I REALLY wasn't that surprised when I read that the Saudi Ministry of Education had ordered all private schools in the kingdom to erase all images of pigs and musical instruments, but I was saddened. Yet one more news story to further stir anti-Saudi sentiment around the world, I thought to myself.
After living in Saudi Arabia for 20 years and having to work around censorship when I worked as a reporter and editor at Arab News, I was used to having to change JERUSALEM in a dateline to OCCUPIED JERUSALEM and censoring pictures of female celebrities that showed too much skin. We eventually stopped using OCCUPIED JERUSALEM a few years ago and reverted back to just plain JERUSALEM. As for censoring pictures, we went through a period of about four years when our editor in chief was the late Islamist Dr Abdul Qader Tash, who didn't like to shake the hands of female staff members and insisted we obliterate any hint of cleavage or too much leg of Hollywood stars. That later changed after he left Arab News, with the comeback editor Khaled Al-Maeena telling us if we couldn't use a risque picture without Photoshopping it to dump it and find another one.
I hardly think that children seeing pictures of pigs will suddenly produce hunger pangs for bacon and sausages. And what is this Wahabi obsession against musical instruments?! You would think they were the Devil incarnate. The truth though is that many, many Saudis love all types of music, and there are many underground (or semi-underground) Saudi bands that play everything from pop-rock to heavy metal.
It is unfortunate that news like this gives the distorted perception that all Saudis are long-bearded religious fanatics, foaming at the mouth at the mere mention of pigs and guitars. Of course, the reality is very different, and Saudi society is much richer and varied than the fanatics would ever want you to believe.