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Chronicling the collapse of a failed society
As some readers may know, I had the extreme misfortune of being stranded in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for a solid seven months of my life. I was drawn by the relatively high salary, but quickly realized that some things just aren’t worth the money.
What you see above is a shot taken in one of Riyadh’s most bustling neighborhoods, just outside of Bathaa. Bathaa is known as the immigrant area, or as some of my Pakistani colleagues liked to call it, Little Karachi. Unlike most of Riyadh, which was intolerably sterile and devoid of pedestrian activities of any kind, Bathaa actually felt like a city. But the sense of oppression was tangible; the Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian immigrant laborers were, for all intents, slaves. Although they were paid a negligible amount for their services, they were literally held hostage at the whim of their Saudi employer. I can speak from experience when I say that Saudi employers can be savagely ruthless.
It is the American addiction to Saudi oil that allows this system of modern slavery to exist. And the hideous, rubble-strewn streets of Riyadh are testament to the fact that absolutely nothing constructive is being done with the unfathomable sums of money we’ve been funneling into Saudi Arabia for the last sixty years. Riyadh is among the ugliest, most under-developed cities I have ever visited – slightly above the capital cities of, say, Laos and Cambodia, but remarkably impoverished for what is purportedly the wealthiest city on earth. It is estimated that upwards of $1 billion dollars of profit funnel through Riyadh on any given day, but by and large the city and its residents – particularly its foreign residents – have seen very little of those riches.
The Saudi monarchy is corrupt. The Imams who wield the real power in Saudi culture are so obsessed with enforcing a millennia-old moral and legal code that they have little concern left for such arbitrary matters as social development or progress. And yet Saudi Arabia remains one of our strongest allies in the region, a supposed friend of democracy in spite of its atrocious record of flagrant human rights violations and its openly professed antipathy for the very concept of self-governance.
The moral of the story here is that our oil addiction has some ugly consequences, beyond the obvious implications of climate change. It’s time to lay off the oil, folks.