“Saudi Men Support” Saudi Women Driving

I googled “Saudi Women Driving” just now, and here is a representative sample of headlines from publications from both the East and West over the last few days:

Saudi Women Flaunt The Driving Ban

The Dilemma of Saudi Women Drivers

Saudi women: Driven to succeed

Saudi women deserve the right to drive

Today’s Lady News: Saudi Women Flaunt The Driving Ban

Saudi Women Demand Right To Drive 

Pot of emotions for Saudi woman driver 

Women turn to technology to demand change in Arab revolution

Two more Saudi women defy driving ban 

Women driving campaign

I then googled “Saudi Men Support” Saudi Women Driving, and here is a representative sample of headlines:

 

 

That’s right— nothing. I found no headline announcing the support of Saudi men for Saudi women driving. There’s something wrong here.

Saudi Arabia is a country controlled by men. Women, especially, are controlled by men. These women who drive are not doing so except with the permission of men. The men of the households of the women who drive either support them outright, permit their participation in the campaign, or, at least do not forbid it, so why are reporters not writing about them? Why are the men, themselves, not speaking out— or are they, and I simply haven’t seen the reports?

Am I to understand that the men are more afraid of the religious fatwa-makers than the women? I think not. I think that the men are, indeed, working behind the scenes to influence whose who need to be influenced so that women will be allowed to drive soon.

I also think writers are missing the boat when they focus exclusively on women’s determination, bravery, passion, etc., while they ignore the most important part of the issue– the men who are making it all possible. Of course, no one wants to hear that the success of the driving campaign rests upon the shoulders of men, but how else can the problem be resolved, except by the will of the men? Does anyone really think that a bunch of Saudi women can demand something like the right to drive, and get it without strong support of men?  Let’s get real about Saudi Arabia. If men want women to drive, women will drive. If they don’t, they won’t.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Barefoot in Bagdad by Manal Omar

In spite of what follows, I want to assert that I liked this book.  I liked the author’s passion, her determination, and her perspective as an American Muslim of Arab (Palestinian) descent.

Manal Omar  told this story in a conversational tone. True to most conversations, she wove in and out of it, introducing diverse elements easily and leaving them just as easily. I would have appreciated more consistency and more focus upon her actual work.

The narrative picks up drama towards the end, when Manal’s safety becomes untenable and she must evacuate.

I would have liked to hear more about the women she helped. Much of the book is wasted on prolonged accounts of her moves into various apartments, and how she found suitable quarters for establishing offices.

I would have also liked to hear more about how the love story developed. She glosses over it, and one wonders, while reading the book, whether her interactions with any of the men take on romantic tones. Of course, as a Muslim on shaky ground— both politically and morally—she cannot admit to much of a romance. Still, her almost haphazard mention of it towards the end of the book rings only half-true.

This book held me fascinated throughout, but I confess to being a captive audience because of my own Middle-Eastern experience, and also because my son-in-law is Iraqi, and I want to read more about Iraq’s recent history through the eyes of people who have experienced it.

Driving, Driving…Saudi Women Driving

Yesterday, a couple dozen Saudi women drove their cars in the Kingdom. The sky didn’t fall down, the ground didn’t open up to swallow them, and even the Saudi police did not exercise their prerogative to hunt them down and arrest them.

That was yesterday. Presumably, the women will continue driving today, and tomorrow… Their tactic to do so spordically, and not en masse—as was attempted in an unfortunate campaign on the streets of Riyadh in 1990— surely helped keep their profile low. I question, however, their wisdom in posting videos on YouTube, and putting their faith in the international community for support of their goal.

I also question their double standard in using social media—which is international in character—while at the same time asking non-Saudi women to refrain from joining them. If they want their effort to arise from Saudis only, they should look towards Saudi men, not international social media. I’ve noted that many Saudi men, even some who are quite influential in affairs of the Kingdom, support the initiative to allow women to drive. This support made yesterday’s event possible.

Saudi men will be the key players here, and Saudi men will determine whether or not Saudi women will gain the right to drive. There is no shame in this, nothing that takes away from women’s determination or desire or obvious need to obtain their driving rights. The fact is that Saudi Arabia is a patriarchal society, and that women are under the control of men, and that outward rebellion guarantees nothing but punishment.  The country is not built upon democratic ideals.

In the West, we have an historical tradition of social struggle, and of oppressed people seizing what has been denied them, and of suffering the consequences. We honor the notion of heroic self-sacrifice by certain individuals who act as catalysts for social reform. Some Westerners think that Saudi women can lift that template and apply it to the oppressive conditions under which Saudi women live. I suggest that Saudis have no need of borrowing the historical traditions of other societies. They have their own social dynamics, and need to work within them.

Oh, sure, they may eventually get their right to drive, even if they ride like American cowboys into enemy territory, galloping full-speed ahead with shouting and screaming and the intention to take by force. I can only imagine the collateral damage that would be exacted by such a strategy.

As much as they might hate to appeal to their men for something their men have denied them, Saudi women have already gained the respect and support of some men. Let those men work towards influencing other men. Let this issue become an issue of men and women working together. If Saudi men and women work together on this important task, maybe they can work together for the betterment of other conditions that put artificial barriers in front of women’s autonomy. Then, we might see some genuine improvement in the ability of Saudi women to develop themselves,  take better care of their families, and contribute in new ways towards the prosperity of their country.

Internet Book Club for Middle-Eastern Literature in English

Blogs can be profoundly enlightening, properly educational, and/or entertaining for both readers and writers. After reading a number of them focusing on topics of Muslim and Middle Eastern concern, I asked myself, “What did I read before I read blogs? How did I deepen my understanding of Middle-Eastern culture?”

Well, I read books, of course!

Life in Saudi Arabia guaranteed lots of free time for women, time spent at home. For readers and writers, the lifestyle offered plenty of opportunity to indulge those interests. Riyadh had two wonderful bookstores, Obeikan, and Jareer. Each offered decent English language sections, in which my friend Sharon and I would browse until we spent several hundred riyals each. Then we’d go home and read for two or three months, after which we’d make our pilgrimage to the other bookstore. In between major book buying excursions, we’d buy magazines at the mall or grocery store.
Trips abroad rounded out our book collections because we got books we couldn’t buy in Saudi Arabia, and I don’t mean books of a “haram” nature. Those types of books we read while abroad, but we always found plenty of material perfectly safe to bring into the Kingdom.

During my first trip to Egypt, in 1986, I visited the AUC bookstore, and I still remember how thrilled I felt to be amidst such a wonderful selection of Middle-Eastern literature in translation. I still have the books I brought back from that trip.

This week I once again felt thrilled to discover a great collection of Middle-Eastern literature, some in translation, at a site called Good Reads. I found this site via Arabic Literature (in English): http://arablit.wordpress.com/book-clubs/. I inquired about an Internet book club focusing on Middle Eastern literature, and I was referred to this group on Good Reads:

http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/413.Middle_East_North_African_Lit

which I joined immediately. If you’ve read this post until now, you might as well go right over to Good Reads and check out this book club. I’ve got lots more books choices, now, plus lots of people with whom to exchange ideas and recommendations re: what to read next. Good Reads also offers dozens of groups for dozens of categories, but I’m looking forward to renewing my interest in Middle-Eastern literature in translation.

The Lessons of the Bees

Summer has finally broken through our stunted spring, and the lawn is growing as I write.  By the time my lawn mower was oiled and tuned for this season, the grass had grown so long it had started to go to seed. So, for the first cutting this year, I had to collect the clippings, rather than leave them on the lawn as a nutrient. One evening last week, I fastened the bag to the lawn mower, poured gas into the tank, and steered the wheelbarrow out of the garage.

Before starting, I walked the property, looking for large twigs, stones and other debris that might get caught in the blades and dull them. When I came to the hole next to the tree stump, I froze and stared, frightened at the sudden memory of the bees that had colonized that hole last year, the bees that turned on me simply because I’d approached their home too closely.

Last year, a large branch succumbed to high winds, fell from a tree, and gouged out a hole in the grass. The bees moved right into that hole. I’ve never liked bees; I tolerate them as members of the natural order, giving benefits and having the rights of living spaces just like us. Last summer, I mowed the lawn carefully near the hole, lowering the speed of the engine as I passed back and forth.  At first, the bees and I ignored each other. I kept an eye on them, however, not wanting to antagonize them, but just to mow the grass, without evicting them.

As last summer progressed, Mom and I noticed more and more bees floating around the area. Then we noticed bees actively flying in and out of the hole. I began to wonder whether I could continue mowing the grass safely, but my trusting nature said yes. The bees would know that I wished them no harm, that I simply wanted to keep the lawn trimmed.

One day, having lowered the speed of the engine and slowed my rate of approach, a bee erupted from the hole before I got there, zoomed in on my lower leg, and stung me immediately.

Bee stings do not injure severely– unless one is allergic– but they hurt like hell. I iced the wound, cursed, and returned to the lawn mower, determined to trim the grass tufts adjacent to their nest. I pulled the lawnmower handle, the engine resumed its rotations, and before I could advance another foot, two bees shot up from the hole like a flame from Hell. I dropped the handle and ran, bees chasing me. One of them veered off, but the other grabbed hold of my trouser leg. I pulled the fabric away from my flesh, as it’s abdomen thrust in and out of the fabric trying to reach its target. I continued to hobble away from the scene, screaming for help, not knowing whether other bees had followed, but no one heard me.

I reached the front of the house, where some stiff bushes provided a surface upon which to scrape off the bee. It fell to the ground, dying, leaving its stinger to continue probing the fabric of my trousers. “You stupid bee!” I said to myself. “I meant you no harm.”

The lawn mower continued to run, standing next to the bee’s nest, but I had to return, if only to turn it off and withdraw. I did so gingerly, without further incident. I told Mom I would no longer mow the grass in that area of the lawn. The bees had extinguished my desire to approach.

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Recently, I was flamed on a blog I’d been reading and commenting on for years: http://americanbedu.com/2011/05/26/saudi-arabia-how-should-a-saudi-woman-demand-her-rights/

I feel sad that I became the target of people who think differently than I do, and are so narrow-minded they thought I was attacking them. They do not know that polite engagement of those who think differently usually expands the perspectives of everyone. Like the bees that felt threatened when I approached their ground dwelling, those participants reacted instinctively.

Last year’s bees taught me something about the nature of instinct, and about group dynamics, but especially about my own naïve trust, my tendency to assume that I will be accepted as readily as I accept others, that my maturity, intellect, and open-mindedness will be matched.  My mistake— this year — was to ignore the possibility that my willingness to probe someone’s precious assumptions would  be perceived as a direct threat to that person’s sense of integrity.

This post is my salute to the incident, the “last word”, if you will, a good-bye of sorts to a blog I used to respect, a blog that claimed more of my time than my own blog.  Well, perhaps I’ll yet find a satisfying depth of communication somewhere on-line, or even right here, in my own back yard.  

Marahm, welcome back!