War Debate Rages Via SMS

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Safinaz Zakariya Murshid, Special to Arab News

Published — Tuesday 25 March 2003

Last Update 25 March 2003 3:00 am

RIYADH, 25 March 2003 — Since the war broke out in Iraq, dozens of e-mails and mobile text messages have been circulating between friends in Saudi Arabia. Some of the messages urged an anti-American campaign or encouraged recipients to remember their brothers in Iraq. Some messages also encouraged Muslims to recite certain verses of the Holy Qur’an to seek victory.

Although such messages have no direct impact on the war they nevertheless symbolize the unease and distress felt by many Saudis.

“I know that they won’t stop the wheels already in motion,” said Laura, an American married to a Saudi. “We have seen many protests around the globe on TV but they haven’t had any impact so far. It is also culturally unacceptable to demonstrate here. So I personally believe that text or e-mail messages are only meant to express our frustration.”

However, the content of most of the widely forwarded messages was humorous, including harsh jokes about the Bush administration, preparations for another war in the Gulf or the silence of Arabs toward such tragedies.

Opinions regarding these particular messages varied. Some believe that war is never an issue to joke about.

“But if you can laugh at something, it is a kind of relief. We are feeling too much tension and we are only human,” Laura added.

Abdullah, a Saudi student, could not agree more. “If I can’t do anything about it, then why not share a laugh with friends? I see students demonstrating in many countries. I would like to do the same, even if it was a peaceful protest march, but I can’t. But the mobile messages and e-mails are a means of expressing your feelings. Some of these messages are funny and I see no harm in that. It eases the stress.”

Like others, Khadejah also received her share of messages. “I forward the funny ones only. I agree that the war is not an issue to joke about but I believe that if someone wanted to sympathize with the victims of war or say some prayers for them, they would not wait for a text message to remind them to do so. Plus, these messages are time-related. If you don’t send and laugh at them now they lose their meaning.”

Many choose to ignore the petitions that have been circulated by e-mail. “So you sign the petition and you add your name to the list and then pass it on to your friends. At the end of the day you don’t expect much of them. We have signed so many before but they were all useless,” Abdullah concluded.

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