Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tufush: The Force That Drives a Man to Drift

I don't know where to begin. In Sunday's New York Times and on the homepage at, there was a peculiar article called Saudis Race All Night, Fueled by Boredom. Reporter Robert F. Worth, who seems to be the Times' man in Saudi Arabia, weaves a bizarre story full of illicit nighttime auto racing and its natural companion, forbidden gay love.

The piece starts describing a scene that could have been in any small town in America, in fact, given the rest of the story, I'm surprised Worth didn't open with those very lines: In a scene that could have been in any small town in America... well, let's let Worth tell it:
The young men start gathering around midnight, on a broad strip of highway between the desert and the sea. By 1 a.m. there are hundreds of them, standing in clusters alongside their cars, glancing around uneasily for the police.

Then, with a scream of revving engines, it begins: a yellow Corvette and a red Mitsubishi go head to head, racing down the road at terrifying speeds, just inches apart. Shouts go up from the sidelines, and another pair of racers shoot down the road, and another.
Next, he draws the distinction between the type of racing he's witnessing -- drag racing -- and drifting, which he describes breathlessly as "an extremely dangerous practice in which drivers deliberately spin out and skid sideways at high speeds, sometimes killing themselves and spectators."

Drifting is not exotic. It's a very well established form of racing all over the world. But, to be fair, illegal street drifting is fairly common too.

It isn't a love of cars, or teen hormones that fuels these various forms of racing in Saudi Arabia, writes Worth; it's tufush. "They are, almost literally, bored out of their minds," he marvels.

Tufush is "a colloquial Arabic word for boredom whose meaning is said by some to derive from the gestures made by a drowning man." From here, Worth talks about drifters in a way that made me wonder if he was talking about cars or aimless youths. This next part is inexplicably weird:
Drifting, which tends to attract poorer, more marginal men, has also been an unlikely nexus between homosexuality, crime and jihadism since it emerged 30 years ago. Homoerotic desire is a constant theme in Saudi songs and poems about drifting, and accomplished drifters are said to have their pick of the prettiest boys among the spectators. Drugs sometimes also play a role. But a number of drifters have also become Islamic militants, including Youssef al-Ayyeri, the founder of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who fought in Afghanistan and was killed by security forces in Saudi Arabia in 2003.
So, combine boredom and homosexuality and you get drifting, which leads to terrorism. Or is it combining boredom and drifting which spirals into homosexuality and eventually jihadism?

Worth gets every piece of car culture wrong, from street racing to describing a 29-year-old Saudi who slicks his hair back and wears jeans and a polo shirt as emulating a "1950s greaser."

Worth admits that most Saudi street racers aren't gay drifting terrorists, but that means he has even less of a story. After all, this is street racing -- it could be happening anywhere in America, Japan, or Europe.

Worth contributed to a video report on Saudi racing that can be seen in the article.

There are a lot of videos out there showing Saudis drifting, and often crashing, set to dance music. In this one, a big BMW gets wrecked:

And here are a series of dramatic crashes:

What's oddest is that nearly all the drifting videos I've seen show Saudis in traditional clothing, while the drag racing footage captured by the Times shows Saudi men dressing in modern Western clothes. The drag racers modify their cars. The drifters seem to use (and really abuse) stock cars.

The other thing that strikes me about all of the videos I've found of Saudi drifting is that the drivers are incredibly reckless and unskilled. This isn't racing at all; it's going really fast and then spinning out, trying to keep the car on the road. This really has little in common with drifting as we know it. It's more like the Saudi version of doing donuts in a parking lot after a fresh snow. Only apparently it's done by gay terrorists.



Blogger steph.eckman said...

God I like your blog.

8:46 AM  

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