The people and ‘matter of the bicycle’

Mashari Althaydi
Mashari Althaydi
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In his recent article in the Okaz daily – “The liberal Walieddine Yakan: Clerics, colonization and bicycles” – Saudi critic Ali al-Ameem wrote in detail and his usual rich and effervescent style.

Ameem talked about Egyptian-Turkish poet and politician Walieddine Yakan and narrated one of the latter’s funny stories. In his book “The Known and the Unknown,” Yakan opposes some clerics and their rural customs.

In his book, which is about the Muslim and Armenian people of Sivas, Yakan wrote: “I used to go out with some friends of mine on bicycles. Young men and children would throw rocks at us. We had to threaten them using guns. They called the bicycle, the devil’s wagon. When their aggression against us continued and when we tried everything to shield ourselves from their evil acts but failed, we gave up and sold our bicycles.”

What’s funny about this bicycle incident, which happened a long time ago, is the stance which is not exclusive to certain people but which is rather a frequent general reaction.

In an article entitled “Where did the devil’s donkey and the devil’s horse come from” – published in the daily Al-Eqtisadiah – Ameem quoted Saudi researcher Suleiman al-Hudaithi as saying: “Some references say the bicycle was first introduced to the Ottoman Empire, specifically to Istanbul, in 1855 by Thomas Stefanos. The bicycle then spread across Turkey and people called it the devil’s car.”

Some people just parrot statements related to a specific area or town that may have rejected education of girls but this was not the case as more than one region in the country

Mashari Althayidi

The ‘devil’s donkey’

Hudaithi also quoted some information, which Mohammed Said Khoja included in an article he wrote in 1932 about bicycles. Khoja declared the death of the terms “devil’s donkey” to refer to the bicycle and the “voice of female jinn” to refer to the radio.
Khoja asserted these terms were introduced from outside the country and people just traditionally inherited their use.

However, Hudaithi noted that there have been instances, similar to the bicycle’s, in other countries like Bahrain, Iraq, Turkey and Iran. Ameem does not think these instances were influenced by other societies but believes they are an ordinary reaction.

This reminds me of a story related to resistance against girls’ education in Saudi Arabia. Some people just parrot statements related to a specific area or town that may have rejected education of girls but this was not the case as more than one region in the country. There are details on this in Saudi researcher Abdullah al-Washmi’s book on girls’ education.

The idea behind this argument is to ensure that issues are addressed like they happened and not as they are narrated as the latter approach lacks insight and resembles self-flagellation by those whom Ameem called the people “of the bicycle matter.”

The article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Saudi journalist Mashari Althaydi presents Al Arabiya News Channel’s “views on the news” daily show “Maraya.” He has previously held the position of a managing senior editor for Saudi Arabia & Gulf region at pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Althaydi has published several papers on political Islam and social history of Saudi Arabia. He appears as a guest on several radio and television programs to discuss the ideologies of extremist groups and terrorists. He tweets under @MAlthaydy.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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