A wonderful career choice

Observant, Maastricht

So Karl Andree, the Briton sentenced to public flogging in Saudi Arabia for alcohol possession, has been released. I’m reminded of lecture I attended years back in Sydney, by a journalist who’d likewise just been released from a Saudi jail. It was the only lecture I enjoyed of my entire journalism degree.

Looking back, my choice for journalism was a touch naïve: Hey, I like writing! I’d have preferred the creative writing major, but back then I still imagined I’d like to get a job some day.

I hated the programme from day one. It turned out that all those journalism students actually wanted to be journalists. Me, I wasn’t cut from the right cloth to ask a grieving woman, ‘Mrs Johnson, a comment? How does it feel to mow down your own son in an SUV?’ For an investigative piece on the theme of ‘hardship’ I interviewed a friend who lived on a farm. A photojournalism piece on urban spaces became a montage of walls in the city. Some had fanciful curls of ivy or interesting graffiti, but mostly they were just bricks or wood. I would zoom in artistically on the knots. ‘That’s your character right there,’ I told the lecturer.

The journalist who came to talk to us had been arrested for showing an ankle in public, or maybe it was eating babies – I don’t recall the details. For punishment, she was driven out into the desert and tied to a stake. They meant to stone her or lash her, one of the two.

At the thought of her husband and children back home, the journalist went mental. She started hollering and thrashing about and lifting up her burka, shrieking, ‘Look at this! Look at it! What is oh so fucking evil about this?’

‘Well,’ said the journalist, adjusting her seat on the stage of the lecture theatre. ‘After this performance they took me to be quite insane. They bundled me back in the car, drove to the consulate and couldn’t kick me out fast enough.

‘Journalism, though,’ she continued, turning from the moderator to face us, ‘really is a wonderful career choice.’

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