Wednesday, October 28, 2009


You may have read on the news recently about the loose-lipped Saudi man in his 30s who is in deep doodoo for dishing about his illustrious sex life on a Lebanese satellite television channel. Mazen Abdul-Jawad appeared on an LBC program called "Bold Red Line" that was first broadcast in mid-July of 2009 and was aired in Saudi Arabia. But what you may not have heard or read about is how Saudi Arabia has again managed to point the finger of blame for this incident at women. "Crimes" pertaining to sex (like rape) in Saudi Arabia often equally fault the woman, even though women are unidentifiable and completely obscured in black wash-and-wear tents when out in public, yet they are still widely perceived as seductive temptresses by Saudi men. Islam forbids dating and pre-marital sex, and speaking about sexual escapades publicly is considered promoting sinful behavior and moral corruption. Yes, talking about your sex life in public in Saudi Arabia is a horrible crime.

Bragging on the show about his first sexual encounter at age fourteen with a young Saudi neighbor girl, the foolish Abdul-Jawad also described his ability to pick up other Saudi women using Bluetooth technology and even showcased his tacky love nest of a bedroom - complete with a bordeaux red colored bedspread accesorized with condoms and sex toys - to the cameras, explaining that it was the place where "everything happens." As a result of his interview, hundreds of offended puritanical Saudis filed complaints against him, one even going so far as to call for his execution. Ironically enough, LBC (Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation), the satellite television channel that broadcast this offensive program, is owned by a member of the Saudi royal family, billionaire Prince Al Waleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz.

Unlike the judicial system in the USA which can literally drag on for years and years, justice is swift and harsh in Saudi Arabia. In just a mere three months from the time Abdul-Jawad committed his immoral offenses, this unfortunate and unwise man has already been tried and convicted for his crimes. He has now been sentenced to a jaw-dropping five years in prison and 1000 lashes, plus after his release from prison, he will also be restricted from leaving the country for another five years as well as forbidden from discussing his saga.

Abdul-Jawad did not go down alone for these crimes. Recently sentenced to two years in prison and 300 lashes each were three of his friends who also appeared on the same program with Abdul-Jawad.

But the blame did not stop there. Most recently, a young Saudi female journalist received a flogging sentence of 60 lashes for her part in the production end of the broadcast. Twenty-two year old Rozanna Al-Yami maintains that she had no direct involvement at all in Abdul-Jawad's show. Her crime was simply working for LBC and the fact that the company did not have the proper licensing and documentation to operate within Saudi Arabia. Ms. Al-Yami claims she was not even aware that LBC was unlicensed. Apparently another female employee of LBC has also been arrested, but details of her case are sketchy at this point.

So far, it appears as though no other LBC employees have been arrested or charged with any crimes. So why are these two female employees being singled out? What about the actual reporter/interviewer, the producer, and the camera crew? Certainly there were many other LBC employees who were actually more directly involved in the production of this program than Ms. Al-Yami.

I also read that in a popular local Arabic newspaper, many commenters named Al-Yami responded to the story, defending their family name and denying and rejecting the female journalist by the same name as a member of their tribe. Others criticized and shamed her for not covering her hair and face properly. These commenters were more concerned with their family name being tarnished than the fact that a young working Saudi woman has been railroaded by the male chauvinistic system which consistently places blame and punishment unfairly on women. Funny how Saudi men manage to keep their testerone in check when they travel outside their country, but when in Saudi the men are not expected to be able to control themselves around women. Consequently Saudi women are shielded and protected from other men (like wearing black cloaks and veils, forced segregation of the sexes, requiring permission from male guardians to go to school, travel, work, etc) but still are usually partially blamed if they are raped, having that "she had it coming/she was asking for it" mentality.

What I find crazy is that in Saudi Arabia we can view shows like "Sex and the City" and "Nip/Tuck" on satellite TV. I guess these shows are okay because they portray the decadent West as nasty purveyors of sex and indulgence, but a show like the LBC one which has caused such an uproar just shows how deeply in denial the Saudis are about the existence of consensual sex happening in their own country between unmarried individuals. As long as people keep quiet about it, it must not exist, but don't dare talk about it in the open - they just don't want to hear it. Obviously Abdul-Jawad is not the only man in Saudi Arabia to have experienced sex outside of marriage.

I would seriously advise Jerry Springer's show guests not to set foot in Saudi Arabia if they value their life and freedom, not that they would be allowed in anyway ...

UPDATE: Journalist Rozanna Al-Yami has received a royal pardon and her case has sparked demands for the reviewing of cases involving journalists detained in media-related offences. For more information, please read this Arab News article.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Perfect Wedding

When I was a young girl, I never really dreamed about having a big church wedding like many girls do. I don't know why. Maybe it was because I was never a real frilly girlie-girl, growing up as the only girl in a household of four lively brothers. I guess I was more of a tom-boy than anything, always trying to keep up with my brothers to prevent them from teasing me too much, although teasing me was part of their daily sustenance, much like breathing, sleeping, and sunshine. All my life, I have always marched to my own drum, and I guess some would say that I have often taken more unconventional paths than most.

Susie and AdnanI had met my future husband Adnan when we were students at the university (see my previous post called How I Met My Prince), as many couples do. From the start he had been honest with me about how he would return to his native country of Saudi Arabia after he completed his studies, would marry a Saudi girl, raise his family and live out his life there. I had fallen fast and hard for him, but I accepted what he had told me and appreciated his honesty, although deep in the corners of my mind, I secretly hoped that he would eventually realize that he loved me so much that he couldn't possibly live without me. I knew that my happily-ever-after scenario was not likely to happen though, and it was not something that I let myself dwell on or believe. I tried to take it just one day at a time, being thankful for whatever time we did have together. And each one-day-at-a-time ultimately turned into twelve long years. Whether he had intended to or not, Adnan had become a member of my family, was always included in family functions, and our names were always spoken together as one: Susie and Adnan, or Adnan and Susie.

When Adnan finally finished his studies and earned his PhD, it was a bittersweet occasion for me. I was happy for him that he had achieved his goal, but I also knew that our time together - twelve years - was nearing its end. Indeed he left Arizona and returned to Saudi Arabia as he had always said he would. But a strange thing happened. He wasn't able to land a job in his field. Frustrated and disappointed, he returned to the states six months later for a visit, and I picked him up at the airport. As soon as we arrived at my house, Adnan swept me up in his arms and he proposed to me! I was flabbergasted and bursting with joy. I had never really allowed myself to dream or to believe until that moment that we might actually have a future together. He again returned back to Arabia, continued looking for work, and made plans to return to visit me once more in Arizona that December. Adnan arrived one week before Christmas, and we immediately decided to get married right away, with no pre-planning. Since most of my immediate family would be flying in from all over the USA to spend the holidays at my mom's house in my small hometown on the Mexican border in Arizona, we decided to have a surprise wedding.

Susie and AdnanWhen I called my mom to tell her of our sudden plans to marry a couple days before Christmas, she was thrilled and sprung into action. After a twelve-year long courtship, Adnan and I gave my wonderful mother just five days to organize and plan a wedding which was to take place at her house two days before Christmas. Plus on top of all that, she had a houseful of out-of-town guests to contend with! My mom was an amazingly good sport about the whole thing and took it all in stride. After all, she had raised my brothers and me all by herself after my dad passed away when I was eleven. She could certainly handle all the details of a last minute wedding right before Christmas. All I really had to do was get my dress and a suit for Adnan.

With only five days to stage an entire wedding in the middle of the winter holiday season, there was, of course no time to send out formal invitations. So, the wedding guests were all invited by word of mouth and phone calls. My mom's home was already decorated for the holidays, so the wedding theme was a logical no brainer. There was no time for me to get upset about any wedding plans that might have gone awry, no time to fret over those little minute details that drive some brides nuts. My mom ordered a beautiful three-tier cake from the local supermarket, as well as party platters of hors d’oeuvres. A family friend was enlisted to take photos of the event, and one of my brothers volunteered to video-tape our wedding and reception. My brothers' wives and my nieces attended to the decorations, elaborately utilizing the colors of red and white for the poinsettias, linens, netting and bows, in keeping with the holiday theme. The entire wedding cost a paltry $500. But in my eyes, it couldn't have turned out any nicer.

Susie and Adnan on their wedding daySome friends changed their holiday plans and made the two hour drive from Tucson down to my hometown so they could celebrate our special day with us. Several of my childhood friends were also able to come, since they too happened to be home for the holidays. And the congregation from the church I attended since I was a little girl was invited in a special announcement during the church services that morning.

That freezing December day almost two decades ago was one of the coldest days ever. But even the bitter cold couldn't put a damper on the festivities that day when seventy-five of my friends and relatives gathered at my mom’s home, crammed into her warm and cozy living room and were witness to something we all had thought we would never see - my marriage to the love of my life Adnan. And with my mom’s twinkling Christmas tree as the backdrop, we said our vows to each other. I can tell you, there were not many dry eyes in the place. The only things that could have possibly made that day any better than it was would have been if my one brother who was on active duty in Desert Storm could have been there, and also if Adnan could have had some of his family there. Aside from that, it was flawless. It was truly a joyous day. The day was so surreal because I had never really let myself believe for one minute it would ever happen. There was so little time to prepare for it that nothing could have possibly gone wrong - it was totally stress-free. How many brides can say that? Everything went off without a hitch. My wedding day was perfect for me.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Stoning of Soraya M

The Stoning of Soraya M is a powerful movie based on a best-selling book that leaves the viewer in utter disbelief that something like this true story could actually happen in real life. That supposedly pious men can get away with such barbaric behavior and not be held accountable for bringing about the demise and the death of an innocent woman in a male dominated Islamic country is beyond comprehension.

Soraya has been married for twenty years to her abusive jerk of a husband. Together they have four children, two sons and two daughters. The sons are obviously favored by the father who teaches his sons that it is a man's world and that women are much lesser creatures that should be treated like servants. In Islam men are allowed up to four wives, as long as each wife is treated equally. But since her husband cannot afford to support two wives and he doesn't want to pay her alimony, he decides he just wants to be rid of Soraya, no matter what it takes. Since Soraya refuses to give her husband a divorce so he can marry the 14 year old girl that he fancies, he hatches a plan to falsely accuse her of adultery.

The men of the small dusty remote Iranian village in the desolate mountains of Iran go along with his evil plot to destroy his wife, falsely accusing her of adultery, holding a mock trial, and convicting her based on the word of a man who was threatened with death if he did not cooperate. The story is eerily reminiscent of the Salem witch trials, where the actions of a few provoke maniacal mob mentality into the masses against one of their own. Even Soraya's own father took part in the proceedings and denounced her publicly once she was convicted and sentenced to death by stoning. The movie is graphic and the scenes where Soraya is stoned to death are very difficult to watch. She suffers a horrendous, agonizing death.

It will come as no surprise that the book which tells Soraya's story, written by the French journalist of Iranian descent, Freidoune Sahebjam, was banned in Iran because it portrays the Iranian legal system in such a negative light. The Stoning of Soraya M is an important and extraordinary story that needed to be told.

Thankfully Soraya's story is NOT the norm for Muslim marriages. But what IS the norm about her story is that most Muslim marriages are not an equal partnership, instead deferring the power in the relationship to the man, and consequently, blame for any problems in the marriage on the woman. Men tend to wear the pants in the family in many marriages around the world - I'm not saying that this is unique to Islamic marriages. But it does seem as though in Islamic countries, women are always guilty or wrong, and men are always innocent or right. For example, when a woman is raped in an Islamic country, generally she is believed to have brought it on herself so she will be punished, while the man is often thought to be justified in his actions. Honor killings always target females and are committed by male relatives. Female children are still sold by their own fathers to perverted old men, oftentimes to settle a debt or to give the family a financial boost. Sometimes Shariah law can appear to be unfair, unjust, inhumane, or violent to women or girls.

The Muslim world still seems to have a long way to go in the area of women's rights...

For more information, please read an in-depth post about The Stoning of Soraya at the blog Sand Gets in My Eyes.