Wednesday, September 28, 2005


I must say I was quite surprised by the sentiments of Saudi women expressed in this article.

An example:
When Ms. Hughes expressed the hope here that Saudi women would be able to drive and "fully participate in society" much as they do in her country, many challenged her. "The general image of the Arab woman is that she isn't happy," one audience member said. "Well, we're all pretty happy." The room, full of students, faculty members and some professionals, resounded with applause.

Then I read this:
The group of women, picked by the university, represented the privileged elite of this Red Sea coastal city, known as one of the more liberal areas in the country.

So, were they chosen for their views? Or instructed to express particular sentiments for the visiting American? I am a cynic and yes I have a hard time believing that women would chose to live under the conditions imposed upon them by the Saudi governement. But then again I was not born there. I don't consider their way of life "normal". Perhaps, just as in the US, many women are happy with their lives and only the vocal few are downtrodden and oppressed.

There was also this:
Like some of her friends, Ms. Sabbagh said Westerners failed to appreciate the advantages of wearing the traditional black head-to-foot covering known as an abaya. "I love my abaya," she explained. "It's convenient and it can be
very fashionable."

A head to toe black, shapeless cloak worn in the scorching hot desert is convenient and fashionable?! I don't buy that for a second. Again, I need to open my mind. My only point of comparison here are the swimsuits in Europe. Many countries in the EU consider being topless on a beach the norm, and yet having grown up in the US I would never even consider going topless if I were in Europe. Why? It stretches way beyond my comfort level. Perhaps the abaya is the same thing. It provides a familiar comfort level to the women who have worn them out on the streets their entire lives. Afghani women, on the other hand, discarded their burqas as quickly as possible, many of them old enough to remember life before the Taliban.

I cannot imagine never feeling the sun on my face or rushing for cover under a black veil in the presence of male non-relatives. And now, I don't know what to believe. I do think there should be choices. If women don't want to drive cars or show their faces on the street then so be it, but what about the women (even if they be a small few) who do want to espouse more liberal American ideals? Is it our place to facilitate this? Are we helping women to gain freedom or are we just imposing our beliefs on them instead of their own government's?

In a Star Trek "prime directive" sort of way I think we should leave these women alone if they are clearly telling us that they are happy with things as they are. However, my gnawing sense of liberalism says they don't know what they are missing. At the moment I guess we will just have to take them at face value and let the diplomatic process lead the way. Change doesn't happen overnight, if at all. And if it is forced they will surely resent us for it.


At 12:47 PM, September 29, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

indeed you are open-minded. very rare in these times. people from other parts of the world are capable of being happy without experiencing the the so-called american way of life.freedom, democracy and equality is not an exlusive american domain. europeans, asians, africans also have there own ideas and in their own context.


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