Al-Jazeera has issued a report about a young Saudi woman who after meeting with a man not related to her was abducted and raped by seven men. If that was not horrible enough, the Saudi court system actually punished the woman for meeting with the man before the kidnapping and rape took place. The court called her crime “illegal mingling”. She received a sentence of 200 lashes and six months in jail – originally the sentence was 90 lashes but the woman spoke to the media and as a result her punishment was increased.
Under Saudi law, women are subject to numerous horrible restrictions including a prohibition against meeting with unrelated men (this obviously affects men as well). Other restrictions include a strict dress code and a prohibition against traveling without a man’s permission (hell, women in SA cant even get surgery without a man’s “ok”). Moreover, it is illegal in Saudi Arabia for women to vote, drive, or testify in court (unless it is about a private matter and not observed by a male).
This could be a landmark case in Saudi Arabia as its injustice is so glaring and its details made public. There have been efforts by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz to reform the legal system as to improve the rights of Saudi women. This court decision will test the new reforms of the king.
Now I am just as for multi-culturalism as any other liberal. Like polar bears, I think that cultures ought to be preserved. However, there are some places where one ought to draw an ethical line. I am in complete agreement with the French-Arab intellectual Amin Maalouf who writes that, “Traditions deserve to be respected only insofar as they are respectable – that is, exactly insofar as they themselves respect the fundamental rights of men and women.”
Fortunately, the decision of the Saudi court has caused an international uproar. Human rights organizations, in addition to Canada, have called on the Saudi government to intervene and save the girl from further pain and humiliation.
Unfortunately, the United States, ever the champion of human rights and democracy in the Middle East, has approched this case in a multiculturalist fasion. When asked to comment, Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the US state department, said: “This is a part of a judicial procedure overseas in the court of a sovereign country.”
The Al-Jazeera article points out that since the US is trying hard to “court” Saudi Arabia into attending and supporting the forthcoming Palestinian-Israeli peace summit, it can ill afford to piss off the Saudi government.
Well, if the US won’t do it, perhaps we can get Jamie Fox to do it. Do I smell a sequel to The Kingdom?