Karama Has No Walls


Despite the disappointment which I felt – and which I’m confident was felt by every Arab who followed the Oscars this year – when not one, but three Arab films were beaten to the prize for “Best Foreign Film” by Italian film The Great Beauty, the consolation was that the themes explored by the trio revolved around the Arab struggle for freedom and dignity.

This gives an idea of the far-reaching nature of the Arab voice that has inspired the rest of the world through its continuous struggle; and through this voice, the world continues to bear witness to one of the most important eras in recent history.

The film Omar by Palestinian director Hany Abu Assad addresses the issue of Palestinian sufferings under the Israeli occupation and explores the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The film Karama Has No Walls by Yemeni director Sarah Ishaq was about the Friday of Dignity massacre that sparked the Yemeni revolution and ended 33 years of dictatorial rule. And last but not least, The Square by Egyptian filmmaker Jehane Noujaim documented the two years following the January 25 Revolution in Egypt.

I’ll pause for a little while at The Square, since my frequent visits to Egypt before and after the January 25 Revolution, along with my knowledge of a number of young revolutionaries who lit the fuse of revolution three years ago and ended up mostly in prison, have led me to feel a certain connection to Egypt: emotionally, mentally, and even in a revolutionary sense.

I will tell the story of these revolutionaries as embodied by one man, Omar Hazek, a poet and novelist from the Egyptian city of Alexandria, who spent his thirty-sixth birthday – the 31st of January this year – behind bars. Omar is neither a thug nor a corrupt official, a thief nor a criminal. He is simply a man who had dreamed since a young age of being released from the claws of dictatorship and lifting his head, if for only once in his life, to live in dignity.

I met him in 2012, when I visited Egypt to attend the conference “Change Your World” organised by Yahoo. Full of pride, he told me how he and his comrades had, after a bitter struggle, toppled the dictatorship that had relentlessly suppressed and humiliated them for decades.

He told me of how, after the torture-to-death incident involving his fellow Alexandrian, Khaled Said, they staged a protest: standing and looking toward the sea without a word, they announced their rejection of the injustice with their silence.

“We were a handful of young people, numbering not more than a few dozen,” he told me. Whether they went out in the cold of winter or the heat of summer, “Not one person believed us. We were exposed to ridicule from passers-by; we dealt with the frustration of our classmates and colleagues and the worry of our families. But we went out every day; we were prepared no longer to feel like victims of lifelong suffering, but like tigers, ready for martyrdom and sacrifice.”

“Weren’t you scared?” I asked him. “Was demonstrating allowed where you were?”

“Who said that demonstrating was allowed?” he replied. “We had lived under emergency law for decades. Because of the emergency law, we lost young people like Khaled Said.”

“But when the chance arrived for you and your friends to reap what you had sown, why didn’t you take it? I mean, why haven’t you founded a party for the revolutionaries and stood in elections?”

“It’s not that simple a matter. I’m a writer and proof-reader; I have my job at the library of Alexandria, and among the rest of the youth that led the revolution, we have a doctor, an engineer, an artist [...] We all have jobs, and we have no interest or experience in politics. We started the revolution to end the dictatorship and corruption and enslavement which has humiliated us our whole lives, and afterwards we intended to return to normality; we had no political organisation or leadership, nor any funding for a political fight.”

A year after this conversation, Omar succeeded in toppling a second regime – that of the Muslim Brotherhood. We had a second conversation.

“We went from hearing slogans of ‘Down, down with military rule!’ to chants of ‘Come and help us, Sisi!’”How did that happen?” I asked Omar, recalling the memorable day of June 30, 2013. “Didn’t military interference represent a second disaster and a return to what we were fighting in the first place?”

“The Brotherhood left us no other option,” Omar replied. “They rode the wave of the revolution that we started and reaped its benefits for themselves. They began to consolidate power and carry out the orders of the morshid (supreme leader of the MB) rather than working to build a nation which brought all strata of society together instead of pushing them further apart. The Brotherhood and the military: each is dirtier than the other, and after the army’s intervention, we now have a long road ahead of us.”

Omar has represented his country in many international forums; he has won numerous awards as well as participating in the Arab poetry talent competition Amir Alshu’ara contest, which is judged annually on Abu Dhabi television.

He says he fought the rampant corruption occurring in the Library of Alexandria – his place of work – and was subjected to trial for exposing it.

He was also a weekly writer in the newspaper al-Dustoor (The Constitution). Omar was arrested on December 3, 2013 in a demonstration condemning the initial verdict against the killers of Khaled Said, whose death galvanized the youths in late 2010 and eventually helped spark the January 25 Revolution.

Omar was sentenced to two years in jail and a fine of fifty thousand Egyptian pounds, and wrote his first novel I Don’t Like This City whilst incarcerated. Omar and his comrades are victims of the law on demonstrations, and they represent nothing but a continued revolution, undeterred by walls.

Their official crime is that they breached the recently enacted law on demonstrations, but unofficially, they possess weapons of mass destruction: the mind, the pen and their dignity.

Published Monday March 24, 2014

http://www.islamistgate.com/519

The Muslim Atheist


The American newspaper Washington Post published a study by the WIN/Gallup Association WIN/GIA (not the same Gallup Institute that is famous in Washington) about ratios of atheism in the world. 

The study, which was conducted in 2012 across 40 countries, stated that the number of atheists in Saudi Arabia has now reached 5% of the total population. This puts it on the same level as some European countries, as well as making it the first country in the Islamic world to see such figures emerge.

According to the study, 75% of Saudis are religious and 19% non-religious, the latter figure exceeding the numbers of self-identified non-religious citizens in the secular Muslim countries of Tunisia and Turkey.

Saudi writers, thinkers and religious clerics received the study with a great deal of scepticism and disbelief, penning articles about the credibility of the WIN/GIA Association and its work and questioning whether the study might have come from Pakistan or Egypt.

Unsurprisingly, all of their writings concluded with a rejection of the study’s facts and an assertion that the percentage of practicing Muslims in Saudi Arabia stands at 100%.

Anyone who writes otherwise, they contested, is either delusional or spiteful.  One writer went so far as to claim that “the study’s aim was to increase the number of ideological delinquents in Saudi and create centres of convergence for them, perhaps even a ministry”.

Another maintained that there are secret bodies and organizations being funded to promote atheistic ideology in the country as part of a foreign agenda and the traditional conspiracy theory.

Some, however, swam against the tide of accepted opinion and openly admitted the existence of atheists in the Arab world, especially in hardline Islamic states.  One such person was the Saudi writer Najeeb al-Zamil, who responded to an article on the subject by prominent Saudi cleric Sheikh Ayed Al-Qarni during one of his interviews.

In the article, entitled ‘The Winds of Atheism Are Blowing Over the Country’, the Sheikh accused foreign bodies for the promotion of atheism in his homeland.

Najeeb Al-Zamil’s response: “If Sheikh Ayed thinks that the winds of atheism emanate from abroad, he is obviously in need of discussing the issue further.  Here, we are saturated by preaching. The amount of preaching we receive in Saudi Arabia is far surplus to requirements; it happens in any place, in schools and on any occasion. Young people are exposed to a superfluous dose of it, and it is carried out in a forthright and unfavourable manner.  Anything that increases beyond the degree to which it should will eventually turn against itself, and the historical Kharijite sect are an example of this: nowadays they are terrorists and militants, they have religion in excess.

“It has been proven repeatedly throughout history that instances of religious excess cause many of the world’s problems; the wars in Ireland and the Balkans are just two examples of this.  The second problem is that religion is divorced from any kind of logical thought; questioning and skepticism are not allowed to be part of the belief-forming process, and this is when problems arise: when religion disrupts thinking.  In Islam, a person’s mind is what drives him or her and guides them to belief.  Science without religion is crippled, religion without science is blind.”

But why does atheism exist in the Muslim Arab world? And if it exists, why don’t we see or hear about it?  The website Your Middle East published an interview with a Saudi atheist who went by the nickname of Jaber, and I have quoted some of his thoughts here:

I found some religious teachings and rules didn’t make any sense. So, I started asking questions about small things like why music is Haram (forbidden) or why women have to cover their faces. Then I started reading about the way Islam scripts and Hadith were gathered … I had a group of people and we would discuss books in regular meetings…After a while I came to believe that the whole of religion is nothing but man’s invention to fight reality and impose order.

If someone declared that s/he was a non-believer, regardless of whether the government took action or not, s/he would be cut off by his/her family, s/he would be fired from his/her own job, people everywhere would talk about him/her and warn others about him/her. It would be highly likely that people would hurt him/her physically, perhaps murder atheists altogether.”

If we continue to deny reality and threaten atheists with ostracism and even death, this makes it impossible to find solutions and open channels of dialogue with those who have lost their faith.

There have been some attempts at solutions by cultural elites and Islamist thinkers like Saudi scholar and researcher Abdullah Hamid al-Din, who arranged lectures and seminars with himself and a number of other scholars and researchers at Jusoor or Bridges bookshop, Jeddah.

The aim of these lectures and discussions was to open the subject of religion up to young people by allaying their doubts and fears and by addressing the issues that concerned them.  Due to the fact that education by dictation and the disabling of minds prevails in the Muslim world today, young people are forced to conceal their questions or ultimately to become atheists.

These seminars were widely opposed and were accused of promoting atheism amongst young people, since they opened the door to questions and acknowledged the doubt that was felt by many but which they hadn’t previously been allowed to express.

The hardline Islamist Khadher Sanad commented the following about Jusoor Bookshop seminars in a series of tweets published by the site Said al-Fowa’ed:

“In the city of Jeddah, there was a bookshop and a cafe called Jusoor. It was a hotbed for the dissemination of deviant ideas, held lectures and seminars, and attracted young people of both sexes.  The lectures at the cafe and bookshop Jusoor exceeded all reasonable and logical limits; they were gathering boys and girls to discuss religion and God and to criticize religious heritage.  Many parents were hit by the emergence of a wave of skepticism in God and in his messages and books; it was the fashion to adopt thoughts and beliefs that go against the norm.  That was Jusooor.”

The Saudi religious police raided Bridges cafe and arrested Abdullah Hamid al-Din, and even managed to have a formal order issued for the closure of the library, since Khadher Sanad tweeted that it had “become a hotbed for atheists and sceptics in God.”

Sheikh al-Ghazali said once: “Half of the sins from the spread of disbelief in the world will be borne by religious men. They are the reason God is hated by people, because of the terrible manner of their actions and speech.” I couldn’t agree more.

Published March 15, 2014

http://www.islamistgate.com/490

Medieval Times


It is high time that Shari’ah-relevant penalities like beheadings, flogging and chopping off hands are amended to cope with today’s world. Such laws conjure up Medieval times and tarnish the image of Islam in the outside world. Islam itself is a religion for every time and place, adaptive and flexible

In 1478 AD, the Spanish Inquisition was founded. Its main mission was to combat heresy and punish violators or deviators from the church teachings. It later expanded to prosecute sorcery, and was also used as a political tool for the prosecution of non-Christians such as Jews and Muslims.
Historians refer to the 13th-15th centuries as Medieval or The Era of Darkness in Europe. The Church seized control of all aspects of public, political and social life.  Heinous crimes against humanity, like persecution and torture, were committed in the name of God.
Grand Inquisitions persisted until the mid 19th century. In 2000 AD, Pope John Paul II made a public apology for the Inquisition and asked forgiveness of God for those who were killed by the Church.
Today we are in the year 1435 AH, thus the 15th century of Islam, by looking back in time we can easily find similarities between Islam and Christianity in two different epochs.
In countries that formed constitutions based on Islamic Laws or Shari’ah such as Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, you will find that the clerics have more power when compared to the rest of the Islamic world.
The problem is not in making Shari’ah the system of a country, the problem is when the prejudice of clerics prevents them from confessing that these laws must adapt to the 21st century and can’t be used literally as if we are still living in the Medieval times.
By that they are ignoring the essence of Islam (A religion for every time and place). How can a system be valid in all times and all circumstances unless it’s flexible and adjustable with a space of annulment when contradicting the public interest, even if it has a clear text of Qur’an?
What was acceptable 1,500 years ago is seen as brutal and dehumanizing today. One of that is Hudood in Islam. Hudood is the word often used in Islam for the bounds of acceptable behavior and the punishments for serious crimes.
There are three punishments in Islam for violating Hudood (Arabic for the literal meaning of red lines or restrictions): Beheading with sword for intentional killing or robbery with homicide, amputation of hands or feet for theft and robbery without homicide, flogging with a varying number of strokes for drinking alcohol, zina’ or extramarital sexual intercourse (this refers to all offenders married and unmarried alike), false accusations of zina and spreading rumours of zina.
To give an example supporting this argument, in the time of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, the second Caliph in Islam, he suspended amputation of hands for theft at the year of the great famine. His argument was (life preservation is more important that money preservation). Umar was giving a practical lesson that Hudood are not mandatory if such divine laws would cause undue hardship.
In a country like Saudi Arabia, it is rare for a week to pass without reading or hearing about a new punishment for violating Hudood. Recently three major stories were covered in the news, horrifying pictures and videos were circulating on social media:
* 5 Yemenis were beheaded and their bodies hung in public. The crime: being in a gang of bandits.
* A Yemeni thief had his hands cut off in Jazan. What is not mentioned in the story of this unlucky man the type of things had taken to thievery, in a land where billions of Riyals are reportedly being stolen every day by ‘his royal highness and his excellency.’
* A woman in her 40s was given 80 lashes in the public yard of the University of Rafha and was then imprisoned for a month. The crime: insulting an administrative female employee who had married her husband without her knowledge.
Every time witnesses spread the pictures and videos from these terrible punishments far and wide on social media networks, the Saudi authorities do not appear to recognise that these horrifying images distort their image and even the image of Islam itself around the world. They instead insist that tweets asking questions about the Prophet, such as those by Hamza Kashgari are offensive to Islam.
In this era, the era of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the era of space exploration, modern science and technology, the era of civil states with institutions of legislative, judicial and security,  countries that want to apply rigid and outdated Shari’ah laws fail to cope with the Zeitgeist of our century.
They insist on implementing the provisions that were revealed from an era where there were no bodies for the constabulary such as the Police or Regular Army.
There were no prisons, houses of correction or rehabilitation services. Now more than ever, there is a need to take a serious stand and open a door that has been closed for fifteen centuries to allow for the establishment of a legislative authority to review and amend Shari’ah laws and penalties to enable it to cope with the dominant school of thought and culture of today’s world.
The amended penalties should not be handled as rigidly as acts of Ebadat or religious devotion, which cannot be changed, increased or decreased. The penalties should be amended so that they can maintain security and stability in today’s varied circumstances.
It is 2014 and we cannot continue whipping people and chopping off their hands or heads, while expecting the world to join or respect our religion.

Published on IslamistGate.com Friday January 10th, 2012

http://www.islamistgate.com/283

NEWSWEEK: Riding Shotgun With The Woman Driving Change in Saudi Arabia


Riding Shotgun With The Woman Driving Change in Saudi Arabia

By  / November 07 2013 10:03 AM

 

Benjamin Franklin once wrote that there are three types of people in this world: “those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.” Manal al-Sharif, a 34-year-old computer scientist, is in the process of moving something momentous – the Saudi Arabian cultural taboo of allowing the women to get behind a wheel.

But her activism is in the face of a repressed kingdom. Saudi Arabia is a monarchy and the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. Sunni and tribal tradition define the rights of its 20 million women. “People are completely isolated in decision making,” she says.

And yet, al-Sharif’s protest movement is having more effect than just the future of women drivers. In the same way the frustrations and actions of Mohammed Bouazizi – the Tunisian fruit seller who launched the Jasmine Revolution that paved the way for the rest of the Arab Spring – some see al-Sharif as the catalyst for a much larger change.

“I call it the ‘Women’s Spring’ in Saudi,” she says. The al-Saud rulers, she says, are cracking down on dissidents out of fear that the waves from the Arab Spring will spread to the kingdom. But she remains undeterred.

And she is quickly becoming the face of change. Foreign Policy named her one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2011, and her words and actions are spreading throughout the region.

“Manal is no doubt one of world’s best examples of people who can move others – even if laws, customs, habits, and powerful governments are opposing her noble attempt,” says Srdja Popovic from CANVAS, a Belgrade-based think tank that trains peaceful revolutionaries around the world.

Popovic – who 13 years ago helped overthrow the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic – knows political defiance. His other pupils included the Egyptian April 6 movement, as well as Syrian and Iranian activists. He calls al-Sharif, “one of my heroes.”

Women are not technically banned by Saudi law from driving; they are only prevented from obtaining Saudi driver’s licenses or using foreign licenses. Because of the ban, Saudi women are largely forced to rely on male relatives or chauffeurs for transportation. Women who try otherwise are usually stopped by police, who call their male guardian.

In 1990, a group of women protested the ban and were so severely punished – by travel bans, detention and slanderous sermons during Friday prayers – that no one tried to challenge the ban again for more than two decades. That is, until Manal al-Sharif decided to get behind a wheel.

Al-Sharif’s odyssey – from a young, divorced mother to prominent dissident, a word she had to look up in the dictionary – began in May 2011.

For four years she owned a car she was unable to drive, and she was fed up. She also realized there is no law in Saudi prohibiting women from driving – only constraints of culture and tradition.

A few days later, al-Sharif – in Jackie O sunglasses and a traditional black abaya – got behind the wheel of her Cadillac SUV. A friend in a flamboyant pink abaya filmed al-Sharif with her iPhone.

As she turned on her engine, al-Sharif remembers being “scared and excited.”

“I sat down and buckled up … Then I said, ‘Bismillah’ [in the name of God], and I drove,” she says. “My feeling was that you have a bird… this bird is in this cage his whole life… Then suddenly you open the door, and the bird hesitates: ‘Should I leave? Should I stay?’ ”

Al-Sharif pressed the gas pedal and flew “through the bars.”

The women drove through the streets of Khober, in the Eastern Province of the kingdom, for eight minutes. They filmed as they went. A few days later, the religious police detained al-Sharif for six hours, but the video had already received 600,000 hits on YouTube. As the news spread, some women applauded al-Sharif, but others were appalled.

“There are many who don’t think what I am doing is good,” she says. “They are jealous, or they don’t want to change the way they are treated in Saudi society – like queens, or like pearls. Their husbands do everything for them.”

Her short drive was a triumph, but it also started a cycle of harassment that continues today. One cleric said to her, “You have just opened the gates of hell on yourself.” Another day, she opened an email to find a grim message: “Your grave is waiting.”

But al-Sharif was not intimidated. She and other supporters organized a grassroots campaign: designing a logo, alerting local media, and calling for all women to get out and drive on June 17 and to make videos of the trip. The reaction was like a tidal wave.

“The opponents kept telling us, ‘There are many wolves in the streets,’ ” she says. “ ‘They would rape you, they would harass you, and they would kidnap you if you drive a car.’ ” Al-Sharif decided she would prove that she would be the one to drive – and not get raped.

She also posted a survey which asked: “Do you want to drive on June 17?” Of the women she polled, 84 percent answered yes. Another question was, “Do you know how to drive?” Only 11 percent answered yes. So she and her campaigners started a driving school using volunteers as teachers.

Empowered, al-Sharif took her cause one step further. She borrowed her brother Mohammed’s car and went for a drive, passing a police officer en route.

She went to jail for nine days for “incitement to public disorder,” and Mohammed – who told her to “go for it” – was detained by police. When al-Sharif emerged from prison, she found she was the poster child for the right for women to drive in Saudi Arabia.

“I call myself an accidental activist,” she says. “I did not even know what the word means.” Part of the activism, she said, went much deeper than just getting women to drive.

She grew up in the 1980s and 1990s in Mecca, where the school curriculum dedicates nearly 40 percent to teaching religion. She says she was brainwashed to the moral code of Saudis.

“We were taught we lived in a perfect society. But we were also taught that if we followed rules we went to heaven, and if we did not we would have hellfire.”

Her religious education, based on honor and fear, started when she was young. In the seventh grade, without knowing why, she was suddenly forbidden to play with a favorite cousin. He was a boy. They did not meet again for 10 years. She says she mourned not only the lost friendship, but also the implications of separating the sexes.

“I was so upset! We were just playing! We were just kids!” she says. “I was learning that people are controlled by fear.”

On holiday in Egypt with her parents and her brother and sister (now a doctor), al-Sharif saw Egyptian women confidently driving, their heads uncovered, their hair flowing. “I just hung my head out the window and stared at them. I could not believe it.”

Academic life was her release. Her working-class parents – her father was a truck driver, her mother a housewife – encouraged all three of their children to study. Her mother preferred that the girls did their homework rather than traditional women’s work.

“Mom didn’t really ask us to do anything around the house,” she says. “It was more important for her that we studied.” When al-Sharif graduated with high marks, she went into computer science, eventually working for Aramco, a national oil and natural gas company.

But there she saw more injustice: “women being bypassed for promotions and appraisals – just because they are women.”

She had her “own awakening” as a Muslim and as a woman watching the disturbing images of the Twin Towers burning on September 11. People were hurling themselves out of windows in an attempt to save their lives. Al-Sharif watched, horrified. “These men [who did that] were not heroes, but killers” she says.

Sent for a year by Aramco to Boston, she had another eye-opener. She rented her own apartment, drove her own car, and no longer needed her father’s signature to travel. Returning to Saudi was a painful lesson.

“I had to go to my father to sign papers for me to do anything,” she says. “I could not pick up my son from school.” Having lived and experienced freedom outside the kingdom, she realized she could not go back to living with injustice.

She devoted herself to more activist causes inside Saudi, but in May 2012 Aramco finally managed to push her out of her job.

“There are two faces to this country,” she says. “It’s a hypocritical society. Educated men travel outside Saudi, and they see women driving, women with uncovered heads. They think it’s fine. Then they get back here, and their views are different.”

On October 26, al-Sharif and other activists urged all Saudi women to stand up and take their destiny in their own hands, and drive. The result was that hundreds of women got out in the streets and drove, and 16,000 signed a petition that demands the government lift the ban or, at minimum, give a “valid and legal justification” for the prohibition.

It was a personal triumph. And last year, al-Sharif remarried a Brazilian man, Raphael, whom she met at Aramco. Even that – a private decision – was not easy. She had to get permission from the Ministry of Interior to marry a foreigner – and was refused. She married outside Saudi, but her ex-husband won’t let her son travel outside the kingdom. So to see him, she commutes between Saudi and Dubai, where she found a new job.

Still, her travel is monitored, and she is on a surveillance list. On October 26, the movement’s webpage was hacked.

But it has not stopped her, nor is she afraid. She is currently writing an autobiography, travelling to activist conferences around the world and speaking out. Loudly. She says that like other Arab revolutions, once people realize they are being denied their freedoms, they cannot turn their backs.

It’s like that first time behind the wheel of her Cadillac. “I have this feeling that you just need to jump,” she says. “To trust yourself. “

 

http://www.newsweek.com/riding-shotgun-woman-driving-change-saudi-arabia-2770

Activist: Women still can’t drive in Saudi Arabia, but ‘things are changing’


By Bonnie Washuk, Staff Writer

Lewiston-Auburn |

Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 11:35 pm

LEWISTON — There’s a New England connection to the woman who
received worldwide attention in 2011 for being being jailed for driving in
Saudi Arabia, a country where it is illegal for women to drive.
Activist Manal al­Sharif spoke to a packed Bates College audience
Wednesday night. She’s been named by Time magazine one of the 100 most
influential people of 2012, written about by the New York Times, CNN and
the Wall Street Journal, been given international awards for freedom and
called “fearless.”
Al­Sharif said she started the “Women2Drive” movement after living and
working in Nashua, N.H., for a year.
The right for Saudi Arabian women to drive is symbolic, she explained, for
the guardianship system that exists in Saudi Arabia, where women are
considered “minors” all of their lives. Women must ask permission to do
anything, even leaving the house, from their male “guardians” — fathers,
husbands or, for widows, even their sons.
When she came to Nashua in 2009 on a work exchange program, the
computer engineer discovered there was no public transportation. She
needed a car, but first needed a license.
She signed up for drivers ed, learning how to drive with teenagers.
Beaming, al­Sharif showed off her drivers license to the audience to
applause. After living like an American for a year, she returned to her
country and became frustrated by not being mobile.
Saudi women travel the world, work as doctors and save lives, yet they
need a man for transportation. “Something is wrong here,” she said.
Instead of complaining, she acted.
In May of 2011, on Facebook she called on women to drive. She got support
and threats that women who drove would be raped. Women were scared. In
June, al­Sharif took the lead saying, “’I’ll show you, I’ll drive.” She drove
her car for 10 minutes as a friend shot video. “I had no clue what would
happen after that,” she said.
The video was posted on YouTube and became a worldwide hit. She was
arrested and jailed for nine days.
Bonnie Washuk, Staff WriterNews of the arrest went out on Twitter. “It was really amazing what social
media created,” she said. “It created a global support system.”
It was the time of Arab Spring. The world reacted in anger to a woman
jailed for simply driving.
“People around the world called for my release. This small act created a
huge wave.” Al­Sharif showed a picture of a Romanian woman protesting
with a sign, “Cars for women, camels for men.”
Al­Sharif’s family went to the king and apologized for her behavior. She was
released. Al­Sharif suspects it was the pressure from social media that
contributed to her release.
In the United States, people use social media to meet old friends or keep in
touch with family. “In our world, we use it to start revolutions.”
Saudi conservatives slammed her and the idea of women driving. “This is
my favorite,” al­Sharif said, showing a newspaper article with a headline of
a cleric warning if women were allowed to drive, the virginity of unmarried
women would be lost. He said there’d be illegitimate children and more
divorce.
Supporters of the “Women2Drive” campaign posted the story online. “It
was all over the news,” al­Sharif said. “The whole world was mocking
them.”
Eventually, she ended up losing her job and had to move. Today she lives in
Dubai. When she goes back to Saudi Arabia to visit her son (her ex­husband
has custody), she gets detained at security. When public speaking, “it’s
balancing when to say so much,” she said. “Sometimes you say something
huge and you disappear for two months.”
Saudi women still cannot drive. They are still “minors” of their fathers,
husbands and sons. But a change is underway, al­Sharif said.
She’s written against the guardianship system, expecting flack. That didn’t
happen. Some men agreed, saying they were sick of their woman depending
on them for every single thing.
“It’s changing, slowly,” al­Sharif said. “It’s not going to happen today, but
maybe it will happen in my daughter’s generation, if I ever have one.”
Her son will hear bad things about what she’s done, she said. Someday he’ll
ask her about it. “When he comes that day, I will have an answer,” al­Sharif
said.
But if her son ever becomes her guardian, “I’ll kick his butt,” she said to
laughter.

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

http://www.sunjournal.com/news/lewiston-auburn/2013/09/18/activist-women-still-cant-drive-saudi-arabia-thing/1424989

I hate you but won’t leave you


The comments that I receive in my email and on my pages in social networking sites make me happy whether an encouragement or criticism. May Allah have mercy upon whoever reveals to me my faults, old people say…

I also receive my share of insults and ignore them, in accordance with the saying of Imam Shafi’i: “If the fool speaks, don’t respond to him as silence is the best answer (for him). If you (do) speak to him (then) you have supported him (i.e. his foolishness by giving him importance); and if you left him (without speaking/answering), then in anguish he dies.”

However, there are types of comments, that I receive, make me wonder in which category they belong to. I mean comments such as; « how I hate » or « I looked for your page just to inform you about my hatred towards you ». There is a very weird person who, whenever I post something on my page, leaves a very long comment that starts with mocking my profile picture and my forehead, passing through the usual betrayal charges, and concluding with a cursing prayer for me and whomever read for me without leaving one comment on the article itself! This reminds me of the famous Hijazi saying: «I swear to God I would never leave you not for sake of love but for annoying you».

I tried repeatedly to understand how a person would waste all this time and effort, not only of having all this hatred for others but of also searching for them to express this hatred. I consider hatred is one of the most negative emotions that only kills a person just as fire burns wood.  Rarely this feeling affects the person we hate, and rarely he cares to know what we feel towards him, especially if he is not part of our personal lives. Once I wrote jokingly in «twitter»; «I have never faced threats and feelings of hatred except in the cyber world, and I have never met one of them face to face in the real world! cowards! ». I received immediate mentions from three people confirm their deep hatred for me, and their willingness to meet me in person to express these feelings. None of them live in the nearby, therefore, I sent them my Skype ID to make a  video call to understand this enthusiasm to hatred … None called until today!

Someone once said, “My friend was harshly insulting you. Therefore, I asked him “Have you heard from her?” He replied,” I heard from people” and I asked him again “Did you read any of her articles, or watch one of her interviews?” He answered, “No, I did not want to, but people say …”  I interrupted him saying, “People, people, nothing destroyed us but people!”. My simple answer to his friend is this, if the conception formation of a person depended on the words of people, then what is the benefit of the mind that God gave us?  The friend of that person reminds me of myself during my teenage years. A wild campaign against the late Dr. Ghazi al-Gosaibi has been launched describing him of being atheist and prohibiting reading his “impudent” books. Being influenced by such harsh opinions, I hated this person until I read one of his books by accident. At that moment I regretted having not read all of his books, and for my feelings of hatred towards him without proof … I learned then that every story has two sides thus, never make one sided judgements. Listen to both sides and then “Follow your heart, even if you were told otherwise“.

I conclude my article with this e-mail that has touched me a lot:

(For the first time I read for you. Much of what I have towards you has changed. I knew you initially through the topic of Women2Drive and its consequences, surely from newspapers, social networking sites, and from people talk. However, I’m a person who does not believe in any cause, the strange thing is according to the increasing gossip of others, I automatically hated you.

Your article was as a making up meeting between you and me. It released me from all the negative emotions that I felt towards you, and not because of your attitudes as I told you before!

In all cases, the value of our life lies in the struggle for a lawful right no matter how we suffered.)

Congratulation for your marriage to another man…. My Love


During a session of “girl’s talk”, where Eve enjoys backbiting Adam, this story was mentioned:

“He called to find her crying. He asked; what is wrong?

She replied; I had a marriage proposal and I should go now to meet his mother.

He said; Wipe your tears my love, to not destroy your beauty in front of my mother.”

The local version

“He called to find her crying. He asked; what is wrong?

She replied; I had a marriage proposal and I should go now to meet his mother.

He said; Wipe your tears my love to go to meet his mother. He might be better than me and love you more than me. Congratulation for marriage in advance!”

Many comments from anti-Eastern men followed this story. Comments like: “men hold a girl in suspense for years with dreams and illusions of getting married, then when he wants to get married, she is the furthest option of his future wife”. Another: “even if he married her, he will keep considering this a favour of him or he will humiliate her because she fell in love before marriage, and some cases he might doubt her or marry again.”

These were my friends’ comments however; I had a point of view that Eve might not agree with:

It is easier to blame others for our misfortunes. Eastern women play the role of the victim like professional inferiors. Men control her whether he is a father or a husband, or even sometimes a brother or a son. Society plays a role in creating this idea when it convinces her that she is less than a man. She cannot take the control of her own affairs, although she is responsible for managing her home affairs. She is not close to the perfection that men have reached despite all their shortcomings. Male will remain superior to female. The worst is when those brand-new habits that underestimate the women turn to be written laws using doubtful hadiths to back them up. I call them brand new habits because they appeared during my Mother’s generation but not in my Grandmother’s generation. – God rest her soul – who raised her children after the death of my grandfather, planted her land and managed her house, her sheep and all her own affairs by herself.

A Mother is blameworthy when she puts in her son’s mind indirectly that he is better than his sister is, allowing for him what is forbidden for his sister to do and ignoring his mistakes while punishing her daughter for committing the same mistake. A girl is blameworthy in case she derives confidence from the number of her suitors. when she sets her sights on the man she loves even if he did not express an intention to marry her, making him all her life while she is only a part of his life which he can replace with another whenever he wants. She is at his disposal, and feels happy for his privilege even if he causes her sadness and forgives his faults, while she does not expect the same.  She has to be an angel, not a normal woman to win his love, his heart and the wedding ring, which she may not ever see.

The wife also is blameworthy when she waives her right of being a full-fledged partner of a man in his life, sharing the same responsibility of housework and raising children. Does the wife know that legitimately she should not serve her husband, or even take his permissions in her personal affairs, yet share his opinion only? Does she know that guardianship means managing her affairs, serving her and not a matter of owner and slave as we see today? Even the divorcee is blameworthy when she gathers all her things in a bag with her broken heart and leaves her marital house believing that this protects her dignity? Ignorant or ignoring that it is her legal right and the right of her children to her house? How did things overturn? Then she asks why does a man humiliate her? However, she humiliated herself first when either she waived her rights out of ignorance or out of love. Eve is the first to be blamed for diminishing her rights, even if it was her moral right to be respected! Yet, the man is one who wrote the rules in the woman’s life and she followed without any questioning!

FACT:

The dream of every man is to be the first in her life; however, the dream of every woman is to be the last in his life.

فيديو

كلمتي في مؤتمر تيد العالمي – My talk in TED Global 2013


الكلمة مترجمة بالعربي

Posted by: Karen Eng

June 11, 2013 at 12:50 pm BST

Two years ago, as she put her 5-year-old son Aboody to bed, Manal Al-Sharif faced an unexpected question from him: “Mommy, are we bad people?” Earlier in the day, she had noticed bruises on his face. He didn’t want to tell her why. Now, in the evening, he confessed that boys at school had hit him because they’d seen his mother on Facebook. They said, “You and your mom should be put in jail.” This was a sudden moment of truth for women’s driving rights activist Al-Sharif: She’d created a situation that was bigger than herself or her family. For handing her his car keys, her brother had been detained twice, harassed and eventually forced to leave the country, and her father had to listen to his imam call women drivers prostitutes. It was not about driving, she realized, but a punishment for daring to challenge society’s rules.

It all began in 2011, when Al-Sharif complained to a friend about the Saudi ban on women driving, which had not been challenged for 20 years. The friend pointed out, to her stunned amazement, that there was no real legal ban — it was merely a custom enforced by religious fatwas. According to Saudi Arabia’s ultra-conservative system of beliefs, she says, women need guardians to protect them, and are treated as minors until they die. Her friend’s revelation was enough to prompt Al-Sharif to start a campaign to get as many women as possible to get behind the wheel and drive on June 17, 2011, spreading the word using social media.

In the weeks leading up to that day, Al-Sharif tested the waters by filming herself driving in Khobar and posting it on YouTube. The video got hundreds of thousands of views on the first day — and she received threats of death and rape. The authorities, however, were eerily silent. Trying a second time in the company of her brother, she drove past a police car, and the response was swift: Al-Sharif was arrested and sent to jail for nine days.

Undeterred, on June 17, 2011, some one hundred courageous women came out and broke the ban, driving in streets packed with police cars. Incredibly, no one was arrested. “We broke the taboo,” says Al-Sharif.

Al-Sharif describes what followed as a fragmented time of having to live with two opposing images of herself: the villain within her own country, and the hero outside of it. When she traveled to Oslo to speak at the Oslo Freedom Forum, she was embraced warmly. On her return home, she was met with a nationwide Twitter attack with the hashtag #OsloTraitor. In a poll that asked, “Do you consider Manal a traitor after her speech in Oslo?” 90% answered “Yes.” Yet, Al-Sharif says, fighting tears, “I’m a proud Saudi woman and I do love my country. It’s because I love my country that I’m doing this. I believe a society will not be free if women of that society are not free.” Her statement gets a long standing ovation.

Al-Sharif has continued to face controversy by taking action: getting back on social media as soon as she was released from jail, filing a lawsuit against the Saudi General Directorate of Traffic for not issuing her a driver’s license, and filing a petition to the Shura Council asking to lift the driving ban. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia today is taking small steps towards enhancing women’s rights, she says. Last year, 30 women were assigned to the Shura Council, the monarchy’s advisory board; women now make up 20 percent of the membership. The Council has accepted Al-Sharif’s petition — which had 3,500 signatures — and the traffic police have announced they will only issue violation tickets to women drivers. Meanwhile, the Grand Mufti recently issued a fatwa softening its hard line, stating it’s simply “not recommended” for women to drive.

But, Al-Sharif says, it’s not so much about rule of law as it is about women’s attitudes about themselves: The danger is internalizing an oppressive society’s insistence that women are inferior. She’s not sure how she became an activist, but she says she will always be proud to be one of the women who was part of the ban and fought to overturn it. She concludes that change can only happen “if women stop asking when, and start taking action now to drive our own lives.”

Glamour: The Story That’s Inspired The World


In Saudi Arabia, women are banned from driving. Yes, in 2013. Yes, because they’re women. Angry? YES. In defiance, equality campaigner Manal al-Sharif posted a YouTube video of her behind the wheel. Despite death threats, she won’t be deterred. Here is one of the most inspirational women you’ll ever meet.

“The moment I first thought, ‘Oh God, what have I got myself into?’ was on my second day in jail, in May 2011 – my ‘crime’ was driving my car and encouraging other women to do the same by posting a clip of it on YouTube. I’d been allowed to call my family, who told me my five-year-old son – Abdullah, or Aboody for short – had been hospitalised. I was in a filthy, overcrowded cell. I was terrified, but I was also very, very angry.

Three days earlier I’d posted the ‘Saudi Girl Driving’ video online – 800,000 people saw it in just 24 hours. If you ask anyone across the world about Saudi Arabia, the one thing they usually know is that women are not allowed to drive. My protest – as part of my activism for equal-rights campaign group Right2Dignity – came about after I visited the doctor’s one night and couldn’t get a lift home. It was 9pm, and as I walked to find a taxi, I was shouted at by men driving past. One followed me for 15 minutes and only drove off after I threw a rock. I cried in anger, thinking, ‘This cannot be happening; I am 32, I have an international driving licence, a US licence, and a car I can’t drive.’

The next day, a colleague told me there’s no actual law banning women driving, it’s just a societal norm. I couldn’t believe it, so, a few days later, I went out and drove my car in protest, while my friend, Wajiha, filmed it.

It was one of those crazy moments where you just do something without thinking about the consequences. We drove for an hour and it was so much fun. It was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m driving and no one is stopping me!’ I wanted to see people’s reactions to witnessing a woman driving. I wanted to provoke men. I’d stop at traffic lights and make eye contact with them. I drove to a busy supermarket car park and got out. People were staring at me in disbelief.

Back home, I uploaded the clip to YouTube. My campaign group uses social media to effect change – I realised technology could help the cause, as Saudis are huge YouTube viewers and Tweeters. My experience ignited the idea for Right2Drive – we called for Saudi women with international driving licences to go out and drive on June 17, a month later.

Testing the waters, a few days later I got back into the driver’s seat, this time with my brother, to see if the authorities would act if poked again. They did. We were stopped and held at the police station for six hours, and I was made to sign a pledge to say I wouldn’t do it again – not because it was against the law, but because it was against social convention and I’d incited others.

We finally got home at midnight. Aboody was asleep upstairs and the house was full of my activist friends, eating pizza, working on laptops and watching TV. They were so excited – I was all over the news. We saw it as a huge victory; we’d established that no official law existed to stop women driving. However, at 2am, nine people knocked on the door to take us away again. I was frightened, but a work official called and assured me it was nothing to worry about and I should go. I didn’t even look into Aboody’s room before I left – I didn’t want to wake him and I was sure I’d see him in a few hours. It turns out they lied to me and I was thrown into jail, without trial.

I was released after nine days, but I had no idea getting into my car that day would offend so many people. People threatened to rape and kill me. They called my office screaming that I’d opened the doors of hell. My picture was on the front page of the newspapers. I was the most attacked woman in Saudi Arabia.

It’s caused me a lot of pain and I have had moments of feeling defeated. I was put under so much pressure at work – they didn’t like my campaigning – that in April 2012 I resigned. That meant I lost my home, too, as it was rented through the company. It would be impossible for me to get another job in Saudi Arabia, so I moved to Dubai with my new husband, Rafael, and set up my own information-security business.

I couldn’t get Aboody out of the country – my ex-husband would not give me my son, and the law in Saudi Arabia is always on the side of men. Aboody lives with his grandmother, a one-hour flight from me, and I go and see him every weekend. It’s very sad and I could just sit and cry and regret what’s happened to me, but I want to write a happy ending to this story for my son.

There are so many injustices that Right2Dignity is trying to change. Driving is just part of it. A woman who was caught driving recently said she was inspired by me, and I thought, ‘Yes!’ We Saudi women need to be courageous and speak up – first, with these small things, and then take action with the bigger things: it’s the ripple effect. We’re now calling for a law to criminalise domestic violence.

Years ago in Britain, women fought hard to live the way you do today, and that’s what we want in Saudi Arabia. Never take your freedoms for granted. I can’t change my reality right now, but I can affect what happens for women who come after me.”

More about Manal’s incredible story is in the June issue of GLAMOUR, out now.

 http://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/news/features/2013/05/manal-al-sharif-saudi-arabia-story

A Woman’s Clothing Is A Reason For Rape!


This is not a title of a scientific study made by a crime research center. Unfortunately, it is a title of a debate raised by a Tweet of a woman standing by “the harasser, the rapist and the killer», if the woman is not wearing decent clothes. Exactly as I believe in the freedom of speech, I also believe in the freedom of stupidity. However, the fact is that the amount of people who disagree with this concept far outnumber those who support it.

In my humble opinion, our Eastern culture created those types of women in our homes, our schools and our work. Why not while our Arab societies bring up the woman to bear responsibility alone for all relationship mistakes, even if it is the man’s fault, based on the proverb “a man endures his fault while a woman’s fault cost the family their honor”. The same societies, which advise women to cover up, forget to advise men to lower their gaze. What about pedophilia? Do children also have to cover up in case we blame them for what happened?

However, we created this comparison in the women’s heads, we cry over the results after which a woman stands by a rapist. When we raise the girl as an imperfect, incapacitated creature and in need for a permission from the man in everything in her life, it is normal for woman to blame herself for any trouble that happened because of a man, even if it was a crime such as rape. Thus, do not today disapprove that these ideas come from women! Did not one of them oppose making a law that punishes the harasser under the pretence that we then prove the existence of the crime of harassment?

This week, one of the TV channels showed a bit strange experiment. They asked a young actor to disguise himself as a woman, and walk on a street in an Arab country and they made a video about his experiences. They made this experiment twice with reserved clothes except the first time he was with headcover (Hijab) and the second time without it. In both cases, same harassment was repeated boldly.

After this experience, the actor confirmed that he suffered a little comparing to what women suffer every day and silently. He also expressed the difficulty of feeling her suffer because he returned to his normal life at the end, while women go through that every day.

The women’s point of view of themselves is that their actions only are responsible for what troubles they experience, which made ​​some sick people dare to insult, defame and harass his own female citizens while shows respect for women in countries that have strict laws against his type! This same point of view is the reason for the society’s belief that divorcees and single women are inferior as they are certainly the reason for the failure of a marriage, or any future marriage.

Yet the most dangerous types of women oppression, is for herself and others of same sex, giving excuses for those who harm her and even encouraging them with her silence, surrender and blame for the victim rather than the criminal. Thus, this repression is the most dangerous and deadliest types for women.

Have a minute to read the story of Prophet Joseph “peace be upon him”:

“And it so happened that the lady in whose house Joseph was living, sought to tempt him to herself, and one day bolting the doors she said: “Come on now!” Joseph answered: “May Allah grant me refuge! My Lord has provided an honourable abode for me (so how can I do something so evil)? Such wrong-doers never prosper.” (12:23)

Published in al Hayat

May 15, 2013