Often when Saudi women speak of being denied their basic rights guaranteed in Islam or the freedom to choose whether to drive a car, the inevitable backlash occurs in the form of a smear campaign, or worse, threats of violence.
There are more Saudi men than people would expect that support the freedoms sought by women. There are also many men who feel threatened just by discussing these freedoms. They wage campaigns against outspoken Saudi women who apparently don’t know their place in society. The anonymity of the Internet has encouraged some pretty offensive behavior.
I can speak from personal experience, and I know of many Saudi women journalists who have had their morality called into question for speaking about what should be an intelligent discussion about the female driving ban. The comments sections on news website are rife with accusations of immoral behavior, lack of patriotism, lewd remarks on women’s physical characteristics, speculation about their sex lives and why the men in their families can’t “control” them.
There is something eerily consistent about the language and tone of comments, both in Arabic and English, that raises the question of whether such reactions are an organized effort to further marginalize Saudi women. I have noticed on different news websites obscene comments repeated word for word on articles written by Saudi women journalists reporting or offering an opinion on social issues.
Now a Facebook campaign has surfaced encouraging men to beat their wives and daughters with an iqal – the black wire rope that keeps the ghutra in place – if they presume to get behind the wheel and drive a car. It seems that the whisper campaign to demean Saudi women is failing, and this band of thugs has resorted to advocating violence.
These same gangsters feel emboldened by some sheikhs who not only advocate violence against disobedient women, but also want these women killed. This kind of violent language contradicts King Abdullah’s position that hate rhetoric has no place in Saudi society.
The controversy over the jailing of Manal Al-Sharif is such an insult to Saudi women that few will be cowed into submission. We have reached a point of no return. So, does this mean that violence is a likely result if we fail to submit to our male masters on the issue of women’s rights?