Loosey-Goosey Saudi

Suffering perhaps from Stockholm Syndrome--too close identification with one's oppressor--oh, ok, she's finally gone nuts after imbibing extreme feminism--or something, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd swoons over the progressivism and liberalization over in...Saudi Arabia.

Yes, Saudi Arabia - where slavery is permitted but practicing a religion other than Islam is not, Saudi Arabia where public hangings are public entertainment, Saudi Arabia - where women cannot be seen in public and are forbidden to drive and must never, ever be seen in the company of a man not her relative, Saudi Arabia -  where fathers sell their pre pubescent daughters into marriage with older (50+ men), Saudi Arabia is now relatively uh, advanced.

Well according to the authoritative Maureen Dowd who learned everything about the country in a whirlwind week and a half as she writes in her column entitled "Loosey-Goosey Saudi:"

[A]fter spending 10 days here, I can confirm that, at their own galactically glacial pace, they are chipping away at gender apartheid and cultural repression.

Yet by the Saudis' premodern standards, the 85-year-old King Abdullah, with a harem of wives, is a social revolutionary. The kingdom just announced a new law that will allow female lawyers to appear in court for the first time, if only for female clients on family cases. Last month, the king appointed the first woman to the council of ministers. Last year, he opened the first co-ed university. He has encouraged housing developments with architecture that allows families, and boys and girls within families, to communicate more freely.

Young Saudi women whom I interviewed said that the popular king has relaxed the grip of the bullying mutawa, the bearded religious police officers who patrol the streets ready to throw you in the clink at the first sign of fun or skin.


The attempts at more tolerance are belated baby steps to the outside world but in this veiled, curtained and obscured fortress, they are '60s-style cataclysmic social changes. Last week, Sheik Abdul Rahman al-Barrak, a pugnacious cleric, shocked Saudis by issuing a fatwa against those who facilitate the mixing of men and women. Given that such a fatwa clearly would include the king, Prince Saud dismissed it.

"I think the trend for reform is set, and there is no looking back," he told me. "Clerics who every now and then come with statements in the opposite direction are releasing frustration rather than believing that they can stop the trend and turn back the clock."

I said that women I talked to were sanguine that they'd be allowed to drive in the next few years. "I hope so," he murmured, suggesting I bring an international driver's license on my next visit.

Oh sure, Dowd admits Saudi Arabia still has some minor problems: following the orders of the not so benign King Abdullah, "the bearded religious police officers" smashed stores that sold red roses or any other memento of Valentine's Day. And a few years ago female students who rushed out of a burning building were shoved back in, many to die or suffer horrible burns; modesty trumped their safety. Minor problems.

And hey, certainly an improvement over secular democratic Israel, where all religions are tolerated and men and women of all backgrounds live their lives in freedom. Accepting the beliefs of her host, Dowd complains that Israel is no longer a secular society but, in a Jewish country, rabbis (she calls them religious militants) have a right to voice their opinion. Those who disagree with the rabbis also have a right to express their impress her as much as Saudi Arabia.

And this non Jewish woman, along with some Jews, misinterprets a daily men's prayer thanking God for not making them a woman. Imagine that, in the privacy of their synagogues or home, some Israeli men thank God they aren't women because these men realize they are incapable carrying out the important responsibilities of women.

Maureen Dowd, stop whining about your life in America, about life for others in Israel and just stay in Saudi Arabia. You'd look oh so good in a veil; the world would be so much safer without you at the wheel of a car and we'd be spared your regressive silly thoughts when you're confined to your room under the supervision of a male guardian.