Its about time! this is potentially the best book I have read on ‘The Kingdom’ & delivers a remarkable exposure into this secretive, routinely self-misrepresenting “ultraconservative theocratic autocracy”. With immense finesse & substantive diplomatic tact, author Nicola Sutcliff – & over 28 Saudi women from a vast & varied pool of social positions – render a brilliant intra-exposé.
Politically speaking, this is precious journalism on this austere & exclusively aberrant nation, but it also has profound sociological & humanitarian depth & could easily be read solely for anthropological/psychological studies & human drama. The extraordinary circumstances of this rogue country, are of course in even greater extremes should you be a woman, & amplify even further should you be an immigrant of ‘low standing’ in this restrictive & frequently harsh country. So its just as well that this book deals with resident women, almost all of them Saudi (the two exceptions being a Somali & Filipino immigrant), in exclusivity. Saudi Arabia’s extreme exceptionalism & exhaustless impunity, bestowed by the western world, remains utterly unprecedented & inexplicable, bar only Israel. The west’s immensely contradictory tolerance & grotesquely hypocritical assistance to this supposedly fundamentally opposing entity is one of the greatest fallacies and central lie towards purported core ideals & values, all of which are obliterated in totality by the actions, ideology & conduct of this regime. Abject oppression, mass public executions by decapitation, torture, arbitrary detention, state censorship, absolute tyranny, slavery & domestic bondage, hardline Wahhabism & Sharia law, unparalleled gender based prejudice/restriction that all flourishes unchecked & unrestrained under a de-facto “they may be bastards, but they are our bastards” mutual consentience. Saudi also continues to be the cradle of Islamic terrorism across the world, from Nigeria, Mali, Pakistan, Somalia, the Philippines, the Caucasus, Afghanistan, the Middle East & Central Asia, plus all internationally active Islamic terrorist organizations including of course the notorious ISIL, Al Qaida, Boko Haram & Al Shabab to name but a few. Although its almost D-listed in the popular media, Saudi Arabia has also paid out compensation to thousands of US citizens who are relatives of victims of the 911 Twin Towers attacks (or survivors injured from the incident), as it is officially recognized & acknowledged that officials in the Kingdom had at least prior knowledge, sympathy for the WTO attacks of 911 by both countries (Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act or JASTA). Jamaal Kashoggi, journalist & critic of the Saudi regime in an American publication (& a US citizen) was lured & butchered by a Saudi assassination squad in The Kingdoms Turkish embassy, & the s(h)itting US president has publicly covered up & protected the Kingdom from any repercussions & responsibility. These are all irrefutable demonstrations of the US’s (& the wider 1st world communities) true motivations, priorities & ‘values’ & the barely-believable mega mendacity of a freak like US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who regularly spumes himself into a foaming percolation of farce about Iran’s “bloody terror” in public statements of such overt absurdity, you feel that he is talking about Saudi Arabia but foisting the descriptions of its actions onto Iran in some kind of bizarre & ridiculous identity swap & false-supplanting of guilt & culpability which gets more & more insane by the minute.
Queens of the Kingdom does not venture into the terrorist/war crime spectrum, choosing rather to focus entirely on the given subject of women & their experiences in Saudi society. Saudi’s origins are worth attention (consider also that the country was only founded in 1932). consisting of the Bedouin, a remarkable group of desert nomads who managed with incredible ingenuity to thrive in one of the most inhospitable environments on earth. These amazing people are sadly being phased out by “modernization & development” & much of the old skills, culture & ways of living are gradually being lost to modern stupidity & urban failure like much of our degraded & homogenizing planet & species. Within the book, the author interviews a series of elderly Bedouin women who give amazing accounts of an ancient life & culture. There wisdom & humanity is very inspiring & says so much about the ignorance of our age & the values, freedoms & qualities eroded in the pursuit of modernization & the globalized paradigm. For anyone interested in the Baath or Arab culture, this book & these women’s voices are of great relevance & resource. I was surprised at the level of candidness. Unique phenomenon’s that have emerged in such a profoundly restricted environment are also detailed. The profusion of substitutional female homosexuality & its boyat subculture, which is quietly ignored despite the country having a death penalty for homosexuality. Being a woman in Saud is no fuckin’ joke! Hearing what they think & how they live in such a blatant phallocracy & enduring or outmaneuvering such prejudice is pretty amazing. They’re certainly not all cowed, with some demonstrating great strength, stoicism & temerity in the face of tremendous adversity. This is a brilliant piece of journalism & extremely informative reporting on this guarded subject. It draws a lot of similitude to the excellent City of Lies-love sex death and the search for truth in Tehran by Ramita Navai in its disclosure of hidden or unreported societal workings & the people that reside in largely undocumented districts. Nicola, a linguist, teacher & writer who spent four years teaching at a woman’s university in Saudi from 2014-2017 has done something marvelous with this research & documentation. The books layout, design & illustrations are also superb. Quite the triumph.
Nicola Sutcliff – 2019 – Simon & Schuster – 368 pages