Saudi Authorities Need to Answer for the Mecca Crane Tragedy

Source: AP/Indian Express

Source: AP/Indian Express

There is a certain problem with dealing with Arab world in general and with Saudi Arabia in particular. You never really expect a complete, comprehensible answer about anything from them. Some would say the same is true for Iran, China, North Korea, and Russia, but you cannot help but observe that about Saudi Arabia, considering how closely they are allied to the Western democracies.

Now call me a bigot comedian, but that is almost always the case when the Saudis screw something up. No matter who the party that they are dealing with is, they never expect to get an answer from the Saudis, and they hardly ever get one anyway. That has been the sad history, and they really are hardly accountable to anyone. And I am sure it’s not because of the language barrier.

I am sure that the Saudi Kingdom is going to offer no explanations this time around either, or even any solid assurances, about the horrifying Mecca crane tragedy. I have heard that there is a probe going on though. Earlier in September, a giant crane fell into the massive courtyard of the Al-Haraam Mosque full of pilgrims on a stormy night, killing more than a hundred and injuring several. People of various nationalities died that day, due to an accident that clearly could have been avoided by removing all those cranes in the first place altogether, for example.

We all recall the time when scores of pilgrims used to die due to the regular stampedes occurring in Mina, where the ritual of the stoning of the Satan is performed. The administrators have made great arrangements to make the process become more organized, so that such disasters be avoided. Apparently, the measures have been a tremendous success as you hardly ever hear about such a problem anymore, and it is a tremendous relief.

It is unreasonable to doubt the concern and intentions of Saudi authorities about the safety and well being of the pilgrims and no one is doing so anyway, considering the billions they spend every year for the maintenance and upkeep of the premises of the mosque complex in Mecca and Medina. Of course, they cannot afford to risk their reputation for ensuring and promoting the safety, security, and comfort of the pilgrims, whether for religious or secular reasons. Surely, the religious pilgrims would not stop flocking to Mecca no matter how terrible the conditions are, as many of them would find it a blessing to die there without having any regard for the families they are leaving behind. But I hope the Saudi authorities do not share their religious fanaticism and would think otherwise.

They must ensure the world that the Hajj or the pilgrimage is safe, now that the great ritual for this year is only a few days away .

They need to explain to the world why they have turned the Mosque Al-Haraam into a constant construction site. And if they are hell-bent to do so, why are they allowing millions of pilgrim in the premises under such dangerous conditions.

Probably people in the administration have taken the advice of development and construction for pilgrimage safety a bit too literal, so much so that they have started exposing common pilgrims to the dangers that a construction worker in Saudi Arabia faces every other day.

I have always been skeptical of the safety of the entire process of the pilgrimage, though many would say that is precisely the point, always warning family members about it and anxious about their safety every time I hear someone is leaving for it or if one of those stampedes occurred. So yes, I know what it is like to come close to losing a family member to such a tragedy, not too different to learning about a plane crash that you suspect your relative is on. It’s not a good feeling.

So the Saudi authorities might want to assure the people of the safety of the construction-site like mosque they are offering for pilgrimage this time around, unless it is the theme for the year. They also owe an explanation not only to several countries the citizens of which lost their lives needlessly to an avoidable accident, but to the entire world.

But like always, there will be no one around to ask the question in the first place.

Besides, I have heard only Muslims are allowed to enter Mecca.

In any case, go at your own risk.

This post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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