Monday, October 13, 2014

Send in Your Video in Support of Saudi Women Driving

I have written so many times about the fact that women are banned from driving here in Saudi Arabia.  I have been very vocal about my objections to this unfair driving ban based solely on gender discrimination.  

I personally drove safely in the United States for more than 40 years before moving to this country, yet despite my clean driving record and decades of driving experience, I am denied the right to drive in Saudi Arabia simply because I am female.  To me, this is the stupidest possible excuse imaginable. 

However the continuous stream of feeble excuses given by Saudi religious clerics for why women shouldn't drive here is beyond comprehension. Excuses like "Driving damages women's ovaries and pelvises," or that "Children of mothers who drive are born with disorders of varying degrees."  Oh, and then there's the one that claims a scientific study in countries where women drive caused an upsurge in homosexuality, prostitution, divorce, AND pornography.  Oh, yeah, and let's not forget their claim that within 10 years of allowing women to get behind the wheel in Saudi Arabia, there would not be a single virgin to be found within the kingdom.  And then there are the concerned men who try to convince us women that we are lucky to be being chauffeured around like queens or that we won't be able to handle a flat tire or broken down car and if that happens, it opens us up to all kinds of dangers.  And on and on and on ...

What really galls me here is the fact that it seems to be perfectly okay for little boys as young as 8 years old to drive here - because I see them driving all the time!  No one can tell me that an 8 year old boy behind the wheel is safer than someone like me driving just because he was born with a penis and I wasn't.  

This is 2014 and Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving.  The Saudi government has taken drastic measures to ensure its "No Woman No Drive" policy is enforced yet the movement continues to gain strength in spite of the repercussions.  CLICK HERE to read "10 Ways the Saudi Government Punishes People Who Defy the Ban on Women Driving," ranging from public reprimands to prison, and from impounding cars to lashings.

I'm tired of being made to feel that somehow I am inferior to a man or that I cannot be trusted to operate a vehicle in this country!  I'm tired of having to depend on a man here in Saudi Arabia just to take me to the store or the doctor's office! I'm tired of wasting so much of my valuable time waiting for a ride or canceling plans at the last minute because the driver didn't show up!  I'm tired of being treated like a child in this place when I am in my 60s!  I'm tired of ALL the ridiculous excuses!!!

NOW is your chance to show your support for the campaign for Saudi women to drive!

It doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman, or what country you live in - you now have the opportunity to stand side by side with women in Saudi Arabia who are banned from driving their own cars in their own country. 

Here is all you need to do:  

Make a video of yourself calling for the ban on women driving to be lifted.
Start off by stating your name and what country you are from in your native language.
State in your own words your reasons for why you think the driving ban on Saudi women should be lifted and why you feel the women of Saudi Arabia should be allowed the right to drive.  
Ask your friends to do the same!

Email your video as soon as possible to:

Here is the campaign's website and petition:

Thank you for your support.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sexualizing Children in Saudi Society

Jenna Al Shammary (photo credit: Saudi Gazette)

Jenna Al-Shammary,  a young Saudi school girl, excitedly dons bright red lipstick for her singing debut performing a Saudi National Day song in a theater play in the conservative city of Hail, Saudi Arabia.  She normally doesn't wear lipstick, but this is a special occasion and she will be on stage in front of an audience of mature adult grown men, many with young daughters of their own.  Her loosely draped long shiny emerald green satin robe is emblazoned with gold Palm trees and the crossed swords of the Saudi flag.  Her long dark hair flows loosely down to her waist, like many of her young Saudi schoolmates.

She is nervous but confident.  Jenna has practiced singing this song over and over again, but the butterflies in her stomach make her anxious that she will flub up the words of the song.

Eleven year old Jenna nails her performance.

But to her family's horror, within days of her performance, all hell seems to break loose and it's all negatively focused on Jenna.  No mention is made of her voice, her singing, her patriotism, her stage presence.  All attention is placed on her physical appearance.  Social media websites criticize her appearance as "immodest," calling her unimaginable names, faulting her parents for allowing such "indecency." After all, she wore red lipstick on stage and did not cover her hair from the men in the audience.  Such shame!

Really?  Is this what Saudi's culture and religion supports and truly believes?  Sexualizing a child?  Publicly criticizing a child?  Calling a child names that would incite a man to want to commit murder if he ever heard those names spoken about his own mother or sister or daughter?

Leave it to the perverted minds in Saudi Arabia to turn a child's innocent song of pride for her country into a tawdry sexualized scandal.   All these idiotic men could focus on was Jenna's sexuality.  This is the sign of a real sickness in this society.  It is truly perverse and unhealthy.  They see women and children merely as sexual objects.  

There is never a valid reason to attack a child in this manner.  An 11 year old should not be made to feel ashamed about her appearance or be made to feel like she is a sex object for men.  After all, it's not like she was dressed up on stage like Lady Gaga or Madonna or even some contestant on Toddlers and Tiaras.  What she wore and how she presented herself was perfectly acceptable in any normal society in this world.   

What's NOT normal is the sick reaction and criticism from a few twisted deranged men in this audience and the perpetual sexualization of women and children in this society.  THAT's what needs to be criticized, not an innocent 11 year old girl.  


Saudi Gazette article, "Twitter users slam girl, 11, for ‘immodest’ National Day show"

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Powerful Words about Saudi National Day

I try to focus on the positives about living here in Saudi Arabia.  Admittedly there are many things I must suck up, overlook, or ignore - otherwise it would drive me crazy.  September 23rd is Saudi National Day here in Saudi Arabia - the day when in 1932 the country officially became a unified kingdom under King Abdulaziz. In the seven years I have lived here in Jeddah, we have never partaken in any facet of the joyful celebrations, which have grown by leaps and bounds every year.

Surprisingly enough, this holiday was not really even celebrated here until just a few short years ago.   The reason why lies in the question of whether or not such celebrations are forbidden by Islam.  This question was an ongoing debate amongst religious scholars until the current king and his government voiced their support of the holiday.  With each passing year since then, the nation's birthday celebrations have gotten bigger and better, with fireworks, speeches and ceremonies, impromptu street parades, face painting, special events, shouting in the streets, special shopping sales, and a general sense of happiness and pride.

After being bombarded lately with images of proud citizens hanging out of their car windows waving Saudi flags and seeing the city awash in a sea of emerald green (the color of the national flag), I felt the need to share an astounding article written by a young Saudi female university professor named Bayan Perazzo entitled "Why I Refuse to Celebrate Saudi National Day."

On her Twitter account, Bayan describes herself as "a liberal feminist and excellent driver stuck in the wrong country."  She is a PhD candidate in International Law and Human Rights, holds a Master's Degree in Middle Eastern Politics and Islamic Law, and a Bachelor's degree in Sociology.  It is because of Saudi women like Bayan that I continue to have hope, as many here in Saudi Arabia do, that one day, among other things, this country will treat its women and foreign workers with the respect they deserve. The sheer gumption and courage this articulate young woman shows by speaking out like she does in a country that does not have freedom of speech and denies women their rights will amaze you.

This article will educate you and wow you.  Do yourself a favor and read it.  Your brain will thank you for it. 
Follow Bayan on Twitter: @BintBattuta87 

CLICK HERE to read "Why I Refuse to Celebrate Saudi National Day."  

To read more thought provoking articles by Bayan, CLICK HERE.  

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Progress Makes Me Happy!

There have been many times living in Saudi Arabia over the past seven years when I have gotten the impression that having fun is forbidden or at least frowned upon, that being happy is not something that people here  aspire to.  While I still get that feeling at times, the past couple of years I have seen a change gently sweeping over the general population of Saudi Arabia. 

A few years ago I couldn't have imagined the excitement I feel now when I see women actually working in the malls and other businesses.  People now seem much more relaxed, much more open.  More Saudi women seem to be dropping their face veils and wearing colorful abayas instead of just drab black.  I see smiles much more frequently than I used to.  Lots of people are into taking selfies - a huge change from the look of paranoia I saw on people's faces when they spied me with my camera in years past.  Even though to outsiders these strides may seem really small, to me I am seeing real social progress.

And it makes me happy!

When I first viewed this video I thought to myself that there is no way this could have happened on a flight in Saudi Arabia just a few years ago.  So in honor of Saudi National Day on September 23rd, enjoy this Saudi version of a flash mob on FlyNas Airlines.  Saudis can be fun-loving people too!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Humanitarian Relief for Syrian Refugees

PLEASE HELP if you can: Humanitarian Relief for Syrian Refugees

A personal friend of mine here in Jeddah will be taking part in the ongoing humanitarian relief for Syrian Refugees by Rita Zawaideh. She will be joining the Salaam Cultural Museum's Medical Mission taking place September 13-19.   She will leave from Jeddah for Amman on September 12 and needs donations of the items listed below for distribution via SCM to Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Tongue depressors
Blood pressure machine
Blood sugar machine and strips
Non-narcotic medications
Disposable Diapers

In addition, below is the wish list for the Malki/Salaam Children’s Center:
Art Supplies
Paper for watercolor
Colored Paper
Music Supplies
Percussion Set
Wooden Blocks
Wooden Puzzles (ages 6-10)
Play dough
Cutout Stencils

To make donations in Jeddah, please contact Samia Ann El-Moslimany at 055-562-3613 or drop off donations at the Photography by Samia Studio.  CLICK HERE for a map of the drop off location.  

If you cannot donate items or if you live somewhere other than Jeddah, please consider making a monetary donation towards this medical mission or the Malki-SCM Children's Center! CLICK HERE to make a monetary donation.

Thank you for any support your can give!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What is the most truly Muslim country in the world?

The following article was written by Patsy McGarry and is reprinted from The Irish Times, Religion and Beliefs Section, published on June 9, 2014.

Ireland is ‘the most truly Muslim country in the world’ 

Israel is more compliant with the ideals of the Koran than any predominantly Muslim country, according to the study.   

Hossein Askari, Professor at George Washington University

The country in the world most faithful to the values of the Koran is Ireland, according to Hossein Askari, an Iranian-born academic at George Washington University in the US.

The country in the world most faithful to the values of the Koran is Ireland, according to an Iranian-born academic at George Washington University in the US.  Next are Denmark, Sweden and the UK.

In a BBC interview, Hossein Askari, Professor of International Business and International Affairs at George Washington University, said a study by himself and colleague Dr. Scheherazade S Rehman, also rates Israel (27) as being more compliant with the ideals of the Koran than any predominantly Muslim country.

Not a single majority Muslim country made the top 25 and no Arab country is in the top 50.

He said that when their ‘Islamicity index’ was applied only Malaysia (33) and Kuwait (42) featured in its top 50 countries, compared to the US at 15, the Netherlands also at 15, while France is at 17. Saudi Arabia rated 91st, with Qatar at 111th.

In carrying out the study, they applied the ideals of Islam in the areas of a society’s economic achievements, governance, human and political rights, and international relations, he said.

On that index, “Muslim countries do very badly,” he said and accused them of using religion as an instrument of power.

Last November Professor Askari said that “we must emphasize that many countries that profess Islam and are called Islamic are unjust, corrupt, and underdeveloped, and are in fact not ‘Islamic’ by any stretch of the imagination.”

“Looking at an index of Economic Islamicity, or how closely the policies and achievements of countries reflect Islamic economic teachings - Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Singapore, Finland, Norway, and Belgium round up the first 10.”

In their ‘Overall Islamicity Index’, a measure that encompasses laws and governance, human and political rights, international relations, and economic factors, “the rankings are much the same: New Zealand, Luxembourg, Ireland, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Netherlands; and again only Malaysia (38) and Kuwait (48) make it into the top 50 from Muslim countries,” he said.

“If a country, society, or community displays characteristics such as unelected, corrupt, oppressive, and unjust rulers, inequality before the law, unequal opportunities for human development, absence of freedom of choice (including that of religion), opulence alongside poverty, force, and aggression as the instruments of conflict resolution as opposed to dialogue and reconciliation, and, above all, the prevalence of injustice of any kind, it is prima facie evidence that it is not an Islamic community,” he said.

“Islam is, and has been for centuries, the articulation of the universal love of Allah for his creation and for its unity, and all that this implies for all-encompassing human and economic development,” he concluded.

The actual BBC interview is fascinating.  CLICK HERE to listen to part of the BBC interview with Dr. Hossein Askari.  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Pakistan: Three Women Dead at Hands of Family

My last post relayed the true story of a young pregnant Pakistani woman who was stoned to death a few days ago by her own family members because she married a man of her own choosing and not the cousin that her family had picked out for her.

In light of new information that has surfaced regarding the man she married, I thought an update was in order. 

I, for one, was feeling sympathetic for the 45 year-old widower, Mohammad Iqbal, that 25 year-old Farzana Parveen Iqbal had married.  He had been widowed a few years ago and left with five children to raise, and now with Farzana's death, he became a widower yet again. 

The murdered Farzana Parveen Iqbal
But any sympathy I may have had for this man has been erased since I learned that he himself strangled his first wife to death six years ago because he was in love with Farzana and wanted to marry her.  Basically he himself got away with murder.  In Pakistan, as in several other countries, blood money can be paid or forgiveness can be given by immediate family members of the victim in order to absolve the murderer/killer of guilt.

Initially Iqbal was arrested in 2009 for the murder of his wife, however the charges were dropped when one of his sons forgave him.  What I don't understand is that Iqbal is Muslim, and Islam allows men to marry up to four women at any one time.  Why on earth did he opt to murder the mother of his five children when he legally could have taken on another wife?  Or why didn't he just divorce her?  What kind of Muslim does what he did?  I am sickened by this turn of events.

So far, only Farzana's father has been arrested in her death.  All the other participants in her stoning - about 20 men - have disappeared.

In another cruel twist to this story, Farzana becomes the second daughter in her family to have been murdered by her male relatives in an "honor killing."  Four years ago her sister Rehana was poisoned by her own family when they became disenchanted with the family she had married into - even though it was an arranged marriage, approved by each family.  Rehana's family demanded that she leave her husband, but she refused, so they killed her.

At least many people in Pakistan are outraged and have protested, calling for reform and justice.  

In this sad tale alone, three women are dead at the hands of their own husbands, fathers, and brothers.  This is utterly barbaric and sick behavior that has no basis in religion whatsoever.  What is wrong with these stupid men that they would rather kill their own daughter than to see her happy in marriage?  Why don't these men value the women of their family?  Women deserve better!   Heaven help us all.