Will women go missing from Saudi Arabian media?


There is nothing as “perverse” or “obscene” as being a homosexual — oh, unless you’re a woman. Then, gay or straight, you should pretty much just shut up, cover yourself and avoid being outdoors.

This is the mind-set of some hard-line Saudi clerics, who last week asked Abdel Aziz Khoja, the new Saudi Arabian information minister, to ban women from the media. The clerics include justice officials and academics from a conservative Islamic university, according to an AFP News report.

“We have great hope that this media reform will be accomplished by you,” the statement read. “We have noticed how well-rooted perversity is in the Ministry of Information and Culture, in television, radio, press, culture clubs and the book fair.”

This “perversity” they speak of is — gasp — the presence of females where poor, innocent children and men returning home after a hard day’s work have to see them, and possibly even hear them speak! What is this world coming to? Last year, some clerics wanted owners of TV stations that showed magic or “sorcery” to face the death penalty.

While this is far from funny, I joke because someone should mock these clerics publicly, and we cannot wait until the day Saudi feminists can rip them to shreds without serious punishment.

The proposed ban comes at a time when women in Saudi Arabia were starting to notice small signs of progress: Women and men walking amongst one another at conferences, and Princess Adelah bint Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, daughter of the Saudi king, publicly calling for women being allowed to drive. Also, Norah Al-Fayez was appointed the new Deputy Minister for Women’s Education last month — the first woman to be named to a ministerial post in the country.

Norah Al-Fayez, Deputy Minister for Women’s Education

The clerics accused the country of attempting to Westernize, adding that “there should be no Saudi woman on television, in any case … there is no doubt that this is religiously impermissible.”

Images of women have also been fairly common in newspapers and magazines recently, sometimes uncovered and wearing makeup. Black, full-face veils are required of most women in the country.

In the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia has some of the toughest restrictions on women, and feminists in the region have had a difficult time gaining much ground, possibly because of separation within the movement. Some activists campaign for equal rights, and others propose a “separate-but-equal” policy, which would give women their own banks, hotels and shopping centers.

Hopefully, the clerics’ proposal will be shot down, but the growing unrest on both sides of the fence is certainly recipe for a revolution. According to the AFP article:

The letter came in the wake of an information ministry-sponsored book fair in Riyadh in early March at which religious conservatives complained that men and women were allowed to mix freely, and that some books on sale violated Islamic principles. The book fair was marred by the muttawa, or Islamic morality police, harassing a woman author promoting her book and trying to prevent men from obtaining her autograph.

While American women starting a letter-writing campaign to King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz would probably harm more than help, we hope Saudi women know that we are behind them and hope the region can someday (soon) recognize that stifling the rights of other human beings cannot be excused by religion.

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