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Living Behind the Veil

The Los Angeles Times has a very interesting article about American women who married Saudi men and must now obey strict Islamic laws. Or at least on the face of it. Apparently, it's not all negative:

Most non-Muslim women convert to Islam as a prerequisite for marrying a Saudi and living in the kingdom. Many American women, including those who converted before they arrived, have embraced the Koran; for others, the adoption of Islam is a pantomime act, the disguise of a second self to hold them over until they peel off their head scarves and travel to the U.S. for summer vacations.

For both kinds of women, it is a life of sacrifices and measured victories: Women can't drive or vote in Saudi Arabia, but their children are largely safe from street crime and drugs; a wife can't leave the country without her husband's written permission, but tribal and religious codes instill a strong sense of family.

Freedom lies behind courtyard walls, where private swimming pools glimmer and the eyes of the religious police, known as the mutaween, do not venture. Rock 'n' roll (haram) is played, smuggled whiskey (haram) is sipped, and Christianity (haram) sometimes is practiced. This sequestered, contradictory experience, a number of American wives noted, can turn an expat into an alcoholic or a born-again Christian, and sometimes both.

"American women get together and we talk," said Lori Baker, a mother of two who met her Saudi husband at Ohio State University in 1982. "We ask one another, 'Where are you on your curve now? Have you hit bottom yet?' We all go through the highs and lows when it comes to moods and tolerance. . . . When I first got here, I felt naked without my head scarf.

"Then after the terrorist bombings in 2003, I even covered my face. Foreigners were a target then. I became very comfortable with my face covered. I felt safe. Nobody knows me. They can't see me, and if you're covered, they respect you. Sometimes without a covered face it's like walking down Main Street wearing a bikini."

Link


(Link requires registration - so no clue to what the rest of the article said.)

I can't imagine ANY western woman that I've ever known that would willing self-inflict such stupidity on themselves and their children. What are these morons thinking? Puts a whole new spin on the term Gold (or should that be Oil) Digger.
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So sad that these women feel that they CANT walk down the street without their faces being covered.

Feel like you're a target???? Lady, you ARE a target!!

Cure the disease, not the symptom....
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The veil is actual pretty convenient. Women in Saudi Arabia aren't pressured to look beautiful every waking moment, aren't pressured to start dieting, aren't worried about their husbands cheating with that younger, prettier secretary at the office.

I think Americans could learn a thing or two about Saudi modesty.
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Such contradictory customs: in America a women needs plastic surgery and be willing to show a lot of skin to get a rich husband, apparently in Saudi Arabia she does the opposite!
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Saudi Arabia does have crime. The most common crimes are those that violate "haram" law. Second is smuggling and theft. Third is rape and murder. Crime just goes unreported in the western press. In Islamic ruled nations women are property. Sure the husband loves his wife but it is a measured love.
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alright, i'm for freedom of speech, or in reality "freedom of speech"... and human rights, but what is to say that Western laws are predominantly better than those of an Other society? All our mud slinging over 'they've got no rights' is garbage, we remove peoples rights by replacing them with our own. Acceptance is the only way we will ever move forward as a whole
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@Felix

My problem isn't with them living like they want to, it's them not letting me live as I want to. If I were living there with my family, would my family be free to dress as we wished? I don't think so. If they lived in the US, would they be allowed to continue to dress as they wish? Yes. That disparity is the problem.
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@mr. picky

Do you really think Americans allow burkas? Women in burkas get mocked EVERYWHERE they go in America. And don't think for a second that Americans allow people to dress as they wish. There is no tolerance for "foreign" beliefs, especially for Muslims. You think everything is fine and dandy here, but we are no better off than the Saudis...
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I don't know why you get the registration page, VonSkippy - I never registered with the website and I can see it fine. Perhaps they just have a "roving" registration wall.
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I would imagine that anyone in Saudi Arabia who has their hand chopped off for simple theft, or women who are jailed and whipped for being raped might think that Western laws are predominately better.
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i couldnt read the article, but im going to leave an idiotic comment about my views on the whole thing anyway, similar to all the other ridiculous comments i leave on this otherwise interesting site!
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It's quite astonishing that anyone would try to put a positive slant on any aspect of living in the Middle East as a woman. I'm marrying a woman from a (far more liberal, but still conservative) Middle Eastern country and I'm perfectly liberal and I think your views are insane Jerse.

What complete tosh that a burka is refreshing so you don't have to wear makeup. No one HAS to wear makeup, you just need some self-esteem, which sadly women who cover up their face on the say-so of their husband don't have.

Secondly, to say children are free from crime is bullsh*t too. Young girls are routinely molested and nothing is done about it.

Lastly, Jerse you say that we're no better in America than in Saudi. I'm British, which is similar enough to the States and I don't even know where to begin with such a nonsensical statement.

If anyone's thinking of emigrating the the Middle East, one tip first - make sure you're male.
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Wow, Jerse -- you are a total, unabashed, unashamed moron, aren't you?

Women aren't allowed to *drive* in Saudi Arabia and they cannot venture outside without a burka. Did you miss that part of the article?

Are you also unaware that in the US, women can drive, wear burkas if they choose, or dress in any fashion they wish. They also can vote, can choose whom they marry, and can worship any way they see fit.

Seriously...take your "who's to say our ways are better than theirs" rhetoric and shove it far up your ass. Only don't do it in Saudi Arabia, because they'll hang you for being gay if you're forcibly sodomized.
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Those women stupid enough to convert to Islam and wear a burkha in order to go and live in a stupid backward s#$%hole like Saudi Arabia as a chattel deserve all the lack of freedom they get. "Tolerate" it if you want, apologists, but try bending your logic around actually living that life 24 hours a day. What next from the Los Angeles Toe Rag? An article espousing the liberating feeling women in Africa get knowing that, having had a clitorectomy there's no pressure on them to fake orgasm for their man? Sorry Alex - why is this neat?
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Pfft. Jerse, there's a difference between de facto and de jure clothing regulation. You may get mocked for something you wear in the US, but, public decency laws aside, you can generally wear whatever you want.

I'm typically pretty liberal, but seriously: what kind of nutjob woman agrees to move to Saudi Arabia and put themselves through this? Why the hell would they marry anyone who required this of them?
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@Rohin

Well Rohin, my argument was for Saudi modesty, and how it's admirable. But from your "perfectly liberal" views, I should've guessed you would misconstrue my words and blame me for things I didn't say.

In America, the media is constantly in your face with Covergirl commercials and airbrushed celebrity photos. It's not a secret that American women are pressured to look sexy. All I'm saying is that this country could benefit from a more modest approach towards the way women dress and act.

As to your second point, they same thing is done in every country. It's called rape and it's not exclusive to Saudi Arabia.

And third, open your eyes man. If you can't see the prejudice and hatred towards Muslims, especially in your country (where not too long ago they wanted to ban Islamic headdresses), then YOU are the one who is making a nonsensical statement.
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@smak

Stop being a douchebag. Everyone knows those things are wrong - I am not an advocate for that kind of behavior. You should read what I wrote again, so that you don't come off as some unashamed, unabashed moron.

http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/node/7724

@Tempscire

Yes there is a difference between de jure and de facto, but what is it worth? Is it better to be able to wear a burka but have everyone jeer at you in the streets, in the news, the pop culture, and even little blogs like this? I just cannot understand why people continue to disrespect other cultures. Get over it already - this is why the rest of the world fucking hates us!
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Of course rape is not exclusive to Saudi. But unfortunately the rate of conviction is almost exclusive to it, and the law towards rape is horrifically twisted in much of the Islamic world. A woman is de facto to blame for being raped. Women aren't even second class citizens, they're lower. We haven't even touched on the appalling racism in Saudi Arabia towards Africans, Asians etc. Whatever you may say, nothing on that level exists in the UK or US.

No one has denied prejudice or hatred towards Islam in the West. In fact I've written about it on several occasions (www.pickledpolitics.com - you can see our views on the matter) but I cannot fathom the logic in comparing Saudi Arabia, which is arguably the most unpleasant country in the world, with America. America has its flaws, I am perfectly aware of them and they are numerous, but to say I'm the one who has to open their eyes is risible.

"They wanted to ban the hijab in my country". Who is "they"? And as you intimated, they didn't. Fact is Muslims have more freedom in the UK than in most Islamic states, and I'm quite proud of that.

Lastly, I also don't disagree with your statement that the West might benefit from some modesty. But that doesn't mean we have to use Saudi as an example of something to emulate. "Admirable" is the wrong word.
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Jerse, sometimes it's not wrong to say x is better than y. I am a product of several countries. I did not grow up in the West. If something is wrong in the country of my birth (India) then it is far more productive to say it instead of worrying about treading on toes and sounding like an arrogant Westerner. Only then do things progress. For example, I level the same criticism about women being treated poorly to a secular country like India (whilst not in the same league as Saudi Arabia). Don't confuse my views with 'Islamophobia'.
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@Rohin

I "admire" you're argument, but it seems to me that my words have been taken out of context and that we are off subject.

Here is "they":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_debate_over_veils

Also in my statement "...my argument was for Saudi modesty, and how it’s admirable" what I actually meant was Islamic modesty - true Islamic modesty - not Islam that has been corrupted.

I am not for the Saudi government, I think it's ludicrous to condone any of the human rights violations against women or their people.

But when Westerner's read this article and the comments, they aren't seeing Saudi's - they see Muslims. And it's just another strike against the Islamic culture - and I think that I'm correct here in trying to defend it.
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Hi-larious.

Jerse, exactly what is a "Westerner"? You make some sweeping generalizations while accusing others of doing exactly the same thing.

If people see "Muslims" when they read this article, it's because a lot of Muslim countries behave in exactly the same manner towards women and other cultures.

When I see women in burkas sitting in the back seat of the car, while the passengers side in the front is empty, or occupied by her son, I wonder why she doesn't feel free to sit where she likes, or even drive.

When I see a family sitting in the car, waiting for the woman to finish the grocery shopping - on her own - I wonder why they can't go inside and help her.

When an Indian women I went to high school with marries some guy she never met halfway across the world, I wonder why she felt she had to - there, that last one wasn't a Muslim.

You specifically say, "All I’m saying is that this country could benefit from a more modest approach towards the way women dress and act."

How about a more modest approach to the way MEN dress and act? Why don't men cover themselves from head to toe? Maybe countries could benefit from that. Men are pressured to look sexy, too.
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Hey, if that's what they choose to get themselves into, I think they are nuts, but it's there choice. Just no bellyaching about it thereafter... Nobody should be surprised about what it's like living under Sharia -- it's not a well-kept dirty secret.

Otherwise, I find myself agreeing with Carruthers.
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@ted

I can assume that you are a "Westerner" just by the way you wrote that condescending rant without even considering what I actually wrote.

And stop it - you've never seen a woman in a burka shopping at the local grocery store. You just pulled that from some biased documentary you watched for three minutes.

And there nothing wrong with arranged marriages. It happens to be a common practice in many cultures around the world. Our country, with one of the highest divorce ratios in the world, could also benefit from learning why the majority of arranged marriages are successful.

And fine, if it makes you happy, let's stop pressuring men to be sexy as well. I don't really see it all that often, but if you do, that's fine. There's nothing wrong with being a homosexual!
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relating to mr. picky's comment,

on the contrary, there are alot of unsaid social rules that are expected when one comes to a different country, plus the "we do it, they should too" tactic that is held by many is immature and culturally insensitive. Alas, in many cases both societies contribute to this line of thinking.
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The women under those veils in many countries are often wearing a lot of makeup and dressing very sexily. They have to, their husbands expect them to. The ease with which a man may divorce his wife (and these wealthy men can easily return the dowry), and the fact that the man will keep his children automatically, leaves the burden on the woman to keep the man's interest. Lingerie that would make Frederick's of Hollywood blush is sold in huge amounts in most Islamic countries.

If you read the article, the one wife noted that it was not Islamic, it was tribal. She was correct. It is tribal, just like honor killings.

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, "Any woman willing to give up freedom for a little security, deserves neither freedom nor security."
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@Jerse: And there nothing wrong with arranged marriages. It happens to be a common practice in many cultures around the world.

Unless it happens to a child, which sadly in many cases, it does (see Child Bride of Afghanistan).

I disagree with you on a more general basis, namely cultural relativism, or the idea that because a different culture does things differently we cannot assign moral quality to what they do. Often, "culture" is an excuse for deplorable behavior and antiquated ways of thinking.
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@everyone

Yes, there are extreme cases of violence and inequality in the Middle East. But there is much more violence and inequality here in America on any given day, then in Saudi Arabia in an entire year.

Everyone forgets about the school shootings, incestuous rednecks, the gang warfare and even police brutality when it comes to America, yet it seems to me that everyone remembers "honor killings" and child marriages and other extreme behaviors when the spotlight is on Muslims.

This isn't the norm, and it has never been the norm - but it's what Westerners remember. It's what makes the news. And it's also what gives Saudi Arabians, Muslims, and all Middle Easterners a bad rep.
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I like the spin on this article, pointing out the good and bad of their society. Not all in one sided.

And hey they choose to marry and live therem right? I mean I don't think they went into it blind with their hands tied...
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Are you angry because I just schooled your ass, Carruthers?

If you weren't so ignorant maybe you'd realize that Sharia law happens to be a perfectly reasonable way of living if it's interpreted correctly.

You should try reading about it sometime:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharia
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If "it's interpreted correctly"? Sounds like that other worldly utopia called "communism". Where do you live, anyway? I'd be willing to bet you don't actually live under Sharia law or have never done for any great length of time. And I dare say your opinions don't go down well with the chattels - sorry - women you know.
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Well Carruthers, you obviously didn't read the article.

"I don't miss the U.S., though," she said. "I think most Americans are living in a bubble and they believe in whatever the media feeds them.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/la-fg-wives14jan14,1,1258048.story?page=2&cset=true&ctrack=1

I actually feel embarrassed FOR you.
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Jerse, I'm not surprised by your comments. I guess I don't know anything. I'm just some silly "westerner" ranting about stuff I've seen on biased 3-minute documentaries. I have no mind of my own.

You accuse others of taking your words out of context, and not paying attention to what you're saying, but you're doing exactly that to me. You call ME condescending? Come on...

Maybe the reason that arranged marriages last is that the women have absolutely no rights - they have to stay married to survive, no matter who they're married to.

I never said I saw any women grocery shopping in burkas. Most Muslim women I know don't go to that extreme around here - they have at least a little freedom. They still wear traditional clothing, but they generally don't cover their faces. Re-read my comment to see what I said exactly.

I wouldn't lie about what I've seen happen in grocery stores and in cars. It's the same type of sexism that you see occasionally for other cultures besides Muslim ones.

As for covering men up, I was trying to make a point. Why do only Muslim WOMEN cover themselves up? Why not Muslim MEN, too? Why should men not also show some modesty? Because covering a woman entirely is based on the old custom of treating women as property, to be seen only by the man who owns her.

Oh no! Jerse called me a homosexual! When you start losing an argument, call your opponent gay? Nice touch. Really classy. Or did you think you were "schooling my ass", too?

Next time, try not to resort to name-calling.
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@ted

Actually arranged marriages work because good parents know who their children are compatible with. I'm not too familiar with Indian marriages, but in Saudi Arabia divorce IS allowed. The husband must provide for the divorced wife and the children if they cannot provide for themselves. And generally, the divorced women either get married again or go to live with their original families.

Muslim women in the West are not forced to wear Hijab, it is entirely optional - depending on whether the parents are strict or not.

If sexism is apart of other (most) cultures, why did you phrase it to specifically use it against Muslims?

Also, Muslim men are supposed to dress modestly as well. If you've ever seen the traditional Saudi Arabian garb then you would realize that women are not the only ones required to dress modestly.

http://www.traderscity.com/images/arabclothes.gif
http://people.smu.edu/ashleyp/men.jpg

And I resorted to name calling because it was funny. Since when are "Men..pressured to look sexy, too." ??? Where do you live? San Francisco????? LOL
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Jerse, it's amazing that you just can't see the absurdity of what you're saying. I could rip apart the illogic in every paragraph of your last comment.

Do I really have to explain that my "Men are pressured to look sexy" comment was tongue-in-cheek? Sorry, I thought most Neatorama readers had a little discernment.

Jerse, you must be trolling. No sane person could post what you wrote, with so many inconsistencies and deliberate twisting of other people's words, and then try to bait me with insults.

Thanks for trying, anyways.

One question, though, do you think in Saudi Arabia that women can even dare to dream, let alone be allowed to discuss, the freedom and ideals that women in the Western world take for granted?
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@Carruthers

Uh...I think I'll go do that?

@ted

Go ahead and try to rip apart my argument. You can't.

Your comment was tongue-in-cheek, yet you get angry when I poke fun at it.

And then on top of it all you resort to name-calling after you cried about that as well.

So stop. Admit defeat.

And obviously, from the article above - women do dream and talk about freedoms and ideals ALL THE TIME - LOL

You are such a horrible debater!
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Is this Jerse thing some sort of troll robot, programmed with the ability to argue in the most annoying way possible while being wrong in everything it says? It's almost starting to get fun. Almost - but not quite. If it's a real person then I bet he's a real charmer with the ladies...
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Carruthers, you've already demonstrated that you can't argue without invoking commands that a fourth-grader would use.

So "go and live on a different planet. Preferably one without oxygen" - and preferably without internet service as well.
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Carruthers, I think you may be onto something. He's accused me of name-calling now. He doesn't have to be a charmer with the ladies, though - I think he gets off on arguing with us.

He really can't see how flawed and outdated his ideas are. I'd feel sorry for him if I didn't think he was trolling.
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