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Islam: Women in Saudi Arabia

     Miles Seeley adds to the debate about women under Islam. He says:
     I saw the same things as Ms. White did when I lived in Morocco and Jordan and Saudi Arabia- except that in Morocco and Jordan women had much more freedom. In Tangier or Marrakech, a woman swathed from head to toe might come in a restaurant and take off the robes, revealing the latest Paris frock. In Amman, women seemed to dress about halfway- i.e. modest dresses with long sleeves and skirts, but no veils. Except for most Palestinian women, who were totally Westernized.
     Saudi Arabia is certainly different. Most of my experience is with wealthy and royal families who live in compounds with several huge villas. There was always a "main" wife to entertain us foreigners, often chosen because she or her children had good English. The younger women told me things were changing slowly, and several said they wanted to be careful not to throw out the good things with the bad. When I asked about the horrifying tales of abuse etc. that have appeared in books and magazines, they were scornful, treating those accounts as yellow journalism at best. I am not judging, but I also thought these women seemed quite content. But that may have been because speaking out against the traditions can bring retribution.

     My comment: The last point is very important. Except for political dissidents, people in other countries paint a rosy picture of life there when talking with foreigners. The most notorious modern case is that of anthropologist Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa. She is now widely ridiculed because the rosy picture she painted was based of such an informant. I generally distrust anthropologists, who idealize the primitive societies they study, which is as bad as dismissing them as "savages." We are easily fooled. Several times I have visited families who seemed extremely happy, but then a divorce showed that appearances are deceptive.

Ronald Hilton - 10/21/99