Book Review: “Veiled Atrocities” by Sami Alrabaa


This nonfiction book is a collection of narratives of people who have suffered as a result of policies and practices of the Saudi Arabian government. In his introduction, the author says he collected these stories while he was an instructor in the 1990s at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He claims he conducted “multiple interviews,” sometimes with the “victimizer.”

As one might expect, he begins with an indictment of the Saudi higher education system. Here, the author shows that, paradoxically, hard work is not all necessarily. As for academic achievement? Well, not a big deal. Connections are more important. Whom do you know? The graduate, regardless of his marks, can expect to spend most days at a ministry job his uncle or cousin arranged for him, drinking tea while the foreign laborers take care of whatever work needs to be done.

King Saud University allows women to attend, but they must be strictly kept separate from men, even male instructors. The women can see the instructor, but the instructor is not permitted to see them or hear their voices. A strange woman’s voice might send him in a tailspin of lust. They deal with this in one of two ways. The male professor lectures remotely or through a screen.

The author relates one story to illustrate how silly the situation can get: once a foreign instructor lectured a class of women via video camera. After half an hour, he asked if there were questions, which could be submitted by fax. When he received none, he continued. Some time after the close of class, a Western female colleague mentioned she had passed by his class. “You know, you really don’t have to make so much effort,” she told him. “The girls were skipping out. There wasn’t a single student in that lecture hall.”

Other stories are as absurd, but with far more sinister consequences, inside and outside academia. Before readers finish the book, they will have heard of people mutilated, disappeared, stoned to death, and women raped, beaten, tortured and murdered. This is a harrowing read.

Questions come up regarding the author’s credibility. He gives the various people aliases, though he often mentions how he knows them. At times, he knows people both on the receiving and the giving end of an atrocity. A torturer may be a former student of his, for example.

Do these things happen? There are repeated reports of these sorts of things happening documented by organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

As I finished this book, the first reports surfaced of the disappearance Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor, Jamal Khashoggi. He went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain paperwork to prove a divorce so he could marry a Turkish woman. That’s the last anyone has seen of him to date. Grisly stories have emerged of a Saudi hit team torturing and murdering him. His body, so the stories go, was then dismembered.

At this point, his fate is unknown, but there has been no proof of life he entered the consulate on October 2.

What author Alrabaa calls for is the world community push Saudi Arabia to account for its human rights abuses and its support of international violence in the name of Islamic fundamentalism.

“Hatred, discrimination, and violence are crimes against humanity and must be stopped,” Alrabass writes. In another spot, he adds, “All this has nothing to do with religion and much less with religious freedom.”

Title: Veiled Atrocities
Author: Sami Alrabaa
First published: 2010

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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