Favorite

The Observer and M of UALR 

The Observer went out to UALR to chat with him the other day on the advice of a friend. Call him M.

Fearing for his family in Saudi Arabia and knowing that the reach of the Internet is long, that's as much as he wants us to say. He's a student now at UALR; 19, but with very old eyes. There's no way to confirm much of the tale he tells, but we've seen the fragments of his blog archived online and other things, so we tend to believe. Too, we've been at this awhile now, and hope we know a fibber when we see one. Still, the old reporter in us must say: take what you will from this and leave the rest.

It started when he was 12 years old, M said. That was the year he died.

It was a congenital heart defect that felled him, something that runs in his family. He was gone for several minutes before medics shocked him back to life. When he died and didn't see God, M said, his faith flew away.

When he was well enough, he told his friends as much. While that might be taken with consternation here in the States, in his world it was met with revulsion. Word spread that M was a non-believer — first in school, then to his community. What started as bullying got steadily worse. Whenever he'd get up to go to the chalkboard or the restroom, he said, the other students in the class would spit on his chair, so that he had to wipe it down before he could sit again. There were constant threats. Beatings.

When he was 13, he was walking down the street when a man pulled a knife on him and dragged him into an alleyway. Whether it was just for sex or over his refusal to believe, M doesn't know. When the man put down the knife to unbutton his pants, M grabbed it and stabbed him. The police were called. When they got there, the man convinced them that M had tried to rob him. He was eventually sent to a children's prison, a "filthy, dirty" place where he stayed for a year, surrounded by young street toughs who didn't like him any more than the kids on the outside.

While in jail, M turned to writing poetry, and tried to think even more deeply about his place in the world. When he got out, he started a blog online. He kept writing, found a few friends who accepted him, and started making short films. On his blog, he wrote about the issues that concerned him: how religion is used to control people. the rights of women. One of his friends eventually wrote a fictionalized account of his life, which sold more than 10,000 copies in Saudi Arabia. The book, in Arabic with M's picture on the cover, exists. The Observer has seen it.

As you might imagine, the things he wrote on his blog didn't sit well. He's got a scar across his ribcage where he says a man tried to slash him open over something he'd written. He's been shot at, beat up, cursed. Every day, he said, there was at least one e-mail threatening him, or his family. Finally, when he was 17, a group of men with the religious police showed up at his house, dragged him out and beat him. They made him sign a piece of paper renouncing his beliefs. If he didn't take down his blog, they told him, he'd go to jail for nine years. He took it down.

At that point, M began scheming on getting out of Saudi Arabia. He says he Googled "cheap places to live in America," and one of the first that popped up was Arkansas. That's how life goes sometimes.

His blog was down, but his reputation as an apostate was known and the threats continued. Finally, last fall, M said he was sitting at a stoplight when a man approached, leveled a gun, and fired. He was able to drive quickly away, but he knew it was time to go. He sold his car, and moved to Little Rock to live with a friend. He enrolled at UALR soon after.

So now he's here, going to class, still writing, missing his family and his home while trying to make a life for himself. He's seeking asylum, and doesn't know if he'll ever go back.

No place is perfect, but The Observer thinks this is one of the things America is good at: taking in those who have been cast away from somewhere else because of fear or plain prejudice. No matter the cause, welcome, M. Their loss is our gain.

Favorite

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • I'm sorry

    I'm sorry we stood by while your generation's hope was smothered by $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, just because you were trying to educate yourselves enough to avoid falling for the snake oil and big talk of a fascist.
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • Snake stories

    The Observer's boss, Uncle Alan, is something of a gentleman farmer on his spread up in Cabot, growing heirloom tomatoes and watermelons and crops of chiggers on property that looks like the perfect farmstead Lenny and George often fantasized about in "Of Mice and Men."
    • Aug 27, 2015
  • Show and tell

    The Observer is an advocate of the A+ method of integrating the arts and using creativity to teach across the curriculum, an approach that the Thea Foundation, with help from the Windgate Charitable Foundation, is offering to schools across the state.
    • Feb 25, 2016

Most Shared

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be deputy White House press secretary

    Donald Trump announced additional White House staff today, notably including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy assistant to the president and principal deputy press secretary.
  • Legislation filed for $10 million school voucher program

    The legislation to vastly expand transfer of state tax dollars to private schools came before the school choice day event I mentioned earlier.
  • Pork and more

    Some notes on disparate topics before I take a vacation break.
  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Latest in The Observer

  • Memories of Townsend

    Vernon Tucker, musician and former Arkansas Times writer, asked for The Observer space this week to remember Townsend Wolfe. Why not? What follows is memory of early days at the Arts Center.
    • Jan 19, 2017
  • Weird trivia

    When completed, the Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol lawn will be the exact size, shape and weight of the vaguely humming black monolith that appeared at the foot of Conway Sen. Jason Rapert's bed in June 2010 and later elevated his consciousness from apelike semi-sentience to incrementally less apelike semi-sentience.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • Resolutions

    No more clinging to material things, unless those material things are life preservers tossed as I go down for the third and final time, the few remaining strands of my once-majestic locks, or the skids of the last helicopter out before the fall of Little Rock.
    • Jan 5, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

Jack Pearadin and Doug Nelsen found a 1.73-carat diamond after nearly a year of searching the park's field.

Event Calendar

« »

January

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Plant of the year

    The legalization of medical marijuana was Arkansas's most significant news of 2016.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Profile of a plant

    • I have been diagnosed with COPD for over 7 years. A couple of months ago…

    • on January 19, 2017
  • Re: Profile of a plant

    • There is plenty of studies out there, which fill in the holes in this story…

    • on January 19, 2017
  • Re: Plant of the year

    • The only dope I see in this is that Kleiman, talking about things he is…

    • on January 19, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation