‘Feminist’ king is dead, women grieve
Among the fawning tributes paid to the dead King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who was buried today in an unmarked grave in the capital Riyadh, was this from Christine Lagarde, below, the first woman to head the IMF:
Very saddened by his death, I had met him several times and he’s going to leave a big legacy but a big loss as well. He was a great leader implemented lots of reforms at home and in a very discreet way he was a strong advocate of women, it was very gradual, appropriately so probably for the country.
This was too much for Anne Perkins of the Guardian:
This is almost certainly not what she thinks. She even hedged her remarks about with qualifiers like “discreet” and “appropriate”. There are constraints of diplomacy and obligations of leadership and navigating between them can be fraught. But this time there was only one thing to say. Abdullah led a country that abuses women’s rights, and indeed all human rights, in a way that places it beyond normal diplomacy.
The constraints and restrictions on Saudi women are too notorious and too numerous to itemise. Right now, two women are in prison for the offence of trying to drive over the border in to Saudi Arabia. It is not just the ban on driving. There is also the ban on going out alone, the ban on voting, the death penalty for adultery, and the total obliteration of public personality – almost of a sense of existence – by the obligatory veil.
And there are the terrible punishments meted out to those who infringe these rules that are not written down but “interpreted” – Islam mediated through the conventions of a deeply conservative people.
Lagarde is right. King Abdullah did introduce reforms. Women can now work almost anywhere they want, although their husband brother or father will have to drive them there (and the children to school). They can now not just study law but practise as lawyers. There are women on the Sharia council and it was through their efforts that domestic violence has been criminalised. But enforcement is in the hands of courts that do not necessarily recognise the change. These look like reforms with all the substance of a Potemkin village, a flimsy structure to impress foreign opinion.
And she concluded:
… Beyond Saudi’s borders, it is surely the duty of everyone who really does believe in equality and human rights to shout and finger point and criticise at every opportunity. Failing to do so is what makes Christine Lagarde’s remarks a betrayal of the women who literally risk everything to try to bring about change in the oppressive patriarchy in which they live.
They are typical of the desire not to offend the world’s biggest oil producer and the west’s key Middle Eastern ally, a self-censorship that allows the Saudis to claim they respect human rights while breaching every known norm of behaviour.
Until people like Lagarde abandon the relativist talk that allowed her to claim that Abdullah was a strong advocate for women ‘in a very discreet way’, or laud the benefits of ‘gradual’ change that is ‘appropriate’ for the country, and simply condemn what should be condemned, millions of women will go on living and dying for want of the most basic rights.
Another pass-the-sick-bucket quote came from UK Prime Minister David Cameron:
I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abd Al Aziz Al Saud.
He will be remembered for his long years of service to the Kingdom, for his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths.
My thoughts and prayers are with the Saudi Royal Family and the people of the Kingdom at this sad time.
I sincerely hope that the long and deep ties between our two Kingdoms will continue and that we can continue to work together to strengthen peace and prosperity in the world.
And former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, above, said:
I am very sad indeed to hear of the passing of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. I knew him well and admired him greatly. Despite the turmoil of events in the region around him, he remained a stable and sound ally, was a patient and skilful moderniser of his country leading it step by step into the future.
Far less reverence for the Abdullah is apparent on social networking sites, where people in their thousands are expressing outrage over the fact that the British flag is being flown at half-mast for the dead tyrant – even at Westminster Abbey, which offered this excuse:
We always fly a flag. It is at half-mast because the government has decided to fly their flags at half-mast today.
For us not to fly at half-mast would be to make a noticeably aggressive comment on the death of the king of a country to which the UK is allied in the fight against Islamic terrorism.
Nor would it have done anything to support the desperately oppressed Christian communities of the Middle East for whom we pray constantly and publicly.