’s foreign community to import alcohol openly: he was forced to end this concession when the British consul, who used to serve drinks to his Saudi guests, was shot dead by a drunken young prince. Since then alcohol has been banned completely, and high-living Saudis must indulge in their black-market whisky, along with their pirated ‘blue’ videos, in the privacy of their own apartments.

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