Summer News

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In these last couple of days before the summer sun bakes us all into human pudding and the news media runs off and hides on their annual two-month vacation, there is still news – and most of it is pretty cool.

1 — The women of Saudi Arabia can drive.  The last bastion of motor vehicle misogyny has fallen, and the women of King Salman’s private sandbox can legally drive cars!  Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia actually is a giant sandbox and, aside from dropping their burkas off at the drycleaners, there’s really no place for the girls to go.  (Sand Dune #68 isn’t that big an attraction.)  Still, I imagine going through the drive-thru at Wendy’s is a big deal to someone who’s spent most of her life hanging out in a harem.

2 — That Canadian guy Jordan Peterson is suing Sir Wilfred Laurier University.  Apparently he’s pissed off because a couple of their “open-minded” academics compared him to Adolf Hitler.  Peterson’s contention is that Hitler ordered the murder of six million Jews; whereas all he (Peterson) did was say the gender neutral pronoun “ze” was bullshit and that is not strictly a crime against humanity.  Meanwhile, the university maintains that politically-correct fascists always compare people who disagree with them to Hitler, and Peterson should quit being such an over-sensitive Alt-right snowflake.  (Man! I wish Judge Judy could get hold of this one!)

3 — The super-duper poster boy for gender equality, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, just got hit with the hypocrite stick.  Apparently, before Mr. Trudeau got in touch with his feminine side (and a pile of female votes) he spent some time touching a female reporter who wasn’t too happy about his little game of grab-ass — and said so.  Trudeau’s actual response was, “I’m sorry.  If I had known you were reporting for a national paper, I never would have been so forward.”  Interesting distinction on who is available for groping.  However, don’t expect this awkward incident to storm through Twitter any time soon; we all know that social media is very careful about who they tar and feather. (I’m looking at you, Bill Clinton!)

But on the other hand:

4 — The cultural cleansing of America continues.  Laura Ingalls Wilder, the woman who wrote Little House on the Prairie, has been dumped by the US Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC.)  According to that illustrious body, Wilder’s books contain “anti-Native and anti-Black sentiments.”  Wow!  It must have come as a hell of a shock to those nitwits that something published in 1932 didn’t reflect the values of the 21st century!

My chief worry about this is that, at some point in the not-so-distant future, all the books published before 1980 are going to be gathered up and given the Fahrenheit 451 treatment – including, ironically, Fahrenheit 451.

A Walk In Saudi Arabia

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Just when we’re watching the Enlightenment being burned alive by a pack of snarling university sophomores. . .
Just when we’re seeing common sense being sacrificed on the altar of pseudo social justice. . .
Just when we discover that the barbarians at the gates have kicked in the door and are actually pitching their tents in the garden. . .
And just as we realize that our society isn’t going to Hell anymore because it’s already renting a house in the subterranean suburbs. . .
It is at this moment that an anonymous Saudi woman puts on a miniskirt, goes for a stroll in the historic streets of Ushayqir and challenges the darkness to a duel.

For the uninformed, Ushayqir is part of an ultra-religious conservative area of the Kingdom of Saud, a vast patch of sand that exists entirely in the 8th century.  By law, women in Saudi Arabia, must be covered — toes to tonsils — in a black bag called an abaya.  They also have to cover their hair and, if they don’t want a boatload of grief, wear a veil.  BTW, they can’t drive cars, associate with unrelated men, go anywhere alone or even leave the house without permission.  Women in Saudi Arabia aren’t actually bought-and-sold property, but if the sandal fits, you might as well slip it on.  So, a woman walking around as casually as if she were in London, Rome or Paris is cause for alarm in the land that time forgot.  She can be arrested, imprisoned and even whipped.  Why?  She’s dangerous.  She is as dangerous to the established social order as any dissident author, any fiery orator, or any armed revolutionary.  She’s dangerous because she has the audacity to exist — and somewhere, sometime, somehow, some other girl might see her.

I don’t know if this is a Rosa Parks moment or not.  Quite frankly, I’m as ignorant as most Westerners about the nuances of the Middle East.  But I do know this.  While Western feminists and intellectuals may posture and pose, debating how many misogynists can dance on the head of a pin, this woman’s simple act of defiance is a very real candle in an increasingly dark world.

 

Optimists Like to Vote: Even in Saudi Arabia

One of the cool things about being an optimist is even dumb stuff looks good.  Events and ideas that you know aren’t worth much are still shiny bright when you see them through rose-coloured glasses.  I know full well, like every optimist, I have a disconnect between heart and head, but I can’t help it.  Sometimes, despite all the real-world evidence, I just sit back, give a bad impression of The Fonz and think, “Okay, we’re not doomed after all.”

Last weekend, amid the groaning pains of a childish world that refuses to have an adult conversation with itself, there was a minor event that made my cup runneth over like foam on a latte.  I know it’s all just frothing air, bubbling out of a glass of steam-shot milk, but it looks good to me, and I like it.

On Sunday, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia came tottering out (nobody even knows how old this guy is – 86? 87? 101?) and announced that women in the kingdom have been given the right to vote.  Whoa!  Cover me with mustard and call me a hotdog: I didn’t see this one coming!  But there’s more – and hold on to your keffiyehs, boys: not only can women vote but they can also stand as candidates in the municipal elections.  At this point, there was no stopping his Majesty, and he went on to say that women could now also be appointed to the Shura Council, that special group that advises the king.  Talk about rocking the Casbah!  However, before feminists all over North America grab their intellectual burkas and head for Riyadh a la Kate Millett in the Iranian Spring of ’79, the king had some unspoken caveats.

First of all, women will get to vote in the next election, not the one that’s coming up on Thursday.  Thursday’s affair is still stag.  This is possibly to insure that the ladies have time to acquaint themselves with the issues.  It should be noted that Saudi elections are not held as regularly as we’re used to.  This particular one was supposed to take place two years ago but didn’t – oh, well.  The one before that was in 2005, and the one before that was somewhere around 1962 (but nobody’s really sure because no records were kept.)  Either way, if the next election is held and if it’s on time, in 2015, Saudi women will get to vote … perhaps….

Unfortunately, in his statement, the king made no provision for the electorate actually getting to the ballot box, and unless it’s going to be an on-line e-vote, that could be a problem.  Odd as it might seem, Saudi women aren’t allowed out of the house.  To be fair, that’s not strictly true, but there are enough restrictions that if dad, spouse or even older brother doesn’t think it’s a good idea, the girls aren’t going anywhere.  The question is not can Saudi women vote as much as will Saudi women be allowed to vote.  The reality is, come Election Day, democracy is going to depend a lot more on whether Omar and Ahmed give their approval rather than any royal fiat.

This brings us to the other half of what King Abdullah didn’t say.  Saudi Arabia can have elections every Thursday from now until the oil runs out, but it’s not going to make all that much difference to the kingdom.   The operative word here is kingdom: Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy.  Voting there is kinda like emailing your congressman; it’s a wonderful idea, but it doesn’t actually do any good.  Power — absolute power — rests with King Abdullah and his family.  That’s how he could stroll over to the microphone yesterday and simply say: “Okay, ladies!  Get your bums to the polls.”  Again, to be fair, I’m sure he talked it over with his advisors, a prince or two and maybe he even asked a couple of his wives their opinions.  However, in the end, Abdullah can do and say as he pleases.  He can give cypress trees and pomegranate bushes the vote if he wants to.  It’s not like anybody is going to question his authority.  In the Arab peninsula, if Abdullah sneezes, the whole country gets a cold.  It’s the law — regardless of who votes, who gets elected or who thinks it’s a sham.

So how come I’m optimistic about a less-than-meaningless gesture in a kingdom so feudal it makes the Dark Ages look enlightened?  Because it’s cool!  It’s yet another step into the Arab Spring.  Up until a couple of years ago, most people didn’t even know the Saudis had women.  They thought they were like leprechauns – mythical creatures that were good for the tourists but nobody had actually ever seen one.  These days you can download pictures of Saudi chicks driving cars — strictly illegal in the magical kingdom.  Just as an aside: don’t you think it’s brilliantly ironic that these not-so-petty little criminals are driving in burkas so they can’t be readily identified?

The point is my head realizes that King Abdullah’s pronouncement is a sop to keep Hillary Clinton and the Europeans off his back, but my heart knows everything has to start somewhere.  My heart sees “beyond the picture, through the picture” and says, “For once, then, something.”

And I’m glad for the women of Riyadh.  Heyyyy!!