Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Social Distortion - a reader complaint

I thought I'd share an interesting email from a reader about a recent post I made, the one highlighting a big story in the UK media about a British MP and the many times he has stayed in Oman.

I think the comment highlights a real problem in Oman, one that also relates to the big, big problems many in this culture seem to have with the very concept of free speech. The issues (see below) some people might have with the article (and my subsequently bringing this overseas story to your attention) are real, and strongly felt. Some might even feel insulted, angry, and/or confused as to why anyone would even think to say such things, and even worse, to act upon such thoughts and publish them.

Fair enough.

But.... Free Speech quintessentially implies sometimes listening to other people when they say things you disagree with. Perhaps strongly. And perhaps even worse, seeing or reading or hearing things that occasionally one might find exceptionally offensive.

As its often said, Stalin was a great fan of free speech, as long as you only said what he agreed with.

How does Oman address this problem, while the Government are attempting to expose more and more of the population to the outside world, tourists, the Internet, and many Omani experience a severe reaction to many of the things they - as a result - see and hear?

(to Undercover Dragon)

This piece of news is in bad taste. Politicians come go and it is in the Arab tradition to offer them a gift at the end of their visit. Why single out this homosexual? The article in Daily mail dismayed many here in the Sultanate by associating an openly gay individual to our nation. Furthermore it is an insult to us seeing the individual's photo in the same page as MAWALANA The SULTAN who almost all Omanis revere. UD has hit all Oman below the belt by coming up with such a trash.

Take note almost all Omanis are dismayed by UD's action

Dragon Responds:
Omanis deserve to know what is being published elsewhere, about their country and HM, don't they? Simply pretending there is no outside world, like some kind of cultural and intellectual ostrich, is stupid and childish.

Grow up.

I did not publish such photos (as were published in the UK) partially for some of the reasons you mention.

That this British Member of Parliament came here, stayed here, and was a guest of HM is fact. That the man came here with his (now) partner is fact. That Alan Duncan is homosexual is (as far as anyone knows) a fact. That he remains a member of her Majesty's loyal opposition, and remains a member of Parliament, is a fact.

That this story was in the UK media, and discussed Oman and HM, is a fact.

That you choose to dislike that these things are facts, fair enough. And I can understand.

BUT, are you really that naive? How old are you?

Welcome to the world [identity withheld]. Not everyone gives a second thought about your concerns, or even agrees with them, you know?


OK Readers. There it is. Thought you'd be interested.


  1. I think Oman (and the rest of the Arab countries) have a long ways to go before people become aquatinted with the ideas of free speech and all of it's implications. It takes a large amount of discipline to respect and enforce it, something that I personally feel is lacking in the general populace of the country, especially when comments are made with things that people disagree with.

    Oman, like many other Arab countries, live in a culture of constant censorship and it has been ingrained in its people for a very long time; these habits will be hard to break and will not come easy and I doubt peacefully (I hope I'm wrong however). My personal opinion on the reasons for this are due to religion, the way it's taught and what it teaches us. Lessons are taken for granted and are believed to be true as they are believed to be the very word of god and no form of criticism is ever accepted as it goes against the very nature of the said supreme being, in which the pious take a lot of offense to and will fight it tooth and nail.

    My other opinion on the reasons for this is that free thinking is not encouraged in Omani (and other GCC/Arab) curriculum; many scholars are looked down upon or discouraged from pursuing disciplines in their own fashion as it deviates from the established status quo.

    my 2 cents.



  2. UD,

    I think part of the problem is that people treat news that shows Oman in a "less perfect" light to the outside world as an attack on their honor and pride!

    This does not mean that they don't criticize the country with their family and friends. But, when such news are in a universal language, and read by people of all sort.. then, it is a problem.

    They treat Oman as a spouse! Now who likes strangers to know about ones household problems?!

  3. Speaking as an Englishman, (who has abandoned his home country), I read the Daily Mail's article with only a little interest. Maybe it is cultural perception, but there was no hint of impropriety on the part of the Omani peoples/goverment generosity.
    The impropriety alluded to is on the part of the British MP, who like any MP in the UK should disclose gifts to the appropriate body.
    Given that he spent 99 days in the Sultanate alone, you have to ask when did he get the time to do his job back in the UK.
    I would suggest the only way to protect the Sultanate from the excesses of UK MP's would be to stop them coming over in the first place. Not a bad idea really ;o)

  4. James, I agree with you that the article in the Daily Mail does not criticise Oman, explicitly or implicitly. It's just a typical tabloid attack on a British politician, and will make very little impression on UK readers anyway, let alone in terms of their perceptions of Oman.

    One correction: the Mail claims (and let's bear in mind that what tabloids claim is total crap at least 50% of the time) that AD spent 99 days in Oman over a decade, and an average of ten days a year doesn't sound quite so "staggering": "...And let's not forget Mr Duncan's love of foreign travel. In the past decade he has spent a staggering 99 days living it up in luxury in Oman - the tab picked up by the Sultan's government."


  5. Well I think it's great that the Sultan is so liberal!

    Maybe his people could learn a thing or 2 about tolerance and treating people, whoever they may have sex with, as friends.

    Go Super Q!

    And besides...how would that one person who emailed know what "almost all Omani's" think? Did he/she conduct a survey? I don't think so.

  6. Ah, Angry, that's just the point: people who participate in group-think (an all-too-common phenom hereabouts) assume that everybody else participates as well, apart from what they see as a tiny minority who are (a) wrong, (b) very likely ill-intended if not outright evil, and (c) need to be corrected.

    What amused me about Dragon's correspondent is that, having seen these kinds of messages before, one could almost write it word for word in advance; it's as if it were a taught text in Omani schools. Perhaps it is...

  7. I love Oman for so many reasons. I'm in Doha now and REALLY appreciate Oman...but I think it is safe to say that this kind of attitude isn't exclusively an Omani issue.

    I remember sitting through a planetarium presentation in Oman when a little arab star (like literally a star in the sky with a little omani hat) announced that the Omani's were responsible for astrology. I also attended a museum where they feel certain that when the continents come back together in the far future that Oman will be in the center of the world and therefore the most important part. The centric attitude is there , taught, firmly believed and infallible according to the Omani's. It is twisted. Charming to a certain part...until you get to the freedom of speech part. It never ceases to amaze me the incongruency of wanting to be a part of the world but not having the world be a part of Oman.

  8. I'd like to second Amber's comment. I once went along to the Bait al Baranda Museum and there was a section on how the Omani Navy had once defeated the Imperial Roman Navy who'd had the temerity to venture down the Red Sea and into the Indian Ocean! LOL

  9. Everyone has a right of reply and as UD has shown a right to challenge him. But what I take issue with is comments such as ''All Omanis''...are dismayed! All? He must have an interesting social circle!

  10. Hi Dragon,

    Freedom of Speech gives me the right to say to my wife "Dear, I think that dress makes you look fatter." But I ain'ta gonna say it for obvious reasons.

    Along with our Freedom of Speech comes a *Responsibility* for what we say. I think this is where most of us get 'hung up.' We should be able to make our point, without hitting the other person over the head with it because we have Freedom of Speech.

  11. ...freedom of speech except shouting bomb on an aircraft and fire in a theatre! Yes, freedom of speech with responsibility!

  12. Yesterday, a very deadly accidents happen near my house in Ruwi area. I was taking pictures and movie by camera phone, but Police man on site called me and asked me delete the footage. Which I did. As of no other option. He told me it is not allowed in Oman.

    Later I checked with two three friends and told me same thing
    I want to know is it really ban here and if so why, because sometimes we do see pictures of accidents in newspaper and on hoardings

  13. ToD
    Its usually not allowed. You have to do it covertly, and even then, publishing them from within Oman would arguably be illegal too...

    That's the thing with this so called initial stirrings of a debate about media censorship in Oman - the present situation is not even about Free Speech at all.

    It's first and foremost about the basic ability of people in Oman to at least be able to legally discuss the truth, and actual well-recognised and accepted facts. We can't even do that.

  14. re: The Other Day. You don't get done for taking those photo's you get done for getting caught! I'm not aware of any law that states that but privacy laws may prevent it if the victims are identified. I have taken many photo's of such incidents (plenty scope for it in Oman). You only have to look on the PDO and salimandsalimah websites to see such footage!


If you wish to post anonymously, please pick a nickname by selecting the Name/URL option, or at least sign off your comment with one! I will delete comments I find objectionable or needlessly inflammatory. Sorry for the word verification.... OMG the spam has gotten BAD these past 12 months... trying to avoid making one log in...