Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Saudi op-ed on runaway girls misses the point

Reading the Saudi press is like looking at the world through a concave mirror.
There is something about the lack of compassion and the rush to judge a Saudi woman’s behavior that’s very troubling in Saudi society.

Recently a 15-year-old girl was found by the Hai’a in Riyadh with her much older Yemeni lover. The girl was from the Eastern Province and had an affair with the man who was a taxi driver. He moved to Riyadh and asked her to join him. She took the bus and lived with the man in the city for two weeks. Their behavior, however, made the Hai’a suspicious and they questioned her. It didn’t take long for the girl to confess her affair and she was jailed.

The report of the girl’s arrest in one Saudi newspaper prompted nearly 400 comments from Saudis who nearly universally condemned the girl’s actions and pinned the blame on her family for their failure to control her. The number of comments to the newspaper is telling in that this case has touched a raw nerve among Saudis. As far as I’m concerned it’s a bonafide sampling of Saudi attitudes about runaway girls. And it doesn’t give Saudi women much hope for the future.

Not a single comment to newspaper editors addressed the central question about this teenager’s behavior. Why did she run away and take up residence with a much older man? The reaction was to punish the girl and hold the parents responsible for their lack of vigilance. It’s as if their sole role in raising their child is to act like prison guards with a lock and key instead of emotional support.

One person went so far as to acknowledge that the girl may have been abused at home, but it’s preferable to being abused by mom and dad instead of “wolves” in the big, bad city. What malarkey. If this person represents true Saudi attitudes, then he’s suggesting that our society wants the girl to exchange one hell for a lesser hell and take comfort that she knows her tormentors.

Girls run away for a reason. They are abused emotionally or physically. They are forced into marriage. They have their wages seized by their male guardians. Their brothers exert complete control over their lives. Parents often marry their daughters off to a “sugar daddy.” The girls live in a velvet prison of luxury and watch their parents reap the benefits of the marriage. Yes, some girls are idiots, but the vast majority of young females are victims of domestic abuse.

As a last resort they escape from the very people who should take care of them.
For Saudi Arabia, this is a very liberal article, saying that parents must act like normal parents act and not treat their children like slaves to be sold to the highest bidder. The English-language press in Saudi Arabia will often have self-critical articles like these, pointing out these sorts of problems in Saudi society.

Notice, however, what is missing, both from the letter-writing Saudi public and the outraged op-ed columnist.

Not a single person even considers that the older man did anything wrong.

He was not jailed. He is not blamed. He is peripheral to the story, as if it is perfectly natural for a middle-aged Arab man to have sex with any willing 15-year old girl. What would be considered statutory rape in most Western countries is not even worthy of being commented upon. For a society that claims that it is protecting women by its laws, it is beyond sickening that the women get punished when taken advantage of.

And Saudi society is so sick that even the feminists (this article was written by a woman) cannot conceive that men should act as anything but animals around young girls.