Take a look at this video of a Muslim athlete’s reaction to a scantily-clad woman:
This reminded me of something I witnessed back in 2005 when I was in Korea. I’d been sent out there with a Venezuelan colleague called Juan working with a Kuwaiti client and a Korean engineering team. The Kuwaiti delegation was made up of about 6 or 7 men, one of whom was a little Pakistani whose name I’ve forgotten so I’ll call Wasim. He had a long pointy beard, huge ears, a big nose, and sharp eyes which always seemed to be accusing you of something. He wore his trousers a few inches too short exposing the ankles, and after seeing this a few times around the Middle East someone told me that, when Muslims die, Allah will pick them up by the ankles and lift them to heaven; wearing your pants at half-mast makes his job a little easier.
Wasim was a pain in the arse to work with because he saw it as his job to contest every last point and extract every single concession possible from the Korean engineers. Not five minutes would go by without him raising a finger and with a thick Pakistani accent say: “Ah, wait a minute, my friend. What if…” and spend the next hour arguing over something utterly trivial. His colleagues, young Kuwaiti men, also thought he was a pain in the arse. They told me the Kuwaitis were quite relaxed about religion: those who wanted to be devout could be, and those who weren’t could do as much as they pleased without pressure to do more. But the Pakistani immigrant workers changed that: they turned up and, eager to ingratiate themselves with their new masters, started banging the Islam drum around the offices, demanding to know why Kuwaitis were not taking things as seriously as they were. Wasim was a leader in such rabble-rousing, meaning Kuwaitis could no longer eat at their desks during Ramadan without risking a bollocking from their hierarchy (who’d much rather have just let it slide). Muslim solidarity prevented them openly criticising him, but they’d roll their eyes whenever he went off on one.
As our first week together wore on, we soon realised the Koreans didn’t know much about Islam. We’d be taken to a restaurant in Seoul by our hosts and the Kuwaitis, in broken English, would ask the waiter if the dish contained pork. The waiter couldn’t understand a word that was being said but, in order to save face, would just say yes or no regardless. If the Korean engineers were able to intervene to help out they decided not to, but I suspect they were as confused as the waiters were. It wasn’t just a language problem: I don’t think the Koreans could understand for the life of them why anyone would ask such a question. As such, the Kuwaitis and Wasim found themselves eating pork dishes without knowing. Now this is not a problem from a religious point of view: if a Muslim inadvertently consumes pork he’s still going to be plucked by the ankles and lifted to heaven, assuming his trousers are short enough. But it did make me grin a little watching Wasim dribble a soup full of obvious pig parts into his beard. Actually, that’s a lie: I was laughing like a drain.
At the end of the second week the Koreans decided to bus us all out to some place across town and treat us to a spectacle. We entered into an enormous arena with restaurant-style seating looking down on a central stage. We were ushered to tables piled high with booze; obviously nobody had told the Koreans that Kuwaitis don’t drink either. There was much fuss when Wasim demanded a table which wasn’t littered with bottles of Johnny Walker, but eventually they did enough to make a space which wasn’t haram and all the Kuwaitis and Wasim sat down. Juan and I joined the Koreans and started drinking heavily. The food was served and after the usual pantomime of asking what was in it and the waiters looking confused, we all started eating. Oink oink!
Then the show began. First we had twenty minutes of traditional Korean dancing: lots of drums, ribbons, and colourful costumes. Good, wholesome stuff your granny would like. Then a pair of trapeze artists came out, a Russian man and woman, who did stuff which made me hold my breath. With no harness or safety net these two swung around five metres above tables laden with bottles, glasses, and crockery with supreme coolness. Occasionally the girl – a tiny thing in a spangly leotard – would pretend to slip, and the whole place would gasp. At one point the man – who was topless and looked to be carved from marble – was hanging with his legs out straight while his partner sat on his shins. I don’t think I’ve seen upper-body strength like it.
When they were done, the music got a bit more modern and fifteen or twenty women in loose-fitting costumes came on stage. The first thing I noticed was they were white, some sort of eastern European. They started dancing, showing lots of leg. The Koreans loved it, but poor old Wasim was getting agitated. I looked back to the stage, then at the Koreans, and nudged Juan.
“I think I know what’s gonna happen here,” I said.
As the music reached a crescendo the girls whipped off their tops to reveal a line of perfect young tits the sort of which Wasim only thought he’d see if he martyred himself. He let out a scream which was drowned out by the roars of approval from the Koreans and covered his eyes. Stumbling around in the dark with his hand over his face, he ran for the exit, tripping over feet, trolleys, and table legs. Two Kuwaitis followed close behind him, also covering their faces, and the others left more slowly, one copping a last look as he went through the door. I was laughing so hard I thought I’d die.
But one Kuwaiti stayed behind and, having made sure his colleagues were safely gone, he joined us at our table. He helped himself to a glass of whisky and settled in to join the rest of the show.
“The thing is,” he told us. “Most of the other guys aren’t bothered, but they can’t be seen to be drinking or watching this show, especially in front of Wasim. It’s not about what you do, but who sees you doing it.”
“Are you not worried about being seen?” I asked him.
“No, I don’t care,” he said, and grinned.
It was a good show.