Storm in a Tea Cup Over BMI and Bibles? Perhaps

THE BRITISH press has riled up anti-Saudi Arabia sentiment yet again by reporting about a British Midlands International (BMI) flight attendant who is taking the airline to an employment tribunal after the airline allegedly banned her from carrying a Bible into Saudi Arabia. The story in the Daily Telegraph says the female flight attendant (the paper uses the old and sexist term “stewardess”, which I thought had been jetissoned years ago) is extremely religious and carries her Bible everywhere with her. She was supposedly told by BMI to ditch her Bible or be switched to domestic flights, which would mean in cut in salary.

BMI denies telling any of its staff that they cannot bring in Bibles with them into the Kingdom, but also says that it expects all of its staff to respect and obey local regulations in any country that they fly to.

I think BMI probably did tell its staff to avoid carrying bibles with them, but that it could not outright ban them because of freedom of religion rights in the UK and European Union.

A Saudi colleague of mine at work scoffed at BMI banning bibles, saying “I have three Bibles at home, one of them in Arabic! I don’t think they would take a single Bible, if it was for personal use.” Maybe, maybe not.

The Kingdom is unfortunately not a champion of freedom of religion, and has been known to confiscate bibles in the past off of incoming pasengers at airports. The religious police here also regularly raid underground prayer services held by foreign Christians in the country and imprison the participants and deport them.

Yet I should note that Saudi Customs now X-ray all incoming luggage and do only spot hand checks of arriving passengers’ baggage. Thus I find it highly unlikely that they would find a single Bible, unless the BMI flight attendant was waving it around the terminal and trying to convert customs officers.

This in contrast to Saudi Customs practice in the past where they used open every passengers’ bags and go through every single book, magazine, video and music CDs one by one. I still remember them tearing out “offending” pages of my GQ magazine in front of my eyes because they contained pictures of scantily-clad women. Thank God, those days are over!