News reports filtering in reveal that Saudi Arabia has its own moral conflicts. Abdul Jawad spoke about sexual conquests and how he picks up women.
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The salesman told her she was a size 38. It might be difficult to figure that out, but he had become an expert at judging the vital statistics of Saudi women in Jeddah. Yes, those who have to always be covered in an abaya, who cannot drive cars and have to be accompanied by a male member of the family. The women have been objecting to male salesmen in lingerie stores. Is this shame a Saudi trait? Ask women in most parts of the world and they will respond in a similar fashion.
By deeming certain societies as closed, we refuse to accept the existence of anything beyond our narrow vision. They get sanctified only when they fall in line with how we, the progressive, think and behave. It is a convenient yardstick used to buffer the false premise of pan-Islamism, which is linked to ‘backwardness’.
A few news reports filtering in the past few months reveal that Saudi Arabia has its own moral conflicts.
32-year-old Abdul Jawad spoke to a Lebanese channel about foreplay, sexual conquests and how he picks up women. He was shown in his bedroom with sexual aids and later cruising the streets in his car looking for women. He apologised and the authorities weren’t quite sure what to charge him with. The reason is complicated. If he found women, then those women were equally culpable.
If that society is all that conservative would there be a flourishing contract marriage industry? ‘Misyar’ gives men the freedom to have wives without the legality and payoffs that go with it. The women are usually single. There are some who go in for multiple temporary marriages. Therefore, why do reports highlight only the fun men have? Why do women opt for it when there is no security?
There is a deliberate attempt to colour such women as wretched creatures. The laws do favour men, but in cases where the legal is of no consequence and there is a tacit understanding, it permits women to break through the veil.
In contrast, they have a beauty contest for "Miss Beautiful Morals". The pageant founder said, “It's an alternative to the calls for decadence in the other beauty contests that only take into account a woman's body and looks.” There were sniggers. Had a western feminist spoken up, she would have been applauded. Here, in a patriarchal society, to gauge commitment to parents by young women is the real step forward where after marriage they are cut off from their roots.
If morality is an issue, then Oprah Winfrey has made millions solely on that. It isn’t surprising that she is an icon for Saudi women. Of course, the New York Times story made the talk show host into some great shining hope, quoting one woman as saying, “Oprah is the magic word for women here who want to scream out loud, who want to be heard.”
What one hears on the show are a lot of sniffles, which only goes to prove that the woman in the west is going through similar emotional turbulence. Or, even worse. How do you think an 11-year-old girl in America gets kidnapped and is made to live in hiding for 18 years with a known rapist and no one manages to trace her or arrest him? Is justice only about veneer?
Underground movements operate in almost all countries. Accolade, Saudi Arabia’s first all-girl rock band, is seen as a protest. In public they may be veiled, but the girls have body piercings and they attend gigs at private dos. It is unfortunate that they are losing their own voice of dissent and mimicking hip-hop, which has strong cultural resonances elsewhere. There is considerable amount of literature in Arabic, but they choose to be inspired by Pinocchio and The Last Supper. It is good to go beyond one’s walls, but these same people will sneer at Islamic religious ideas.
Repression comes in varied garbs and has often to do with power rather than faith. Perhaps, they might want to take note that King Abdullah is making sure that the areas around Mecca get the best malls, hotels and speed trains that will take pilgrims from their holy endeavours to worship at the retail therapy altar.
(c) Farzana Versey
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This is my Covert column of September 16