I’m sure there are good men in Saudi Arabia who find it abhorrent and painful that women can’t drive, for instance. I’m also sure they enforce that rule on their women because they don’t want them fined or imprisoned or worse. They can’t DO anything. Not as individuals. And they’re too busy feeding their families to organize and run campaigns [to] free women. Also, there have been some men who have organized and tried to make a difference, but there weren’t enough of them. That “grain of sand” stuff only works dramatically in movies. In real life, it’s more one generation raising the other; one friend talking to the other – until the balance TIPS.
And once it does making them feel guilty would be a counterproductive. Sorry for breaking Godwin’s law, but did we persecute ALL of the German people for Hitler’s crimes? No. Could any of them have spoken up? Many did. But most people who were alive at that time were good people caught in a social mechanic they couldn’t break out of – not individually. And they weren’t connected enough to form cohesive groups.
While we’re speaking of Germany, look at collective guilt and collective punishment for “crimes” that people supposedly committed which no individual could have stopped. If you’ve studied the mechanics of the avalanche leading to WWI (I have. There’s a novel about the Red Baron and time traveling started, and it will eventually get done) there was a certain unstoppable force to it. It was going to start sometime. Someone was going to fire the first shot.
It was Germany. They invaded other countries. The “Hun” entered European mythology of the early twentieth for reasons both good and bad. (Google WWI Belgian Nuns, for instance. Much of it was propaganda, but a lot of it, doubtless, happened.)
When they lost the war, they were treated as if they and they alone and they collectively were guilty. The penalty levied was so high they could not and would not pay and that it was crushing the man in the street.
There were other reasons leading to the rise of Hitler. However, THAT punishment facilitated it. It might not have happened without it. The “in for a lamb, in for a sheep” is a normal human reaction. If you’re held constantly guilty of things you did NOT do and could not have changed, you’re going to DO something anyway. I mean, how can it get worse?
To a certain type of woman – or man, though we’re only giving some tenured college professor males that kind of power – it is sweet to be able to play the victim ad nauseam. Particularly when you’ve never actually been victimized. And it is great to be able to make men squirm with stories of past injustice and feel guilty for things they are either way too young to have done (anyone born after the fifties, pretty much) or could not have changed if they tried, but which many of them mitigated in small ways.
And to a certain type of man – or woman, but in this case it doesn’t apply – it’s a great feeling to go around apologizing for the crimes of your ancestors. If you feel your accomplishments are diminished by theirs, apologizing gives a quick leveling. You recognize they did wrong, therefore you must be better than them. It’s a stupid feeling that ignores that you’re probably also doing things that your descendants will apologize for, but hey, it’s much better than actually trying to achieve something. Less work. Instant boost.
This dynamic gives power to passive-aggressives and bullies, the exact type of person you don’t want to have any power. And it makes good people feel like they’re bad and if they’re bad they might as well act it. It can, for instance, make young men very attracted to religions that DO oppress women (and no, sorry, that’s not most main line Christian religions, where you can leave if you want to.) Frankly, I think it’s a miracle more of my son’s generation hasn’t converted to one of those. I think it’s a witness to their essential decency, given the books, the movies and everything else designed to make them feel guilty for crimes they never committed.
Sarah Hoyt, “The Sharp Edge of Guilt, a blast from the past March 2010”, According to Hoyt, 2015-06-05.
March 14, 2017
November 15, 2016
Russia and the West are fighting to decide whether Syria will be run by Sunni Islamists backed by Saudi Arabia or Shiite Islamists backed by Iran. This insane civil war has burned up countless lives, not to mention plenty of dollars, rubles, euros and pounds. The only certain winners of this war, once the dust has settled, will chant “Allahu Akbar” and call for the death of the infidels.
Daniel Greenfield, “It’s a Mad, Mad War”, Sultan Knish, 2016-10-27.
July 19, 2016
At Samizdata, Brian Micklethwait links to an essay that summarizes some of the confusing and contradictory motives and actions that have roiled the Middle East for the last few years:
I haven’t much to say about all this, but one thought does occur to me, which is that it seems rather wrong for Americans to blame other Americans for this bloody shambles. (Haivry himself does not blame America.) The next silliest thing to believing that your country is an unchallengeably magnificent superpower that never ever errs is to believe that your country’s mistakes and crimes are overwhelmingly more important and blameworthy than those of any other country, these two attitudes being far more similar than those who indulge in the latter one typically realise. The Middle East would surely now be a bloody shambles whatever the Americans had recently tried to do about it.
If there are imperialist villains to be blaming, how about Britain and France? But one suspects that, again, even if those notorious “lines in the sand” had never been drawn around a century ago, what would be happening on top of this sand would still now be a bloody shambles.
The only rays of light that Haivry discerns are in the form of the various little non-Islamic and anti-Islamist statelets that are starting to form, such as the newly emerging Kurdistan. The Kurds aren’t the only ones doing this, apparently. Good to hear.
Here’s the link to the Ofir Haivry essay.
In 2007, in a seminar room in Jerusalem, a day-long session was devoted to Israeli regional strategic perspectives. I was among the participants together with several other scholars, a former Israeli interior minister, a future Israeli defense minister, and two future Israeli ambassadors to the U.S. At a certain point, the talk turned to various scenarios for the regional future and the opportunities or dangers each of these entailed for Israel. When the possible breakup and partition of Arab states like Iraq or Syria was raised, the near-unanimous response was that this was simply too fantastic a scenario to contemplate.
Now we live that scenario. The great Sunni Arab implosion that began with the 2011 “Arab Spring” was unforeseen in its suddenness, violence, and extent. But some, both inside and outside the Arab world, had long suspected that, sooner or later, a day of reckoning would indeed arrive. (Among Westerners, the names of Bernard Lewis and David Pryce-Jones come most readily to mind.) Today, those in the West who acknowledge this great collapse for what it is will be better able to face the emerging realities. But the first and most important step is to recognize that there is no going back.
And what would all this entail for Western interests and for the regional policy of the U.S. (should it wish to have an active one)? There is no point in dreaming any longer of a grand deal with Iran, or of rebooting the good old days with Turkey, let alone resuscitating an Arab hegemony led by Egypt and the Saudis. As with the huge, decades-long effort by Great Britain to prop up the Ottoman empire, finally blasted in World War I, so with the increasingly forlorn effort by the U.S. to save the Sunni Arab regional order from collapsing, now finally revealed as a road to nowhere. One might as well attempt to restore the Balkans to the Habsburg empire or the Ottoman fold, or to resuscitate Yugoslavia.
With artificial regimes and borders gone, people in the region seek protection and solidarity in the old identities that have survived the Arab reverie: their nation, their religion, their tribe. These are the only building blocks upon which a new and stable system can be founded. The process will be long, complex, and fraught with difficulty, but it offers a prospect of strategic as well as moral coherence. A region redrawn along lines of actual self-definition would give voice to the communities on the ground that will become invested in its success and work for its stability.
For Western observers and policy makers, the principle should be to look with appropriately cautious favor on significant groupings that possess their own voice and some degree of self-government, while ensuring that in the event of their political defeat, they will not be exterminated—which is far more than any of the Arab world’s political systems ever offered anyone. Some of these groupings will evolve into robust independent nations, others into weak federal states or new tribal confederations. Some, cherishing the opportunity, will build thriving and prosperous democracies, and perhaps even become natural allies of the West and Israel. Others will undoubtedly, yet again, waste their opportunities, devolving into another round of petty and corrupt tribal entities—though with the advantage to themselves of ethnic and religious cohesiveness and to outsiders of being too small to entertain dreams of internal or external genocide. In the Middle East, again, not such a bad outcome.
December 7, 2015
Women in Saudi Arabia are registering to vote for the first time in history, more than four years after King Abdullah granted equal voting rights.
They will be allowed to vote in municipal elections due to take place in December and can also stand as candidates.
“[Voting is] a dream for us,” Jamal Al-Saadi, the first woman to register in Medina told the Saudi Gazette. “[It] will enable Saudi women to have a say in the process of decision-making.”
Human rights campaigners have welcomed the move, but warn there is still a long way to go in the fight for gender equality in the conservative Muslim nation.
Saudi Arabia has an abysmal human rights record, particularly with regards to protecting women. Although in recent years the rights of women have been incrementally extended, their actions are still severely restricted.
“This long overdue move is welcome but it’s only a tiny fraction of what needs to be addressed over gender inequality in Saudi Arabia,” Amnesty International’s Karen Middleton told The Independent.
“Let’s not forget that Saudi Arabian women won’t actually be able to drive themselves to the voting booths as they’re still completely banned from driving,” she says.
January 25, 2015
Vox.com‘s Amanda Taub on a memorable visit for then-Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to Britain (and yes, this one is far too good to check):
During their meeting, she gleefully recounted the story of Abdullah’s first visit to Balmoral, her castle in Scotland. It all started innocently enough, with an offer to tour the estate:
After lunch, the Queen had asked her royal guest whether he would like a tour of the estate. Prompted by his foreign minister the urbane Prince Saud, an initially hesitant Abdullah had agreed. The royal Land Rovers were drawn up in front of the castle. As instructed, the Crown Prince climbed into the front seat of the front Land Rover, his interpreter in the seat behind.
But then, a surprising twist! The Queen herself was Abdullah’s driver:
To his surprise, the Queen climbed into the driving seat, turned the ignition and drove off. Women are not — yet — allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah was not used to being driven by a woman, let alone a queen.
And she wasn’t just driving, she was DRIVING, leaving Abdullah a quivering wreck:
His nervousness only increased as the Queen, an Army driver in wartime, accelerated the Land Rover along the narrow Scottish estate roads, talking all the time. Through his interpreter, the Crown Prince implored the Queen to slow down and concentrate on the road ahead.
That’s right: Queen Elizabeth basically spent an afternoon using her military-grade driving skills to haze the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
H/T to Damian Brooks for the link.
September 7, 2014
Strategy Page looks at the various forces and factions opposed to the rise of the Caliphate of ISIS:
In the Middle East Islamic radicalism, and its murderous offshoot Islamic terrorism, comes in many different flavors. Most groups are mutually antagonistic and will often kill each other as eagerly as they go after kaffirs (non-Moslems.) Nearly all these radical movements now condemn ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) and condemn ISIL for being too extreme. To the West these seems absurd, and many Moslems agree. But radical Islam is what Islam began as and to this day there are always Moslems who embrace the concept of extreme Islamic radicalism and Islamic terrorism as being the ultimate form of Islam. Thus while Saudi Arabia bans all other religions in its territories and regularly beheads people accused of sorcery and other religious offenses, the Saudis condemn ISIL. One reason for this is that ISIL considers the Saudi government weak and not Islamic enough and worthy of being replaced (after a righteous bloodbath of the current Saudi royal family) by someone more suitable (like ISIL). Al Qaeda also condemns ISIL, initially for not ignoring al Qaeda orders to tone down the barbaric treatment (mass murder and torture) of the enemy because al Qaeda realized that this eventually triggers a backlash from other Moslems. Iran condemns ISIL because all Shia (meaning all Iranians) are heretics and deserving of summary execution. Iran-backed Hezbollah is now using that ISIL threat to justify Hezbollah grabbing more power in Lebanon, where Shia are a third of the population but far more powerful politically because Iranian cash, weapons and training have made Hezbollah too strong for the elected Lebanese government to suppress or even oppose. In Syria, the minority (more Shia) Assad government, fighting a Sunni rebellion since 2011, now calls on their current Sunni enemies (Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arabs, plus the Sunni majority in Syria) to join with them in destroying ISIL.
Whatever else ISIL has done it has united many other Sunni faction and the Shia in the region into an uneasy anti-ISIL coalition. But even after ISIL is gone, Islamic radicalism will still be there. For most Moslems this radicalism is like the weather; every Moslem talks about but Moslems cannot seem to do anything to eliminate or even control it.
Islamic terrorism has long been trapped in a self-destructive cycle of its own making. It works like this. Islamic radicals obtain their popularity and power by proclaiming that they are defending Islam from non-believers and sinners (within Islam, often local Moslem dictators). In order to maintain this moral superiority, the Islamic radicals must be better Moslems, and insist that others do as they do. Since Islam is a religion that dictates how one lives, in considerable detail, as well as how one plays, this business of being a “good Moslem” can get tricky. And it is. There’s a race underway by Islamic radicals, and the clergy that provide theological support, to issue, and enforce, more and more rules on how a good Moslem should live.
April 30, 2014
The Saudi government and the Russian government both called for Norway to correct its appalling record in (certain) human rights areas:
Saudi Arabia has criticised Norway’s human rights record, accusing the country of failing to protect its Muslim citizens and not doing enough to counter criticism of the prophet Mohammed.
The gulf state called for all criticism of religion and of prophet Mohammed to be made illegal in Norway. It also expressed concern at “increasing cases of domestic violence, rape crimes and inequality in riches” and noted a continuation of hate crimes against Muslims in the country.
The Scandinavian nation came under scrutiny during the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review, in which 14 States are scheduled to have their human rights records examined.
Russia meanwhile called for Norway to clamp down on expressions of religious intolerance and and criticised the country’s child welfare system. They also recommended that Norway improve its correctional facilities for those applying for asylum status.
An amusing co-incidence: while I was adding tags to this post, I typed “sau” to get the auto-fill “SaudiArabia” tag. The other tag that fit that pattern? “Dinosaurs”. H/T to Amy Alkon for the link.
February 19, 2014
William Tucker suggests that societies that practice polygamy will always produce a violent fringe of men too poor or too powerless to have even a chance of marriage (or any kind of stable relationship with women):
Polygamy? What does that have to do with anything? Am I suggesting that because some minor sheik outside Baghdad takes two wives, two young Muslim brothers in Massachusetts feel compelled to blow up the Boston Marathon?
Well, yes. In any human society there are approximately the same number of men and women. Under monogamy, which limits each man to one wife, everyone gets a fair chance to marry. When powerful and successful men are allowed to take more than one wife, however, as they are in a polygamous society, this creates a pool of unsuccessful men at the bottom of society who are constantly in conflict with the system.
The history of Islam has been one continuous story of rebel groups off in the desert and deciding that the religion being practiced by the authorities and their harems back in the cities is not the “true Islam.” They come crashing back upon the palaces, overthrowing the leaders (no Ottoman Sultan ever died of natural causes) and establishing a new regime that is just like the old one, where powerful are allowed to take multiple wives.
The fruits of polygamy are visible all over the Middle East. Because women are always in short supply, families can charge a “bride price” to any man who wants to marry their daughter. Because daughters are now worth money, they must be veiled and sequestered so they don’t run off with some callow youth. Older men desperate for wives push down into younger and younger cohorts of the population. Marriages between 35-year-old men and 13-year-old girls become common. […]
But the main product of polygamy is a population of angry young men who are ripe recruits for terrorism. The Koran supposedly limits a man to four wives but in countries where there are vast disparities of wealth this is routinely violated. Osama bin Laden’s father, a successful Saudi businessman, had 22 wives and 54 children. The unbalance between unmarried men and the available women in Saudi Arabia is the highest in the world.
March 3, 2013
Strategy Page explains why some of the most lucrative customers for high-tech weaponry are Arab nations:
Britain has been quite successful selling their new Typhoon fighter to Middle East nations. Two years ago Saudi Arabia bought 72 Typhoons from Britain. That was followed by an order for 12 from Oman and now the UAE (United Arab Emirates) is negotiating the purchase of 60 of these expensive aircraft. This is big money, as the aircraft have a basic price of $65 million each and there are many ways to greatly increase that. For warplanes sold to Arab Gulf states there is an additional bonanza. The biggest additional cost is providing support services and personnel to keep the aircraft operational. The Typhoon manufacturer, BAE Systems, is energetically recruiting qualified maintenance personnel to keep these aircraft flying. This a much larger profit center for Arab customers than for anyone else. Few local Arabs will be recruited for this work and most of these technicians will come from the West. That is very expensive. Why can’t locals be found for these high paying jobs? The reason is simple; there are few Arabs qualified or even interested in such exacting work. This is a common problem in the Middle East.
For example, the unemployment rate in Saudi Arabia is 12 percent and many of those men are unemployed by choice. Not even counted [are] most women, who are barred from most jobs because they are women. Arab men tend to have a very high opinion of themselves, and most jobs available, even to poorly educated young men, do not satisfy. Thus most Saudis prefer a government job, where the work is easy, the pay is good, the title is flattering, and life is boring. Thus 90 percent of employed Saudis work for the government. In the non-government sector of the economy, 90 percent of the jobs are performed by foreigners. These foreigners comprise 27 percent of the Saudi population, mostly to staff all the non-government jobs and actually make the economy work. This means most young Saudi men have few challenges. One might say that many of them are desperate for some test of their worth, but a job in the competitive civilian economy does not do it, nor does the military.
The Saudi employment situation is not unique. The UAE (United Arab Emirates) has foreigners occupying 99 percent of the non-government jobs. The unemployment rate is 23 percent, but only a tenth of those are actually looking for a job. A survey indicated that most of the unemployed are idle by choice. Kuwait is more entrepreneurial, with only 80 percent of the non-government jobs taken by foreigners. The other Gulf Arab states (which have less oil) have a similar situation.
May 15, 2012
Shashank Joshi in the Telegraph on the good and bad news coming out of the recently foiled “underwear bomber” incident:
This week began with news of a remarkable intelligence coup. It has ended in ignominy, and a reminder that the pathological leakiness of the American bureaucracy has consequences for counterterrorism.
According to the Associated Press (AP), the CIA foiled an audacious plot by Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to attack an aircraft using an upgraded version of the underwear bomb that failed three years ago. The AP had, apparently, shown great responsibility in delaying publication for days at the request of the White House.
Then, the story grew both muddier and more remarkable still. The would-be bomber was in fact a mole. He was a British national of Saudi Arabian origin, recruited by MI5 in Europe and later run, with Saudi Arabia, by MI6. This is a testament to the unimaginable courage of the agent in question, and the ingenuity of British intelligence.
But the emergence of this story, with a blow-by-blow account of operational detail, is the result of reckless, impetuous leaking that could cost lives and compromise operations in the future.
March 20, 2012
Tim Black talks about the oddly different reaction to the Bahrain “Arab Spring” protests:
For decades, the people of this Middle Eastern state have lived under what is effectively a hereditary dictatorship. In spring last year, however, it looked like things might finally change. A long-repressed people began to feel emboldened. Protests gathered momentum. At last, it seemed, a more democratic, more open future beckoned. And then, the crackdown. The troops moved in, the shooting (and killing) started, and the summary arrest, detention and torture commenced in earnest.
Now, you could be forgiven for guessing Syria. But you’d be wrong. The place I’m describing here is the small Gulf state of Bahrain, just off the coast of Saudi Arabia. Still, given the brutal repression, given the popular unrest, you would expect the West to have responded to events in Bahrain much as it responded to events elsewhere in the region. After all, Bahraini troops effectively began firing on their own people; and a disenfranchised majority struggling for some degree of political sovereignty, long withheld by Bahrain’s decidedly unconstitutional monarchy, is still being repressed.
[. . .]
As I have written before, Bahrain is the point at which the hypocrisy of the West’s attitude to the Arab uprisings is writ large. While America, the UK and France were happy to pose, posture and bomb when it came to a pantomime villain like Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi, the far more problematic state of Bahrain offers no such easy moral capital.
[. . .]
So what of the situation now? With ‘human rights-trained’ police out on the beat, it must be hunky dory, right? Well, given that around 200,000 people (about a third of Bahrain’s population) gathered to protest in a suburb of Manama a few weeks ago, and given the near nightly explosions of tear-gassed violence in the villages and districts around the capital, it all seems far from hunky dory. As one activist put it last week, ‘This is a war’. And it is a war which officials from Saudi Arabia, America and Britain are fighting in — on the anti-democratic, liberty-crushing side.
February 26, 2012
News that David Kennedy, an Australian scholar, has succeeded in identifying almost 2,000 unexplored archaeological sites using Google Earth has focused attention on the wages of that battle: the destruction of Saudi Arabia’s own heritage More than 90 per cent of the archaeological treasures of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, experts estimate, have been demolished to make way for hotels, apartment blocks and parking facilities.
The $13 billion project that led to a wave of demolitions in the middle of the last decade was part of an effort to modernise infrastructure in the ancient cities, where millions of pilgrims gather for the Hajj each year.
Sami Angawi, an expert on Arabian architecture, lamented that history had been ” bulldozed for a parking lot”. “We are witnessing now the last few moments of the history of Mecca,”, he said.
The Kingdom’s ultraconservative clerics believe that the veneration of ancient sites associated with the Prophet Mohammad and his family is heretical, and want potential shrines obliterated.
In October last year, a Saudi clerical body was reported to have renewed long-standing calls for the demolition of several historic Islamic sites — including the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the grave of his mother.
H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link and the embedded video.
I’m reminded of a post at the old blog from February, 2006:
This is a cool part-time job
Elizabeth’s cousin Ross emailed her the other day to describe a new part-time job he’s taken on:
I have got myself another part-time flying job. It is flying a 1968 Cessna 172 (old single engine piston) for English Heritage. The job is aerial photography of ancient earth works/listed buildings/standing stones etc. etc. How good is that for a job?
I was up last Friday afternoon and the dude was photographing an iron age settlement in one of the villages less than 5 miles from ours. We have been shoeing in the village for years and had no idea. [After leaving the army, Ross became a farrier.] In fact one of the old farms that we have shod in has been demolished ready for development and the developers have allowed an archaeological dig to go in before they build.
From the air, with the low sun, you could easily see the outlines of the old settlement and ridge and furrow ploughing. I believe we will even go as far as Carlisle and Hadrian’s Wall. It is only where and when the weather is right and they have a target to shoot, but having done one flight for them I am looking forward to my next, whenever that may be.
The drill is, you fly to the target, circle it until the dude works out the best angle for the shot. He then opens the window while you bank the aircraft and hangs out and shoots.
It certainly sounds like a much more interesting job than being a flying truck driver!
February 12, 2012
Abuse of a system designed to catch international criminals led to the arrest of Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari for “insulting the Prophet Muhammed” on Twitter:
Interpol has been accused of abusing its powers after Saudi Arabia used the organisation’s red notice system to get a journalist arrested in Malaysia for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
Police in Kuala Lumpur said Hamza Kashgari, 23, was detained at the airport “following a request made to us by Interpol” the international police cooperation agency, on behalf of the Saudi authorities.
Kashgari, a newspaper columnist, fled Saudi Arabia after posting a tweet on the prophet’s birthday that sparked more than 30,000 responses and several death threats. The posting, which was later deleted, read: “I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you and there is a lot I don’t understand about you … I will not pray for you.”
More than 13,000 people joined a Facebook page titled “The Saudi People Demand the Execution of Hamza Kashgari”.
Clerics in Saudi Arabia called for him to be charged with apostasy, a religious offence punishable by death. Reports suggest that the Malaysian authorities intend to return him to his native country.
November 5, 2011
The alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador is too unrealistic for Hollywood, but George Jonas says it’s also too crazy not to be real:
If someone came up with an outlandish plot in which two Iranian agents, acting on behalf of government circles in Tehran, scheme with Mexican drug lords to blow up a Saudi ambassador on American soil, would a California screenwriter buy into it before a Virginia intelligence analyst, or would it be the other way around?
Place your bets.
[. . .]
Iranians are smart. If they weren’t smart, we wouldn’t have to worry about them building bombs. Do smart people come up with stupid plots? Not plausible. And look at the amateur pitch. Here’s a story that not only sounds like a B-movie, but is unveiled at a press conference that looks like a poster for a low-budget diversity flick: An African-American Attorney-General (Holder) flanked by a male Caucasian FBI Director (Robert S. Mueller) and a female Caucasian Assistant Attorney-General for National Security (Lisa Monaco) with a male Asian-American U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (Preet Bharara) hovering in the background. It’s early Hollywood multicultural chic. All that’s missing is the line “Coming to a theatre near you.”
This amuses the intelligence analyst. “The trouble with Hollywood-types,” he says, “is that they’ve manipulated reality for so long, they can’t even recognize it when they see it. Does your friend think Holder and Mueller and Monaco and Bharara are from Central Casting? Hello! They are who they are. Life has caught up with multicultural chic. It imitates art — or at least imitates Hollywood.”
My spook friend goes further. “Yes, it’s a stupid plot and that’s why it rings true to me,” he says. “Most true stories of international intrigue sound like B-movies.”
September 27, 2011
Saudi women will get the vote soon, which is a major development that is being greeted with jeers and yawns. Brendan O’Neill explains why it matters:
The granting of the right to vote to women in Saudi Arabia is a wonderful leap forward for democracy. Yet it has induced a weird concoction of cynicism and shoulder-shrugging indifference amongst the so-called sisterhood in the West, including in the upper echelons of human-rights groups who normally campaign for this kind of breakthrough. Amnesty International sniffily says “it is no great achievement to be one of the last countries in the world to grant women the vote”. Both Amnesty and the even more high-minded Human Rights Watch are serving up generous dollops of doom about this big shift in Saudi life, warning that having the vote is no “guarantee of rights” for Saudi women. Meanwhile, female members of the liberal commentariat pump out articles with headlines like “Why women in Saudi Arabia have a long way to go yet”.
Why are so many people so down on this development? Of course, the “democracy” which, from 2015, Saudi women will be allowed to take part in is far from perfect; like men, they will only get to vote in occasional municipal elections for advisers to the religious Shura Council. And yes, Saudi women’s lives will not magically transform overnight. In Britain in 1918, female suffrage was first only granted to women over the age of 30; it wasn’t until 1928 that women got the vote on equal terms with men. And it took many more years, decades in fact, for women to become full participants in society. Yet nobody, surely, would look back at the breakthroughs won by the Suffragettes in the 1910s and say, “Well, it was a big fat waste of time giving women the right to vote when many of them couldn’t aspire to anything more than housewifing drudgery”. Why do we say such things in relation to Saudi Arabia?
The reason the granting of the vote to Saudi women is a potentially brilliant development is because it implicitly recognises that these women are political beings, individuals with opinions and the right to express them (albeit in a limited fashion). Having recognised that fact, the Saudi authorities will now find it increasingly hard to justify and sustain the repression of women in other areas of social and political life. If Saudi rulers think they can grant women the right to vote and leave it at that — that there will be no further pressure for more reforms — then they must be even more insulated from reality and ignorant of history than we thought. History shows again and again that political concessions, even big ones, do not leave people satisfied, but rather fuel their aspirations for a better and freer life; they potentially make people angrier, in a good way, rather than happier.