Defending or imposing the Veil?

In today’s Washington Post an article appears entitled “Saudi Women Rise in Defense of the Veil.” The article chronicles the opinions of several ‘conservative’ Saudi women who are upset with what they see as an erosion of traditional values.

There are a couple positive signs in the article. First, it refutes the stereotype of Muslim veiled women as submissive and weak. The women in the article are successful and outspoken in their various fields. It also shows that women visit this site are engaged in the debate on the future of Saudi society and are able to organize to discuss and express their views. However, the article touches upon but does not explore several misconceptions and hypocrisies.

One interview in which the woman strongly criticized the invasion of Western values took place in a food court at a mall– the very symbol of such “Western invasion.” Moreover, the women in the article use the fashion and behavior of women, rather than justice, as the measuring stick of how Islamic the society is.

And, while these women insist that following Islam and wearing the veil is their choice, they would deny other Saudi women from making a different choice. Therefore, I would disagree with one woman’s comment that just because “this” (pointing to her niqab) is closed, doesn’t mean her mind is. In trying to make the point that a woman can be veiled and intellectual, she also shows her own close-mindedness when it comes to others interpreting Islam differently.

One woman commented, “Saudi Arabia is the closest thing to an ideal and pure Islamic nation.” Yet, if this were true, there would be no compulsion in religion, such as men being forced to pray or women forced to veil. Moreover, there would be accountable and transparent governance, people would be able to choose their rulers, and justice would prevail.

The article does make an important point that overt Western interference, such as comments by Secretary Rice and Undersecretary Hughes, on Saudi society will only feed extremist views. Their comments place the issues of women’s rights, democracy, and civil liberties in terms of American and Western values rather than placing them in an Islamic context. It is just another example that we shouldn't talk about a conflict between civilizations but rather a conflict WITHIN civilizations in which Muslims need to engage fellow Muslims in dialogue and debate.

Sarah Swick

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