Deferring to Saudis, U.S. won't have holiday show

December 18, 1990|By Los Angeles Times

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia -- Unless a tour materializes at the last minute, for the first time in a generation there will be no Bob Hope leaning on his golf club, surrounded by leggy showgirls, playing to an audience of cheering, whistling GIs. In fact, it appears unlikely that there will be any kind of United Service Organizations' show, a staple of GI Christmases since World War II.

Some celebrities have offered to be on hand, but it will be only to shake hands and sign autographs. So far, two are scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia during the holidays: "Major Dad" TV star Gerald McRaney and his wife, "Designing Women" actress Delta Burke. The Pentagon's decision to forgo shows that would bring together large numbers of troops reflects deference to the Saudis -- their conservative country has no movie theaters or concert halls -- as well as security concerns. At this point, those concerns are based more on a fear of terrorist attack than on the threat of Iraqi missiles.

All U.S. soldiers in the gulf area will eat a traditional turkey dinner on Christmas, but any religious services will be low-keyed, unpublicized and closed to the press. Even the singing of Christmas carols, such as "Silent Night" or "O Little Town of Bethlehem," will not be recorded by television news cameras.

No chapels have been set up in rear areas, where large numbers of troops are deployed, although Americans have been meeting regularly on Sundays and Fridays for worship services, usually in a unit's day room or some unused office space.

Saudi Arabia forbids the practice of any religion other than Islam. Technically, even Bibles are forbidden. But in practice, the Saudis are far more tolerant than their constitution would suggest.

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