Thursday, June 23, 2005


I was absolutely INCENSED when I read
this article about the uproar that has been created in Saudi Arabia over the mere suggestion that women be allowed to drive. The man responsible, Consultative Council member Mohammad al-Zulfa, has been threatened and there have even been calls to revoke his Saudi nationality! His proposal was only that there be a study to look into the issue, and even then it was only to be concerning women over the age of 35 in cities. Younger women and women in rural areas would still have to rely on drivers or male relatives to get around.

The uproar may be astounding to outsiders. But in Saudi Arabia, where the religious establishment has the upper hand in defining women's freedoms, the issue touches on the kingdom's strict Islamic lifestyle.

Conservatives, who believe women should be shielded from strange men, say driving will allow a woman to leave home whenever she pleases and go wherever she wishes. Some say it will present her with opportunities to violate Islamic law, such as exposing her eyes while driving or interacting with strange men, like police officers or mechanics.

"Driving by women leads to evil," Munir al-Shahrani wrote in a letter to the editor of the Al-Watan daily. "Can you imagine what it will be like if her car broke down? She would have to seek help from men."

I have the utmost respect for other cultures and religions, however neither the law in Saudi Arabia nor Islam restrict women from driving. In this case it is religious zealots called fatwas who use religion as a justification for restricitng the most basic rights of the female gender. In Saudi Arabia women cannot travel without the written permission of a male family member, nor may they go out in public with covering themselves from head to toe in black cloaks. Saudia Arabia has the most strict dress code for women of all Islamic nations, even forcing most women to cover their eyes.

In 2005 it is still hard to believe that this type of thinking and behavior goes on. In Saudi Arabia women's births and deaths are not recorded. They are virtual non entities existing, seemingly, only to produce sons. Women can still be stoned to death for the "sin" of adultery or sex before marriage, even in instances of rape.

In some cases a father or husband can murder his wife or daughter if it has been decided that she has brought shame upon her family. In this extremist culture it is not surprising that women are not allowed to drive nor that the men who hold such a tight grip on their power over the citizens would not want to do anything that would jeopardize their lofty positions as the definers of all that is good or evil.

It is not surprising, but it is sad and abhorrent that women are denied education, proper medical treatment and even the right to have the sun shine on their faces. It is unfortunate that this is the facade Saudi Arabia puts up to the world. Their culture is rich and mystifying and wonderful in so many ways and yet the atrocities that women face as they are slowly crushed in the fists of religious fanatacism overshadows the true beauty of Arabia.

To learn more about the Saudi culture (the good and the bad) check out the book
Princess by Jean Sasson and its two sequals, all about "Life behind the Veil".


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