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Women in Saudi....
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Cleopatra



Joined: 28 Jun 2003
Posts: 3657
Location: Tuamago Archipelago

PostPosted: Mon Jan 12, 2004 12:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting - as you say it might be a sign of things to come but I wouldn't bet my last rial on it.

Actually, I don't think that most of those who oppose women drivers have ever claimed that the Kor'an specifically forbids such a thing. They have just said that it is immoral for women to be "unprotected" and open to engaging with men and so on...

i had an interesting discussion on this very subject with my female students in Riyadh. They all agreed that women driving was not haram, but said - with only 10 or 2 exceptions - that they themselves would not drive and thought that the driving ban was proof (if proof were needed!) of how esteemed and protec ted Saudi women really were! One girl also said that because women are naturally weak-willed and excitable, it would be a trerrible idea for them to drive and open themselves up to exploitation by unsrupulous men ready and willing to prey on their honour...

As for the men, they always started going on about "What if she had an accident?" "There are no female traffic officers" and so on..

Were these people just saying that they thought I ought to hear? Perhaps, but even if it were legal for women to drive tomorrow, I think only a tiny proportion would be allowed or want to do so. As far as I know, even in the UAE, where it is of course legal for women to drive, only a small proportion actually do so, but i could be wrong on this one.

Will driving soon be legalized in KSA? I don't know - there would certainly be strong objection to any such move, but maybe the Royals feel they can discount this. If you had asked me this question a year ago, I would have said "Not for the next ten years at least". Now, however, I think John might be right, but I'm not expecting to see veiled Riyadh ladies driving in their droves any time soon.

I do hope they do lift the ban. Not because I think it's a terribly important issue in and of itself, but jmust so that inane "Western" journalists will no longer have such an easy refrain in their half-assed articles!
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Cleopatra



Joined: 28 Jun 2003
Posts: 3657
Location: Tuamago Archipelago

PostPosted: Mon Jan 12, 2004 2:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oops, that should have been "1 or 2 exceptions".

But who knows, perhaps in this new climate of "openness" and reform, it might now be 10?
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12292
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Mon Jan 12, 2004 11:56 pm    Post subject: A Driving Force Reply with quote

Dear Cleopatra,
The ban on women drivers has always seemed illogical - OK, downright silly - to me, anyway (in addition to its not being dictated by Islam). I mean, you put your wife and/or daughters in the care of some Pakistani whom you don't really know at all? And isn't it just a symptom of a deep, underlying distrust - of being afraid to "let the ladies out, unsupervised". Sure, I know - it's to "protect" them from the evil world, and there could even be some truth in that. But in more cases, I suspect it's that Saudi males are afraid to give the ladies any freedom - who knows, they just might discover that hubby is a mighty poor catch, and that there are plenty of other fish in the sea.
Regards,
John
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Truth Hurts



Joined: 05 Jul 2003
Posts: 115
Location: Truthville

PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2004 11:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

John

I think all that talk about Saudi men being women repressors or pathologically suspicious of their wives potentially cheating on them is pure nonsense.

Saudi Arabia, if you haven't noticed, is a completely difficult culture and if we adopt an approach where we always assume that American culture is normal, right and uncontestable we're just gonna' end up making some pretty stupid statements.

I want to ask you a series of questions a Saudi mutawwa put to me recently: why do we Americans expect women to cover their brreasts, or to wear skirts, grow their hair long and live a monogamous life? Why do we Americans not eat cats and dogs? Why do we Americans make a big fuss about cannabis and not alcohol? Why do we pontificate about human rights and in the US we've got the death penalty, Guantanamo bay justice, daily collateral damage in Iraq, and more WMD's then the whole world put together?

Curious to know how you answer these questions.

TH
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12292
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2004 1:09 pm    Post subject: The customary thing Reply with quote

Dear Truth Hurts,
The fact that different cultures have different mores is an indisputable fact, but, I think, begs the question of just why those specific customs/traditions became established to begin with. Saying that every culture has the "right" to its own practices, that there can be no "right or wrong" in such matters sounds to me very much like the PC theory that
"There ARE no grammatical mistakes; everyone has the "right" to his/her own grammar". Personally, I don't buy that. I think that there are some areas where it can be said, "This custom/law violates basic 'human rights', and therefore should be put aside". Some examples: female circumcision; the death penalty; discrimination based solely on sex, race, religion, age, etc.
By no means do I believe that, " American culture is normal, right and uncontestable." There are many areas where "basic human rights" are being violated here, as well.
Now, as to your questions:
1. ". . . why do we Americans expect women to cover their brreasts, or to wear skirts, grow their hair long and live a monogamous life?
1. Well, as far as "covering the bre*sts" goes, that, I suspect, is all tied up with sexual taboos that extend to most human societies/cultures around the world - including the Kingdom ( and, I see, also Dave's Forums, which won't permit me to even TYPE the word "bre*st" without censorship). I think you'd have to admit, though, that one's chances of seeing "uncovered bre*sts" are a lot better in the States than in, say, Saudi Arabia. Are "basic human rights" being violated by this custom; I'd say no. As for "skirts", "long hair" and "a monogamous life" - huh? Don't know how long it's been since you've been back here, but these are NOT matters "expected" of American women nowadays (at least among all the people I know - but, to tell the truth, I guess the "monogamy" is still "expected"; however, the "double standard" is alive and well all over the world, perhaps even especially in the Kingdom).
2. Why do we Americans not eat cats and dogs?
2. Well, we probably do, if we go to many Chinese/Korean restaurants here. But dietary matters don't, I'd say, get into the "human rights" category - although PETA would likely claim that "animal rights" are equally important.
3. Why do we Americans make a big fuss about cannabis and not alcohol? Why do we pontificate about human rights and in the US we've got the death penalty, Guantanamo bay justice, daily collateral damage in Iraq, and more WMD's then the whole world put together?
3. The answer to all these is easy - because we're illogical and hypocritical - see the "double standard" about "monogamy", mentioned above (and sometimes simply downright stupid), just as I'd say the Saudis are about some of their laws/customs.
Regards,
John
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Truth Hurts



Joined: 05 Jul 2003
Posts: 115
Location: Truthville

PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2004 5:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello John

Interesting answers although you may have possibly missed the point about my questions or I didn't make it sufficiently clear, so I'll have another crack at it.

Very often we tend to frame other cultures in formulaic ways that in no way capture the complexity and fluidity of a culture. And these formulations in all likelihood say more about OUR culture than the culture we are describing. So Saudis are often generically described as women repressors, living in the middle ages, don't drink alcohol, refrain from pork, despise nudity, amputate limbs, and hate the West.

Now imagine the following depiction of American culture by a fictional objective observer:

"Americans are a people who repress their women by demanding they cover their brreasts and genitalss, refrain from the pleasures of polygamy, shun cannabis, do not eat the flesh of the dog, do not shave their eyebrows, use curious electrodes attached to chairs to punish criminals, round up brown peoples in obscure locations and dress them in flourescent orange garments. "

Now, doesn't this sound utterly LUDICROUS!!

TH
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12292
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2004 9:33 pm    Post subject: Keeping abreast of basic human rights Reply with quote

Dear Truth Hurts,
I certainly take your point that it's easy to see another culture, especially one that differs greatly from one's own, from a point of view that can seem "ludicrous". However, perhaps you missed my point about my belief that there are basic human rights that ALL cutures should respect. This includes the USA, which, in my opinion, is in violation of these in instances such as capital punishment and in its treatment of the "non-prisoners-of-war" at Guantanamo, to mention just two cases. If we disagree on this issue, I'll be happy to discuss it. But I really don't see why you are mentioning irrelevant examples such as covering bosoms and genitals, diet and eyebrows, which, in my opinion, are not germane to the subject of violating basic human rights.
Regards,
John

P.S. Here's a web site you (and others) might enjoy - I did.


http://home.earthlink.net/~no2bush/dishonestdubya.html
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grahamb



Joined: 30 Apr 2003
Posts: 1432

PostPosted: Wed Jan 14, 2004 10:12 am    Post subject: Going off on a tangent... Reply with quote

John, how do you manage to read so many books and newspapers and find all these internet links? Did you have a lot of free time in the KSA, or are you simply organised and methodical?
The dishonestdubya site is fantastic!
Graham.
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Cleopatra



Joined: 28 Jun 2003
Posts: 3657
Location: Tuamago Archipelago

PostPosted: Wed Jan 14, 2004 1:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Truth Hurst

I think you may be putting words into people's mouths just a little bit. Neither John nor myself ever said that America or the "West" is perfect. As you can see from this board, both of us are in fact very critical of "Western " hypocrisy, esp. with relation to the Middle East.

What I would like to say is that just because something is part of a country's "culture" doesn't neccesarily make it OK. Just because getting drunk and violent on a Saturday night may be a part of British "traditon " doesn't mean that it's a good or honourable tradition. So many times I've heard Saudis defend things simply by saying "It's our culture." While I can understand why they take this view - after all, many of them fear, not without some justification, that their culture is under threat and that they must defend it at all costs - all cultures develop and adapt to changing realities. And, in any case, is it really a part of their "culture" to ban women drivers? After all, neighbouring countries with similar socieities are happy with the idea.

I totally agree with John that all thos stuff about "protecting " women, while sincere to a certain extent, is also a mask for men wanting to control those same women. It applies to other areas of life too. A Saudi acquaintance of mine once told me that he would never let his wife work alongisde men - not because he didn't trust her, of course - but because he feared for her safety and honour when faced with a load of unscrupulous men. i thhink it comes back to this idea that women are basically frivolous and weak-willed, and are prey to the wiles of any man out there - hence they constantly need another person (a man, of course) to guard their dignity. As my conversations with Saudi women have shown me, this is also a view which many of them also share, which seems a bit sad to me.

PS Is it true that the driving ban, strictly speaking, did not come intoefect until after the first Gulf WAr, and that until then it was a social taboo rather than a legal ban?
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12292
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Wed Jan 14, 2004 2:13 pm    Post subject: You're grounded Reply with quote

Dear Cleopatra,
How well you put it. As for your question:

"Is it true that the driving ban, strictly speaking, did not come intoefect until after the first Gulf WAr, and that until then it was a social taboo rather than a legal ban?"

The ban on driving was in effect, as a legal matter, far before the first Gulf War. In fact, it was in force when I arrived in the Kingdom in 1980, and, although I can't prove it, I suspect it's been in effect since cars were first introduced into Saudi Arabia. What you may be thinking of is that, during the first Gulf War, a number of Saudi ladies in Riyadh decided to "test" the ban by having their drivers take them to a prearranged meeting place at a mall, and then, after ordering the drivers out of the cars, they proceeded to drive themselves. The consequences came fast and hard. Those of the ladies who were employed lost their jobs and were "blacklisted". I don't think any of them were imprisoned - not sure about that. But they were definitely "grounded for life."
Regards,
John

Whoops, I stand corrected:

"In daring defiance of the Saudi tradition against women driving themselves, 50 Saudi women, some accompanied by daughters, dismissed their drivers in a supermarket parking lot, slipped behind the wheels of their cars, and drove off in a convoy for about half an hour before being stopped and detained by police. There was no written law that prohibited women from driving, but tradition required them to have a paid driver or a relative at the wheel. (11/06/90)"

So, apparently it's an "unwritten law" - but then those kind are often even more binding than the written ones, especially in the Kingdom, where "tradition" is so sacrosanct.
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Truth Hurts



Joined: 05 Jul 2003
Posts: 115
Location: Truthville

PostPosted: Wed Jan 14, 2004 2:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Cleo

I beg to disagree. Maybe it's just me but I just cannot bring myself to make value judgements about a remote and complex culture not least one whose language I have not bothered to learn with any meaningful degree of proficiency.

If you don't know the language, and have not allowed yourself to soak up the culture, you are merely scratching on the surface and in this sense I agree entirely with the late Edward Said - that a lot of what we hear about Saudi is a facile characterization of the 'Other' in ways that say more about US then THEM. And that also goes for the rules for women driving.

In all my experiences in the Gulf, I have always spent a lot of time trying to understand how utterly strange WE must appear to THEM.

TH
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Cleopatra



Joined: 28 Jun 2003
Posts: 3657
Location: Tuamago Archipelago

PostPosted: Wed Jan 14, 2004 3:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Truth Hurts,

I totally agree with you that we should not make sweeping value judgements about cultures we don't understand.

However, we have all lived in KSA and have formed friendships with Saudis and, I hope, have some understanding of that society. Therefore, I feel we DO have a right to comment on what we experienced there.

If everyone in Saudi Arabia - or the majority of people - are happy with the ban on women driving, then by all means let it stay in place. The same goes for the prohibition on alcohol, shops closing for prayer, the veil and all those things which some whinging "Westerners" find so infuriating.
I never said, and never would say, that Saudi ARabia should change things just to suit "Western" sensibilities.

However, I suspect that, deep down, many (maybe not most) Saudis are not happy with many of the things about their society. It does appear that changes are beginning to take place though how succesful they will ultimately be, will not be known for years, maybe even decades. I just don't think you can defend something by simply saying "It's our tradition - therefore it's OK!"

As for US appearing strange to Saudis, you're right about that! My students were baffled by the fact that I was single and living 1000s of miles from my family. Of course, I told them I was perfectly happy to have things that way - but I very much doubt they really believed me, just like many "Westerners" insist that Saudi women are "brainwashed" when they insist they don't mind veiling or segregation.

As the saying goes, different strokes for different folks...
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12292
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Wed Jan 14, 2004 3:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Truth Hurts,
I think maybe it's just you. Lord knows I met plenty of "natives" in Saudi Arabia who were more than willing to make "value judgements about a remote and complex culture not least one whose language (they had) not bothered to learn with any meaningful degree of proficiency" - namely that of the USA. And I'm not so sure that even speaking the language with some proficiency would help that much, especially if one hadn't spent a fair amount on time living in that culture. Speaking English, for example, doesn't, I'd say, qualify me to automatically make all sorts of value judgements about Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc. Nor would speaking Arabic do the same for such different cultures as, say, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Morocco, etc. But I do believe that there are basic human rights that all cultures need to respect. Hmm, how about cultures that practice female circumcision or ones that practice capital punishment, or ones that imprison people without due process simply on the basis of their race, religion or national origin. Do you, then, not make value judgments about such cultures? I'll freely admit that I do, no matter what language is spoken there.
Regards,
John
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Truth Hurts



Joined: 05 Jul 2003
Posts: 115
Location: Truthville

PostPosted: Wed Jan 14, 2004 4:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Cleo

I suspect we share some significnat common ground on these issues. And I mean that with the utmost respect.

TH

John

If you care to read my post again, I said learning the language AND soaking up the culture (dis-inhibitively). And of course knowing English places you in a far better position in terms of understanding NZ, OZ and England than say an Italian, a Swede or a Saudi!

And returning to your issues with female circumcision et al, these are clearly not part of your cultural experience and they are clearly as far as I can see excesses of an over categorization of a culture - the same overcategorization that we accuse Arabs and Muslims of. The only way you can make sense of these pratices is if you stop overcategorizing and more importantly STOP deferring everything to American culture!

I wonder what the Saudis make of the modern practise of body piercing - a form of body mutilation no doubt to attract the opposite sex or make a bland expression of your personality?

TH
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Cleopatra



Joined: 28 Jun 2003
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Location: Tuamago Archipelago

PostPosted: Wed Jan 14, 2004 5:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Truth Hurts,

As regards female "circumcision" (I prefer the term "mutilation" myself) - I feel the same way as I do on the infamous driving issue. Namely, if the women experiencing such a thing are happy about it, then fine.

However, quite clearly, many women who have experienced this horror are NOT happy about it, and neither would I be if I had to go through such torture.

I read about a Somali woman who had been mutiliated and she deeply resented when Somali men (and some women) definded the practice by saying "It's a part of our culture". To me, that's like if a wsell-meaning person points out to me some charcter trait of mine which is self-destructive and I reply "Oh well - that's just the way I am! I've always been that way!"
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