Thursday, September 2, 2010

A nutty cponsiracy theory

Many Americans are wondering these days just when the Ummah will impose Shariah at their local courts and make Ramadan a national holiday. I will send out a press release once I get a break from working on our diabolical plans to make sure Michigan is ready to become the first western Caliphate.

At present, though, I want to take time out to tell you a story that tops those nutty American conspiracy theorists with a Saudi one. For those who take it for granted that Saudis are more rational than Americans, let me burst your bubble.

It seems that my niqabi sisters working as cashiers at the Panda Hypermarket in Jeddah are the victims of a western conspiracy. Just when I thought the lobbyists for Islamify America Today could push through Congress that modesty bill to criminalize the bikini, the U.S. government one-ups Saudi Arabia by persuading Panda management to hire women.

Panda since May has employed female cashiers at its supermarkets around the city. This not a particularly groundbreaking event. Saudi women have been working as clerks at retail stores for some time with minimal fuss and bother, although we are still not entitled to sell underwear to each other. But that’s a story for another day.

Yet it’s significant that Saudi women are making incremental progress in gaining a foothold in the workplace. Mohamed Amin Qashqari, assistant managing director of retail for Savola Group, which owns Panda, said 16 women cashiers were been hired for just one supermarket.

"More than 2,500 other girls will be hired shortly in branches all over the Kingdom," Qashqari recently told Okaz. "Their salaries will reach 3,000 riyals per month."

Saudi Sheikh Yusuf Al-Ahmed, however, thinks the west is getting its hooks deeper in Saudi society. He has demanded that Panda fire the women.

“This is prohibited because it is part of the western project that is imposing itself upon our society " Ahmed said on a television show. "This is a project of hypocrites and has to be stopped."

Panda apparently doesn’t see their in-house hiring practices as a western conspiracy. According to Ahmed, Panda management gave him an “inappropriate” response when he requested changes in their hiring procedures.

"I am surprised at (the) support the administration of this place is getting,” he complained to the Saudi media while urging a boycott of Panda stores. “Is this project directly backed by the United States?"

He further described Panda’s practice of hiring women cashiers as “novelties imported from the west.”

Whenever a Saudi woman finds a job that requires her to engage in a conversation with a member of the public, we get these Chicken-Little-the-sky-is-falling proclamations from conservatives who seem to think that diaper changing and mall shopping are the only jobs a woman needs. Saudi society is not going to shrivel up and die because a male customer received change from a woman cashier after paying for his groceries.

It’s not that I don’t respect Ahmed’s sense of propriety, but is employing women in jobs that have contact with the public really a western invention? Has he seen the women tucked in the corner shops at the Red Sea Mall selling jewelry and clothing to men and women alike? Or the girls at the high-end department stores on Tahlia? To Ahmed’s way of thinking, shadowy puppet masters manipulate them.

Perhaps critics of fair and equitable employment for women haven’t noticed Jeddah’s changing employment picture. A couple of years ago, I bet there wasn’t a single Saudi man under the age of 30 driving a taxi. Now, they are all over the place competing for fares alongside the expatriates.

The Saudi inflation rate was 5.51 percent in June and steadily rising since January. The inflation rate could very well return to the peak 2008 levels of more than 10 percent. People need jobs to stay afloat. And some Saudi families have determined that their wives, daughters and sisters must work as well.

It’s insulting to Saudi families to have a man in a position of authority claim that western agents of change are duping them. It’s as if we can’t think for ourselves. He obviously does not have the grasp of challenges Saudi families face today.

Now excuse me while I have my secret meeting with President Obama to impose gender segregation rules at the Senate and House chambers at the U.S. Capitol.