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Baby Steps for Saudi Women, but Are Their Efforts Futile?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011, 19:13 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Via the Drudge Report (which I visit occasionally and never fail to find something interesting) comes word of a little civil disobedience in Saudi Arabia:

Manal and ten other people are organizing a campaign on Facebook and Twitter urging Saudi women with international driver’s licenses to join them starting June 17, risking their jobs and their freedom. The coordinated plan isn’t a protest, she said.

“I’m doing it because I’m frustrated, angry and mad,” Manal, who asked to be identified only by her first name, said in an interview from the eastern city of Dhahran. “It’s 2011 and we’re still discussing this insignificant right for women.”

That’s right, Saudi women aren’t allowed to drive. They also aren’t allowed to “travel or get an education without male approval or mix with unrelated men in public places. They aren’t permitted to vote or run as candidates in municipal elections, the only ones the kingdom allows.” So-called reforms the kingdom claims to have adopted include “[a] change of policy in 2008 [allowing] women to stay in hotels without male guardians, and an amendment to the labor law [allowing] women to work in all fields ‘suitable to their nature.'” I shudder to think what jobs the Saudi government things are suitable to women’s “nature.”

Restrictions like these are what led my mother, about forty years ago, to nix the possibility of my father’s taking a lucrative overseas job assignment in Saudi Arabia. A representative of Dad’s employer, meeting with Ma in an effort to win her approval, tried to sell her on the fact that she would have household help, a driver, someone to do all her shopping and errands, and other assistance. She quickly pointed out that was because women aren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and she wasn’t about to sign up for three years of basically being a prisoner in her own home, no matter how many servants and how much money was involved.

Not much has changed since that time. If anything, the Saudi way of life is spreading, with increasingly daring Muslim purists attempting to bring strict Islamic Sharia law not only to less strident Muslim nations but even to secular Western democracies. I am currently reading a book, They Must Be Stopped: Why We Must Defeat Radical Islam and How We Can Do It by Lebanese-American writer Brigitte Gabriel, that argues against the possibility of fending off radical Islamic influence in our own country without acknowledging that such beliefs lie at the very root of Islam. (An interesting anecdote from my mother, since I’ve already mentioned her: she once presided over a ritual body washing and funeral service for a Muslim man who in his lifetime shunned mosques because “they’re loaded with whack jobs.” He was talking about mosques right here in Massachusetts, not in Saudi Arabia or Iran or Pakistan.)

I wish the Saudi women well and wish there were some way I and other sympathizers could support them. They will need it. Unfortunately, most of their natural allies around the world, feminist groups and human rights advocacy organization, would rather turn a blind eye to their plight than admit that the problem isn’t merely a discriminatory law but rather the discriminatory religion that promulgated it.

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