Hints of 9/ll
An older Arab gentleman appeared at my visa interview window one morning to apply for a visa for his daughter to study in the States. I was a newly minted Foreign Service officer at the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1991. Sometimes I dealt with hundreds of applicants a day who wanted to enter the United States and needed a visa to do so.
The man’s eyes twinkled as I asked what his daughter wished to study in the U.S. “Something to do with photo journalism,” he said. “I don’t understand it, but it’s what she wants.” I warmed to this father, reflecting indulgent fathers everywhere who love their daughters.
Unfortunately, not all those applying for visas to the U.S. had such benign motives. As we approach the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, I reflect on the collision between our secular culture and the religious culture of the Middle East.
Americans found oil in Saudi Arabia in the 1930’s and over the years sent large numbers of technicians to that religiously conservative country to develop the oil industry and insure a supply for American industries.
Friendly relations were the norm between citizens of both countries, but the large number of expatriates, American and otherwise, necessary to service the growing business interests, created resentment by some conservative religious elements in Saudi Arabia. They felt their culture and even their religion under siege by foreigners with little respect for their way of life. See ‘A Divide Not Between Religions but Religion and the Lack Of It’ While the West became more secular, many Muslim countries became more religious.
These tensions were present long before the atrocities of September 11, 2001.