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Social media and Saudi women driving

Rushdi Siddiqui wrote an excellent opinion this week about Saudi women drivers, the contradictions of the Qur’an that Saudis have used to legitimate unequal gender rights and social media.

Siddiqui argues that social media has given women a voice. That alone is a marked change in Saudi Arabia, he contends. So if that can change, why not the laws governing who gets to drive?

It’s plausible that social media alone allowed Saudi women to put themselves in the literal and proverbial driver’s seat in their fight for driving rights. Social media has given them a way to organize and protest like they never could before, as Twitter and Facebook exist in the physical world only if someone is looking for it. What I mean by that is passersby can see picketers on the street, but you have to really be looking for something on Twitter or Facebook. That has allowed Saudi women to operate in the shadows, more or less.

I encourage you to read the entire thing. From altmuslim.com:

The womens’ driving movement in Saudi Arabia has been articulated as violating the defined traditional roles of women, a slippery slope in the adoption of western cultural values that will result in increased road accidents, public mixing of the sexes with adverse consequences, and so on. There have even been comments by local religious conservative scholars or imams that a woman driving is a violation of Shariah rules.

The stated argument of sexual context could be applicable to anything, from instant messaging to mobile phones. One wonders what is on the mind of person making such statements. In the eyes of some people, global connectivity, via social media, is the beginning of the end of segregation of the sexes. In their eyes, the ability to legislate, regulate and enforce morality has been forever undermined to the detriment of society by social media.
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Women have been driving in many Muslim countries, from Turkey to Pakistan to Egypt to Malaysia, and, interestingly, women have been driving in the rural areas in Saudi Arabia without incident. Is the real issue, if women are officially allowed to drive in the Kingdom, a slippery slope of women gaining more rights and, conversely, men losing their dominance over women?

Is that a bad thing? Will it encourage qualified women to join the work force and contribute to the economy? Won’t allowing women with licenses to drive actually encourage more white collar executives to bring their entire families to the country?

Saudi women drivers still a hot issue

June 11, 2011 2 comments

Crossroads Arabia highlighted an opinion piece that originally appeared in Arab News about the Saudi government’s refusal to hear arguments allowing women to drive. And despite the Shoura Council’s call for women’s suffrage in local elections, it allegedly repeatedly denies requests for women to take the wheel.

Again, this is a classic example of a minority religious belief exerting disproportionate power over a country’s political machinery. It has happened in Saudi Arabia and it has happened in the United States — this is not uncommon around the world. In fact, Israel institutionalized disproportionate religious influence at the government level in order to get ultra-orthodox Jews on board with the Zionist movement and formation of Israel. Under that agreement, the state agreed to keep all state-run facilities kosher and permitted the rabbinate to set the standards for marriage and citizenship. Those institutions continue today despite immense resentment from Israel’s mostly secular population.

But as I noted last week, many people have interpreted the Qur’an through custom rather than text. In this customary interpretation, women are subordinated to men in society. Apparently the Shoura Council believes voting is a right but that driving is a privilege and can therefore be denied to certain groups of people that may be considered impure in some way.

It must be stressed, however, that this is a minority view. Islamic academics who study the Qur’an have continuously noted that interpretations denying rights to women are not stated in text:

Muhammad Abdullatif Al-Sheikh, a Saudi scholar, said that the ball was now in the court of the political leadership since the issue was political rather than religious.  “Islamic teachings, which did not prevent women from mounting camels and horses, would not forbid them from driving cars,” he wrote.

It’s another classic example of a loud, zealous religious minority with a strong hold on a nation’s political and social fabric. It’s important for Americans to understand this is indeed a minority. If the tides of revolution are truly mounting, then those minority groups could be swept in the undertow.

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