Saudis Import Slaves to America
Daniel Pipes, June 16, 2005
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New York Sun*
Homaidan Ali Al-Turki, 36, and his wife, Sarah Khonaizan, 35, appear to be a model immigrant couple. They arrived in America in 2000 and now live with their four children in an upscale Denver suburb. Mr. Al-Turki is a graduate student in linguistics at the University of Colorado, specializing in Arabic intonation and focus prosody. He donates money to the Linguistic Society of America and is chief executive of Al-Basheer Publications and Translations, a bookstore specializing in titles about Islam.
Last week, however, the FBI accused the couple of enslaving an Indonesian woman who is in her early 20s. For four years, reads the indictment, they created "a climate of fear and intimidation through rape and other means." The slave woman cooked, cleaned, took care of the children, and performed other tasks for little or no pay, fearing that if she did not obey, "she would suffer serious harm."
The two Saudis face charges of forced labor, aggravated sexual abuse, document servitude, and harboring an alien. If found guilty, they could spend the rest of their lives in prison. The government also wants to seize the couple's Al-Basheer bank account to pay their former slave $92,700 in back wages.
It's shocking, especially for a graduate student and owner of a religious bookstore - but not particularly rare. Here are other examples of enslavement, all involving Saudi royals or diplomats living in America.
There are many other similar instances, for example, the Orlando escapades of Saudi princesses Maha al-Sudairi and Buniah al-Saud. The writer Joel Mowbray tells of twelve female domestics "trapped and abused" in the households of Saudi dignitaries or diplomats.
Why is this problem so acute for affluent Saudis? Four reasons come to mind. Although slavery was abolished in the kingdom in 1962, the practice still flourishes there. Ranking Saudi religious authorities endorse slavery; for example, Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan recently that "Slavery is a part of Islam" and whoever wants it abolished is "an infidel."
The U.S. State Department knows about the forced servitude in Saudi households and laws exist to combat this scourge but, as Mr. Mowbray argues, it "refuses to take measures to combat it." Finally, Saudis know they can get away with nearly any misbehavior. Their embassy provides funds, letters of support, lawyers, retroactive diplomatic immunity, former U.S. ambassadors as troubleshooters, and even aircraft out of the country; it also keeps pesky witnesses away.
Given the American government's lax attitude toward the Saudis, slavery in Denver, Miami, Washington, Houston, Boston, and Orlando hardly comes as a surprise. Only when Washington more robustly represents American interests will Saudi behavior improve.