Letter to Amna

TO: Amna Fatani
CC: Saudi Arabia

Although I have said that censorship does not work anymore, censorship is still a reality of our lives in this part of the world. Unfortunately, censorship by the government is not the only kind of censorship we have to endure and resist here. There is another, more difficult kind to deal with: social censorship.

In our deeply conservative and conformist society, any attempt to differentiate oneself is frowned upon if not outright rejected. You are expected required to think, talk and even look like everyone else. If you dare to to say or do anything that does not conform with the conventional wisdom, then you are simply asking for trouble. Not only your ideas will be ridiculed but you will also be personally attacked, and your parents will be blamed for not raising you well.

Now you think that’s bad? It gets ten times worse if you are a woman. Actually, you don’t even need to express a deviant opinion. Being a woman in itself can be enough for some people to denounce you, because to them women are secondary beings that should be kept in dark closets, away from the light of public life. I’m sure you’ve heard all that ‘jewel’ crap many times before.

amna_fatanyThat’s why when Amna Fatani started a campaign to preserve heritage sites earlier this year, her father received hateful text messages telling him that he has no shame. Fatani appeared again in a local newspaper last week wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh during her participation at the Saudi-British Youth Forum in Jeddah. Again, she was faced with similar reactions. The first comment by a reader was: “let her cover herself up, and worry about her religion first.”

I’m sorry you had to go through this Amna, but if it’s any consolation, know that you are not alone. When AlArabiya.net published my interview with Reuters two years ago, people left many unpleasant comments, calling me a “Westernized spoiled brat” and “retard” among other things. Sure, it didn’t feel good but I have grown a thicker skin. Sometimes it is not just total strangers who try to put you down. More than one of my relatives have told me to “quit this nonsense” I’m doing. You, however, are lucky to have a supportive family who are very proud of you.

So dear Amna, whenever something like that happens to you, remember you are not alone and that we are all in this together. We are young and we are not amused. We are eager and determined. We will not be silenced and we will not be intimidated. We shall speak up and we shall overcome. Open your minds and hearts. Listen to our fresh voices.


We Would Like to Breathe

For some reason, Arab News chooses not to name KSU when they write about the stifling restrictions Saudi Arabia’s oldest university impose on their female students. Considering how this country is obsessed with segregation, there is no surprise here. And the ironic thing is, they say the university “is supposed to be a place where young women experience greater freedoms.” Says who? Wake up girls! This is freakin’ K of SA you are living in. The university, as you may expect, claim that the point of these restrictions is to protect the students. Again, no surprise. Welcome to Saudi Arabia, where everyone claims moral authority over the rest.

In the other hand, the newspaper chooses to name another university in Riyadh, Imam Mohammed bin Saud Islamic University, which supposedly is even more strict than KSU. It is said that IMSIU is to launch a new college of medicine, but according to Ali Al Mousa in Al Watan daily, the university president could not answer the question of whether female students would be accepted in the new college. Al Mousa tends to cut the president some slack because answering that question might put him in confrontation with the extremists who would, for sure, use the ‘segregation’ card. Let’s wait and see how this drama is going to play out.

And in case you didn’t know, the extremists are not only controlling the campuses in Saudi Arabia, but they also managed to extend their notorious control to the press in neighboring Kuwait, where this article by Dalaa’ Al Mufti was banned from Al Qabas daily, apparently because Al Mufti dared to comment on the ridiculous decision of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice to spend SR 700,000 on a study that examines the mingling of the sexes and its “harmful effects” on the society. I’ve told you that these people are obsessed, right?