Clinging to a Medieval World

In case the origins of Wadjda were found to be inspiring a little too much liberal wish-wash about the present situation in Saudi Arabia, here’s a brief reminder of how its authorities deal with actual dissent:

A Saudi court sentenced on Monday a rights activist to seven years in jail and 600 lashes for setting up a “liberal” network and alleged insults to Islam, activists said.

“Raef Badawi has been sentenced to seven years in jail and 600 lashes,” lawyer Waleed Abualkhair wrote on his Twitter account, adding that the judge ordered the closure of the website of the Saudi Liberal Network.

He said Badawi, a co-founder of the Saudi Liberal Network, was charged with criticizing the religious police, as well as calling for “religious liberalization.”

Change in Saudi Arabia is going to require more courageous activists – and international support for them – like Badawi if they are to succeed in remolding their society, as Al-Mansour implied in the post linked above. Although the process at the grassroots will take longer, an object of protest can very easily be found in the clerics and officials surrounding the monarchy.

Take Salwa al Mutairi, an ex-politician whose abhorrent obsequiousness to the Medieval traditions is fortunately anomalous in Kuwait; her call for men to be free to “purchase” female sex slaves – if necessary, from refugee camps – was, she says, verified by a number of Saudi clerics:

Mutairi said that during a recent visit to Mecca, she asked Saudi muftis – Muslim religious scholars – what the Islamic ruling was on owning sex slaves. They are said to have told her that it is not haram.

The ruling was confirmed by ‘specialized people of the faith’ in Kuwait, she claimed.

‘They said, that’s right, the only solution for a decent man who has the means, who is overpowered by desire and who does not want to commit fornication, is to acquire jawari.’ Jawari is the plural of the Arabic term jariya, meaning ‘concubine’ or ‘sex slave’.

One Saudi mufti supposedly told Mutairi: ‘The context must be that of a Muslim nation conquering a non-Muslim nation, so these jawari have to be prisoners of war.’

Concubines, she argued, would suit Muslim men who fear being ‘seduced or tempted into immoral behaviour by the beauty of their female servants’.

The most hideous evils are, to better eyes, as ludicrous as they are sterile.

Someone should invite King Abdullah in on the joke.


9 Comments on “Clinging to a Medieval World”

  1. rbohl says:

    Do you think change can be brought into such a society without some kind of deep trauma? Europe learned to stop indulging in the evils of nationalism and anti-Semitism through World War II – does Saudi need something similar to bring itself into the modern world?

    • It’s a very interesting question. From what I can see, Saudi Arabia has no sense of secular nationalism – and it goes back to my title, that much like Medieval Europe the two forms of “national” unity are either dynastic or religious, the distinction itself being problematic. After all, it was the only Middle-Eastern country to avoid European missionaries and soldiery and thus evolve on its own terms. The Saudis have used their wealth to isolate this religious “nationalism” from the cultural forces that normally accompany globalisation.

      But unlike the Soviet Union, the state in Saudi Arabia – and we’re seeing the result of neglecting this oversight in Iraq at the moment – is not seen as the answer to problems. The state is secretive but does not present the illusion of being populist as USSR did; Saudi citizens identify more with their fellow tribes, brought together by a common religion. So there might be reason to suggest that any trauma would be the result of cultural modernisation (and the conflict between Western and conservative Islamic attitudes), rather than its cause.

      I’m certainly not an expert! But I do think that, lacking any economic restructuring (which might happen, if the reserves dry up), the main impetus for “Westernisation” will have to come from individuals exploiting the law as far as they can justify to themselves – a bit like the girl’s quest for a bike in the new Saudi film Wadjda (which I saw today!).

  2. kingmidget says:

    This is one these things I really struggle with. I’m a firm believer in freedom, equality, democracy, and all of it. But the reality is that such things may be measured in different ways in different societies and different cultures. Who are we to say our way is the right way, the only way. I wonder also, in looking at the extremists of the Muslim faith how they would compare against the extremists in our midst. Westboro Baptist Church anybody?

    • Well it’s certainly something that we always have to remember – but one of the virtues of a democratic and (relatively) open society is that all of these sets of cultural values should be able to compete among themselves for support from the people. My guess is that women, for one, will not vote for a system that denies them basic political rights in preference to men. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Daamit buddy… u seem to follow my facebook! lol…. I posted these 2 things XD

  4. terrence says:

    Thanks for the “like” you gave me on a piece I did about Freud. Actually, I find it hard to think you liked the article or even read it. Maybe it was just some kind of an automated response to a new post, but whether it was or not, it’s perfectly okay since it induced me to give your place a look and volunteer a comment – which I do gladly, mostly to let you know you succeeded in piquing my interest. Anyway, it’s all part of bloggers’ etiquette.

    This anti-Moslem stuff you’re up to though: I’m sure there are plenty of bad things going on in Saudi Arabia and Egypt and maybe in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and who knows where all else, but singling out atrocities in certain countries but not in others to set people against “those” guys … . I’ve lived through a few wars and seen more selective reporting of that sort than I care to remember (remember the Taliban then and now?). Fact is, most of the residents of the country I live in (USA) will tell you how much they treasure freedom, democracy, human rights and the universal brotherhood of all mankind; and a lot of them’ll be only too happy to volunteer their army to invade the lands of the miscreants so they can bestow the blessings of liberty on the poor souls that live there as well; and in fact, when you get people worked up enough, that is precisely what happens. But between you and me, on any day of any year somebody who’s looking for such things, can come up with enough transgressions against liberty, justice and human life in THIS country (USA), that if they ever got put into, say, the Canadian press, the Mounties’d come charging across the Detroit River to restore order in the land to the south.

    One other point about history and whether we ever learn anything from it. Wasn’t there a time, quite a while ago now, when the Europeans were absolutely determined to bring those damn Moslem fanatics into line. Seems to me Richard the Lion Heart got involved in it somehow. I forget though. How did THAT turn out?


    • Hi Terrence,

      I read your article, and did actually enjoy it – I meant to comment and ask for your thoughts on Karl Popper’s take on Freud in his essay on science as a falsification (the question still being open!), and the ways in which he subverted empirical reasoning under the facade of “theory”. My apologies that I didn’t – and it was certainly good of you to pay a visit to my humble abode – thanks!

      Please don’t think that I am at all “anti-Muslim”. The nature of my blog posts is sporadic and inconsistent – and I tend to pick random and unrelated articles that interest me as I find them while browsing the internet. In this case, I thought treatment of dissenters would make for an interesting balance to my post a few days before regarding the new Saudi film Wadjda (which I saw today and definitely recommend). Nor am I calling for an invasion of Saudi Arabia. Goodness.

      Trust me, I do look for abuses of freedom in Europe and the United States because they exist and need to be challenged (the NSA, the NRA, the undemocratic EU, welfare cuts, economic exploitation etc – most of which I have blogged about) but it’s undeniable that the worst offenders have and always will be the theocratic and totalitarian. My interest in the Middle-East simply means that they are more likely to be Islamist examples.

      And I am not a Christian – all religious regimes will lead to violence and the transgression of liberal law. I am no appeaser of European colonialism, or for its sons and daughters from the wombs of raped nations and peoples. Africa is the worst victim, let’s never forget – Uganda and Zimbabwe, today, both threaten gay people with death and an unending veil of fear.

      I am a secularist, and a socialist. Thank you for suggesting, at the very least, that I have not presented that effectively. From now on I shall take more care not to discriminate.

      All the best,

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