Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Crime, what Crime?

The folks at Tash Ma Tash did it again. Today's episode: Crime in Saudia.

I've proudly proclaimed to vast amounts of people "I feel safer in Saudia than in any western city". For the most part I still stand by that statement. I've been in and out of the country for the past few years and apparently, things have started to change while I was gone. Car-jackings, robbing people at ATM's, gang-rapes, motorcycle muggers grabbing mobile's out of people's hands as they talk as well as traditional pick-pockets are in the papers almost daily. I think what is most shocking to people is the perceived escalation of such crimes at such a fast pace. Are these things still happening at a much lower rate than in any typical western country? Yes.

It didn't take long after entering England for us to be a victim of petty crime. In fact, it took only a few weeks. Several of our friends had their houses burgled and in one case, the thieves were in their bedroom as they slept. In four years time, several of our friends had been the victim of crimes in addition to us and I was even the target of a physical assault as I walked down the street pushing a small EttaMae in her stroller.

Now the comparison:

In the almost 10 years in Saudia I have never been the victim of a crime. I only know one person amongst ALL the people I know that have been the victim of a crime; my SIL had her purse picked as she was shopping in the souk, but didn't discover it till some time later. I've heard of some things going missing from the majlis* at my in-laws house several years before I went there, but keep in mind that normally the front door to the street, which is adjacent to the majlis door, is wide open most afternoons to welcome in visitors (and apparently some wayward teens). In the souk, the most advanced security system in the world is used as a theft deterrent: tarp. Tarp is thrown loosely over the merchandise as trusting shopkeepers leave their goods completely unattended as they go off to pray.

I've been taking walks with EttaMae almost everyday a bit before sunset to burn-off some of her boundless energy, just the two of us, me and my little girl, two lone vulnerable females. As I walk through the neighborhood I notice that like my at my in-laws, there are many houses with the front doors left wide open. I've noticed the way I feel as I'm walking as well. While in the west, I follow all the common sense rules I've been taught since childhood; use the buddy system, don't walk alone at night, check under your car from a distance before you get in case someone's waiting under your car to ambush you, hold your keys or pepper-spray in a ready position in case you need to use them. I'm always "battle-ready" when I go out and to describe me as alert is an understatement. However, I've never yet had that feeling here. You couldn't pay me enough money to walk alone past abandoned urban construction sites in the west, what better place to lay in wait for a potential victim and then than that! I don't have that same feeling of foreboding here as I walk past the several unfinished houses that line my path.

I'd be in denial if I claimed that crime doesn't happen here and I don't need to hear about so-and-so who had this-and-that happen to them in Saudia. I know bad things happen here. And I don't need any smart-alecks trying to turn the comments-section into discourse on terrorist boogiemen…those kinds of attacks are very few in comparison to the thousands of heinous murders and assaults that occur daily in western cities. I used to live in the (at that time) murder capital of the U.S. and there were two murders and a hostage situation that happened in the vary apt. building that I lived in (during the course of two years). But Alhamdulillah (thank God), although things like this happen in Saudia, they are so few and far between that everyone in town knows about it when it happens. And don't bring up the hand-chopping thing: DD says he hasn't heard of anyone getting their hand cut off since he was little and attributes this lack of an effective deterrent to the ever-increasing crime-rate.

So as my western readers check the locks on their doors and windows, turn on their alarm systems and make sure the motion detector light is working before they go to bed, know that many of us here in Saudia still have our doors gaping open. Naïve? A bit, maybe.


Burgundy said...

Ok question: Do you have 'freinds' in Saudi? People you can visit easily once a week and that you can TALK TALK TALK to?


Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

burgundy- we have the SBB, the "Sunday Bitching Brigade". We get together at least once a week during the school year, but I wouldn't say "easily". That's due to the fact that at least one of us is usually delayed or can't come because the husband can't take her. We do a lot of talking a even more eating.

Sprite said...

I used to feel threatened all the time out and about in Saudi Arabia, as a western female. Until I opened my eyes a bit and realized that there really wasn't a 'terrorist boogieman' or psycho mutawas around every corner.

On a personal security note -Wearing an abaya (my lovely favourite designer abaya - how I loved it and wish I could still wear it!) may have helped. I felt more comfortable and respected when I wore it. Most western women living in the Eastern Province seem to hate the idea on principle, but I just didn't see that it was such a big deal.

I agree - Saudi Arabia does feel safer than the West. You just don't feel you have to hang onto your handbag the way do at here!

Could it have something to do with freedom of the press to report crime? In Saudi Arabia it's kind of a no-no to admit there are any social problems. And whilst I much prefer the openness of the West, I think there's a tendency to accept things as well as admitting to them - we hear so much about crime in the West that it's become more acceptable, less shocking. In Saudi Arabia there's a healthy sense of outrage when something bad happens, because people don't expect it.

Anyway, that's just what's popped into my head this morning. Time to do some work!

fxplayer said...

No, in reality Saudi Arabia is not as safe as the official message the government want to send to the rest of the word.

The government for many decades (70s, 80s, 90s) have been hidding the true criminal rate until the explosion of the media in the middle east and the spreading of the internet in Saudi Arabia. The government then feeled that they have to be more transparent otherwise they would be like someone talking and living with himself only and they will lose more credibility eventually.

Check myblog:

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

sprite- I'm glad you came to terms with the abaya I completely understand your comfort with it. Ask me how many lectures I've attended and school runs I drove while wearing pajamas under my abaya:-)

fxplayer- although I agree with your observation about past cover-ups, I have to say I think your way off if you contend that crime rates are even close to levels in the west. As the saying goes, "the proof is in the pudding". As I detailed in my post, I'm basing my opinion on personal experiences and didn't cite one government or news report. In 10 years time in Saudia only one person out of the dozens upon dozens I know personally was a victim of a non-violent, petty crime. In contrast, I know dozens upon dozens of people in England who were ROUTINELY victims of crime, both violent and non-violent including at least. My husband and I just now counted the amount of times we had to contact the police in England because something had happened to us (car stolen or broken into, one of us attacked)...10 incidents in 4 years just to us, personally. In Saudia, NEVER!!!!

The Queen said...

It sounds to me that you have lived in some pretty 'rough' towns in the 'west'. I don't care what country you live in, if you live in lower class, poverty stricken drug infested area you are probably going to come in contact, now and then, with people that do not respect you or your property. The vast majority of the United States does not fit that description though. I was born and raised in one of the 'murder capitals' (at one time anyway) and we never had to call the police for anything, we were never victimized, never had bars on our windows or alarms on our houses nor did any of our neighbors. I no longer live in that city but I am not that far away and I do routinely lock my doors at night before going to bed but I also know that if someone wanted in my house, those locks wouldn't keep them out yet I have never had a break-in. I know many many people that live in this wicked west that still do not even lock their doors. I feel completely safe to go out walking alone any time of the day or night. I might mention that I could also be wearing anything I want to wear. I am not a morning person and have been known to over-sleep and I couldn't tell you how many times I have driven my kids to school in my pajamas.

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

queen- I never claimed that the west is completely overrun by crime, I grew up in a U.S. town with virtually no crime.
My in-laws live in what would be considered by most, Saudi slums. There are ex-con drug addicts routinely arrested for intoxication living in the neighborhood and there are some very poor people around living in ramshackle houses. Even with that, no one i know is a victim of crime.
Although at this time I'm in a smaller Saudi town, we have friends and family living in all the largest Saudi cities who all have the same experience as well as spending time ourselves. None of my "big city" friends have been the victims of crime either.
That's the acid test for me:
western big cities=lots of PERSONAL experiences with crime and
Saudi big cities= NO PERSONAL run-ins with crime.
Is there crime? Definitely, I just read about some gangs in Mecca yesterday. I'm talking personal experiences.

The Queen said...

"So as my western readers check the locks on their doors and windows, turn on their alarm systems and make sure the motion detector light is working before they go to bed, know that many of us here in Saudia still have our doors gaping open"

Sorry, I felt that statement gave the impression that those things are a requirement in the west so I thought I would share MY 43 years of personal experience living here. So, I guess as far as my personal experience goes, the United States is a crime free country with the bonus of lots of personal liberties thrown in.

Carol said...

Good post my dear! I enjoyed last night's Tash ma Tash as well. In fact I asked my husband if it could have been based on a true story? Sadly in Riyadh crime does seem to be on the rise. I wrote about this topic on my own blog. We had friends who were robbed of anything of value while they were sleeping in their estraha just located on the outskirts of Riyadh! I also know of multiple cases where women have had their purses stolen or pockets picked while attending a mosque. Why do you think these petty crimes are on the rise? And whether studies have shown the increase to be in certain areas (like the bigger cities)?
Keep up your great posts!

Cairogal said...

I would guess that overall crime is lower in Saudi for the reason that no one really wants to endure the punishment.

Saying that, I do think it's under-reported in the regio as a whole-something about not looking bad and losing face. On the rise? For sure.

Open doors? I grew up w/ the doors unlocked during the day-we never feared (and thankfully never experienced) crime.

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

queen- had I stayed in the safe, small mid-western town that I grew up in instead of venturing to the "big city", my story would sound much like yours. The difference here is that even in the so-called "bad" neighborhoods like where my in-laws live, I'm still safe. I hope, God willing, you continue to lead a safe, happy life:-)

Carol- I remember that post and how it was similar to what had happened to our Saudi friends in England. Pocket picking seems to be what I hear the most about in the papers and from hearsay. The cause would depend on who you ask I suppose. DD claims lax punishments for crooks is the reason, others the rising unemployment rate coupled by inflation and irreligiousness and still others will blame it on rap music (sound familiar,LOL?)

Cairogal- Ack...punishment, shmunishment.It's no more that a smack on the wrist now (and not with a machete:P)
Wasn't it nice growing up where we did?

Amy said...

AA -

I live in an area I generally consider to be pretty low-crime. But I've been a victim of theft in particular on four separate occasions in 5 years.

I've had my car broken into twice--once my CD stash stolen, and a few years later the CD deck ripped out--on campus, in broad daylight. More recently I've had my bicycle stolen, and my wallet pulled out of my purse.

This is one person, four cases in 5 years... just petty theft, and I think I live in a very safe area. I don't feel unsafe walking around (except after midnight around convenience stores.)

I think "Daisy" is just saying that such petty crime is far lower in Saudi than here. For a lot of reasons, I'd like to think it is.

Michele said...

I don't think I'll ever get used to the abaya. It is convenient when in a hurry to get somewhere, you don't have to change your clothes. I find myself not dressing up as much because of it. Why do I need to dress up or match anything when I will cover up with the abaya?!
As far as crime in KSA, I really believe it is underreported. We live in a hospital compound and have had issues with theft. I even had an extra lock placed on my door before traveling this summer. Maybe our compound isn't reflective of the outside but I suspect it really is. I grew up in the Midwest in a large suburban area and of course we had issues with crime. In any big city it is inevitable. I expected it to be much different here. It's not.
The society here has crime, drug addiction and even HIV (anyone see the Tash episode on drug addiction?) I just don't think that it's being reported.
This is similiar to the belief that many Middle easterners have that there is less cancer in the Middle East than in the US. The incidence of cancer isn't less, it just isn't talked about as much or as well documented. If you don't talk about it, it doesn't exist!

brnaeem said...

AA- Daisy,

Great post. I totally agree with you. I've felt the same sense of serenity since I came here to Riyadh 4 years ago.

I find it simply amazing that I can walk by a group of youngsters in downtown Riyadh in the middle of the night and not feel the least bit threatened. And I can be with my wife no less.

I never ever felt such security in Baltimore or DC.

Saudi Stepford Wife-Daisy said...

Amy- Inshallah it will never get worse than this for you either:)

Michele- I hope I'm not going to sound like a racist right now, but many people blame the legions of underpaid SE Asian manual labor for all the thefts around hospitals areas. I was even warned on several different hospital stays to to guard my stuff, especially my mobile.

brnaeem- whoa, I'd sure hope you'd feel better here after having lived in DC!! I haven't forgotten about your question and should find out for you next month inshallah.

k said...

I lived in England for 27 years and was burgled once about 20 years ago. They took a cup. Which suggests it was stupid kids probably on a dare. They did not mess up the house or do anything else but I noticed because when I came home the door was open. Britain is not a center of crime.

Anonymous said...

well well let me inform u guys the crime rate in saudi(riyadh) has gone at height,its no more safer for a outsider to survive over here.everyday i hear some incident happng over here in riyadh.robbery,snatching,stealing cars,killing smone jst fr 100 - 200 riyals r sm facts haapng in riyadh this days.believe it or nt but the saudi police department has sent a mail to(i guess)evry offices,workshops,n maybe to the each n evry person staying in riyadh about the increasing crime n the precaution each must take.its nt safer anymore.in each area small or big rich or poor highly secured or ....... there is a group of around 8-10 criminals with guns knife n god knows wat else.i dnt know wat the goverment n the police is doin,all this criminals r none other than black saudi's its very as evryone has seen them,but still no action no arrest no inquiry n the goverment is sleeping.recently 1 incident 2 policeman at the checkpoint smwer in riyadh stopped a car ther was a man(53) n her neice(19) this officer's raped his neice n tortured tht man very badly no1 knows y,now tell me wer to go n who to trust.its difficult to survive.... riyadh is not the same as it was before.

Anonymous said...

I am loving your blog. This is true. I do lock my doors even when I'm inside but my husband thinks that's mad and wouldn't lock the doors at all if I didn't make him when I go out. (We live in New York City).

Anonymous said...

I meant to say he wouldn't even lock the doors when he goes out if I didn't remind him over and over.