Monday, July 20, 2009

The Saudi Woman Through A Princess' Eyes

When one thinks of a Princess, the usual suspect is one whose life is filled with glamour and jewels, maids and palaces, perfume and limousines. In her book 'Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia' Jean Sasson gives us just that, but with a Middle Eastern twist. This time stoning and drowning, forced marriage and secrets, mandatory veiling and rape are thrown into the mix.

 This heartbreaking book is a look behind the mysteriously closed doors of Saudi Arabia's privileged class. It tells the story of the hardship the narrator, Princess Sultana, faced as she grew up in the harsh male-dominated environment of Saudi Arabia which is ruled by Muslim Sharia law coupled with Wahhabism- one of the strictest interpretations of Islam. This comes in sharp contrast with the tremendous amount of wealth flooding the country from oil and Saudi Arabia's subsequent "modernization" efforts. 

In Princess Sultana's world, women are not allowed to be seen. They walk the streets cloaked in black and are not allowed to show their face or even too much of their ankle lest they get harassed and/or jailed. They are not allowed to drive, not allowed to speak out against their men, not allowed to leave the country without permission from a male guardian, not allowed to leave the house without a male... Basically they are not allowed to do ANYTHING outside the sphere of the home without a male. This renders them slaves to men who in contrast are allowed to do ANYTHING they want. In Princess Sultana's world, if a man rapes a woman, the woman becomes the scapegoat for being a "temptress" and is stoned to death. Fathers are allowed to kill their daughters for fornication or fancying a foreign man while men are allowed to marry non-Muslim women. Brothers are given free reign to terrorize their sisters as Sultana's brother did...

These stories are covered up by the tremendous money available to upper class Saudis where it is normal to have multiple palaces equipped with myriad maids and drivers, where a honeymoon can last four months and include trips to Italy, France, England, and Egypt, and where Rolexes and Porsches are commonplace. 

I was in awe however, as I read that a girl was drowned in her own swimming pool by her father for talking and having relations with foreign men. What was even more disturbing was that rather than condemning the action taken by her father, the government looked favorably on him for restoring honor to his family. What honor is there in killing your own daughter?How can a country with so much wealth be a bastion for such antediluvian practices?  What hope is there for women in a society that doesn't value them for anything more than child rearing? 

The book brings to light the fact that though Saudi Arabia may be flourishing due to its oil wealth, there are still a multitude of problems plaguing it. With this book, Sultana is pleading with the public to witness the injustice taking place in Saudi Arabia toward women and do something about it. 

I advise everyone to read 'Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia' and openly condemn the medieval practices being carried out in this self-proclaimed "modernized" country and in other countries across the globe where women are being treated as second class citizens.

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