I enjoy reading Maureen Dowd’s intelligent satiric op-ed columns, but not this time. She traveled to Saudi Arabia to “test the Kingdom’s newly declared commitment to tourism,” and ended up posing in Abayas, the traditional women’s garb in Saudi Arabia for Vanity Fair. How original! Here’s a link for your perusal.
On the Joy Behar show, the two women laughed at the way women dress in the Kingdom and Maureen expressed her pity for the oppression these women experience and mentioned that they are barely able to work and be independent. The misinformed Ms. Dowd did not even bother to research the power that many business women have in that country, and the level of education that the majority of Saudi women have achieved since the 50s. They are doctors, lawyers, business women, mothers, professors, therapists and teachers. Lubna Olayan, a Saudi business woman is one of the most influential women in the world and great supporters of woman’s rights in the developing world.
That same Western ignorance was shared few years ago by Karen Hughes, George W. Bush’s envoy to the Middle East, when she ” expressed the hope here that Saudi women would be able to drive and fully participate in society” much as they do in her country, many challenged her.
“The general image of the Arab woman is that she isn’t happy,” one audience member said. “Well, we’re all pretty happy.” The room, full of students, faculty members and some professionals, resounded with applause.
The majority in West are quick to judge the Muslim world, for many reasons; some are justified because of the violence but most is not. One has to visit the Muslim world and try to have a genuine interest in researching and asking people about the slow but steady change that is happening there, to discover how many men and women are transforming their environments and communities the way their culture needs to be transformed, not the way the West wants to them to transform.
Few months ago I was on a business trip in Kuwait where two Saudi families stayed on same floor in my hotel. The women came all dressed in black and their faces were covered as well. I tried to avoid them, thinking they might judge me because I look too ‘Western’ especially when I am in my gym clothes every morning at 6 am. The last day they were getting ready to leave, their doors were open and two beautiful women , dressed in jeans came to shake my hand and apologize for the noise their children were making. They were sisters, one of them was the principal of a school in Riyadh and the sister was a Math teacher. We had the most enjoyable conversation that taught me a personal lesson. They informed me about the changes happening in their country under the leadership of King Abdullah, who is well loved by moderates in the Kingdom. They also promised to cook a vegetarian meal for me when I visit them in Saudi Arabia, and take me around to talk to Saudi women and hear from them how they are introducing change that suits their culture.
Western values emerged after centuries of blood shed and struggles. They fit the West. Middle Eastern values are now developing and emerging in a way that fits the memetic structures (Meme is a Unit of Culture)of that region, and the combination of tribal history with the avant-guard thinking of many educated leaders in business, politics and society in general. Such emergence might look more like India’s emergence rather then America’s emergence.Culture, Emergence, Joy Behar, Karen Hughes, Maureen Dowd, Saudi Women, vanity Fair