Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A view from behind the veil

Megan Stack wrote in ILos Angeles Times As a woman in the male-dominated kingdom, Times reporter Megan Stack quietly fumed beneath her abaya. Even beyond its borders, her experience taints her perception of the sexes.... The rules are different here. The same U.S. government that heightened public outrage against the Taliban by decrying the mistreatment of Afghan women prizes the oil-slicked Saudi friendship and even offers wan praise for Saudi elections in which women are banned from voting.
I wish Saidia Arabia would treat its women better, just I wish they would stop funding extremist clerics in the west. And a lot of the people on the planes on 9/11 were Saudis but the act was not planned there, but in camps in Afganistan under the Taliban.
All U.S. fast-food franchises operating here, not just Starbucks, make women stand in separate lines. U.S.-owned hotels don't let women check in without a letter from a company vouching for her ability to pay; women checking into hotels alone have long been regarded as prostitutes.
And if we don't wake up Europe will like that soon.
As I roamed in and out of Saudi Arabia, the abaya, or Islamic robe, eventually became the symbol of those shifting rules. I always delayed until the last minute. When I felt the plane dip low over Riyadh, I'd reach furtively into my computer bag to fish out the black robe and scarf crumpled inside. I'd slip my arms into the sleeves without standing up. If I caught the eyes of any male passengers as my fingers fumbled with the snaps, I'd glare. Was I imagining the smug looks on their faces? The sleeves, the length of it, always felt foreign, at first. But it never took long to work its alchemy, to plant the insecurity. After a day or two, the notion of appearing without the robe felt shocking. Stripped of the layers of curve-smothering cloth, my ordinary clothes suddenly felt revealing, even garish. To me, the abaya implied that a woman's body is a distraction and an interruption, a thing that must be hidden from view lest it haul the society into vice and disarray.
Young Saudis must not have any self control.
The simple act of wearing the robe implanted that self-consciousness by osmosis. In the depths of the robe, my posture suffered. I'd draw myself in and bumble along like those adolescent girls who seem to think they can roll their breasts back into their bodies if they curve their spines far enough. That was why, it hit me one day, I always seemed to come back from Saudi Arabia with a backache. The kingdom made me slouch.CQ blogged One passage struck me in particular as revealing. Stack met a couple who had traveled abroad and educated themselves in the West. When they lived outside of Saudi Arabia, the wife was independent, outgoing, and able to take care of herself. When they moved to Saudi Arabia, she could not do any of those things -- and the husband realized that she had become a dependent, an added burden. The system traps everyone, but no one seems ready to change it, and certainly not the religious police that Stack narrowly avoided on one occasion.

This also points out the dangers of moral relativism and multiculturalism. Obviously Stack objects strongly to the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia, and rightly so. However, a multiculturalist would probably criticize that objection as a result of Western projection -- especially since it was Stack who went to Saudi Arabia. She could find herself accused of American cultural imperialism, and in fact had that experience when talking with some of the women. Yet, Stack was expected to abide by that culture while in Saudi Arabia, while some Muslims who emigrate to the West demand that we respect that culture when they arrive here, arguing for multiculturalism that doesn't exist in their homelands (and that's not limited to Muslims, either).

AllahPundit blogged Ayaan Hirsi Ali always says that women’s liberation is the key to reversing Islamic extremism. Intuitively that makes sense, but this is the second MEMRI clip in a week touching on “women’s issues” where the most progressive voice in the room has been a male one. Let’s hope that’s only because most Arab women are wary of speaking out against their oppressors, not because they’ve bought the line that this is for their own good. Because if it’s the latter, the long war is going to be even longer than we thought.

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