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memri
December 5, 2019 No.
8392

Saudi Journalist Responds To Attack On Feminism In Saudi Arabia: Ignorant People Label Feminism As Heresy, Without Understanding What It Is

Recently, there has been controversy in the Saudi media about the meaning of feminism and its place in Saudi society. The argument reached its peak following the release in early November 2019 of a promotional video by the "Presidency of State Security" – a body comprising all the kingdom's counterterrorism and domestic intelligence services – which listed feminism as an extremist ideology which must be avoided, along with homosexuality, Westernization, permissiveness, atheism, takfir, terror, the spread of anarchy and more.[1]

In the context of this heated debate, Saudi media figure Nadine Al-Budair, who resides in Dubai,  published an article in the Saudi daily 'Okaz titled "Have You Ever Heard a Liberal Accuse Someone of Heresy?" In it, she denounced the war of terminology over the concept of feminism, and came out against Saudis who label women activists as feminists and accuse them of heresy and treason without understanding what feminism actually is. She stated that Saudi Arabia has wasted time and resources in futile debates about the meaning of feminism, and warned the public not to fall prey to self-styled guardians of morality who claim the exclusive right to define feminism and judge it.[2]

The following is a translation of her article:[3]


Nadine Al-Budair (source: Alraimedia.com)

For Decades We Have Been Debating Women's Rights To Drive A Car While Other Women Have Been Flying In Spaceships

"At some point in my [professional] life [as a media figure and author], I was regularly exposed to terrorist messages threatening [me] with murder, for the simple reason that I was a young woman who had completed higher education and decided to think outside the box. I persevered in deviating from the traditional pattern of life, instead of accepting the scenario set out for young women of the region – that is, entering the cage of marriage. I don't care that people would rejoice to [see] me in a white [wedding] gown. I care about having a meaningful existence and following it to the very end...

"Before feminism became a popular trend, a group that does not know the meaning of liberalism labeled me 'Nadine the Liberal'... Often during gatherings, meetings, and conferences I encountered someone who would label liberalism or secularism as heresy, while pointedly looking in my direction, trying to entangle me in an endless argument with people who have never read a single book or article about secularism or liberalism. [All] this happened in the past.  

"Today, I have decided to refrain from [participating in] a war of terminology. I have already spent quite a few years of my life arguing with people in order to correct their mistakes. What compelled me to discuss an article I wrote with someone who had never read it but had heard that it broke with tradition? How can someone who heard from his sheikh, who is [apparently] never wrong, a fatwa stating that secularism is heresy be persuaded that secularism is a political stream that is unconnected to atheism? How [can I] convince any of those people who argue [with me] that the freedom I want is the right to choose, when he himself can barely utter the word 'liberalism?'

"Haven't we had enough of the extremism that has for so long engaged us in bitter discussions on the fundamental premises of life, causing us to neglect creativity? We have spent decades discussing women's right to drive cars, while other women were flying through outer space."

Saudi Arabia Has No Feminist Movement Like In Other Parts Of The World; Before Attacking Feminism, Pick Up A Book And Find Out What It Means

"[Let us] stop this raging war of terminology. The new Saudi Arabia does not need this exhausting and stagnant mentality. I say that I am done with defending the concept of feminism against people who do not know what it is and yet they curse it... If you think that [feminism] is heresy, that's your problem. If you think that it is treason, that's your problem. And if you think that it already exists in Saudi Arabia, that is a terrible disaster.

"From the beginning [of my path], every time I was asked about my opinion on the feminist movement in Saudi Arabia I would answer, Where is it? There is no clear, organized Saudi feminist movement. There is feminist ideology, and there are many individual demands for women's rights, but that cannot be defined as... a feminist movement for all intents and purposes, like the movements that have emerged [elsewhere] in the world.

"Now we are hearing nonsensical babbling about Saudi feminism being different from feminism [elsewhere] in the world, [and that] feminism here is a foreign agent and is heretical. Nonsense! I, for example, demand freedom and the right to choose, and want full [gender] equality in rights and obligations. This is [exactly] what our crown prince stressed in his new vision, which recently brought us into civilization. Does this make me an infidel, treasonous, foreign-agent feminist?

"Relax. The last thing I am thinking of writing about is the history of feminism and its three waves, and the [present] new fourth stage, or to persuade you that the global feminist movements are today waving the banner of equality and fighting violence against women. I will also not discuss the accusation that feminism constitutes [moral] decay... and perversion, as I used to do [when I] clashed with [those who] accuse liberalism of preaching moral licentiousness, nudity, mixing [of the sexes] and perversion. I will not do this at all. You take out the books [that deal with that] and read them."

Those Who Accuse Feminists Of Licentiousness Should Be Tried And Punished For Slander

"To the idealists who fear that our daughters will deviate from the straight and narrow, I say: Our young [female] students who were sent [abroad] to study have already lived in the heart of the lands of liberation, returned from there with wonderful degrees and glory, and earned the highest possible grades. Have the feminist movements there turned them immoral and perverse? Furthermore, everything is out in the open on the Internet these days, and inside their homes. Stop accusing our daughters, and treating them with jealousy. Oh, you idiots who accuse [women] of heresy and treason just because they have something you never had – identity, will, and persistence – and know exactly what they want from their lives.

"In the past, there were extremists who said that if a woman drove a car she was going to meet her lover, and today the preachers of morality and virtue say that if a woman has her freedom she will become a pervert or a foreign agent. Have we been liberated from the preachers of piety [only] in order to fall into the hands of the guardians of morality? And will we remain silent before those who accuse our daughters and wives and question their morals, honor, nationality, and reputation? Or will we demand that [these accusers] stand trial and be sentenced for [hurling] invective and [false] accusations of adultery, [sowing] discord, defamation, [making false] accusations of crime, and harming national unity? Furthermore, they raise the pretext [that feminism is likely to promote]  homosexuality. Is there any society in the world without [homosexuals]? Get real.

"Oh, you who specialize in handing down verdicts for others, remove this worry from your heart and calm your fears. Haven't you had enough? Every time the religious streams bring up a new concept [and rail against it], you panic, you change your views, and you hurl invective – just because some religious sheikh declared that that concept is heresy. Haven't you had enough of the multitude of accusations of heresy that fill the spaces in your brains?

"We are sick of the magnitude of these accusations of heresy and treason. Have we been struck by the curse of self-hatred?

"Tell me, have any of you heard of a feminist movement that commits rape, or that issues fatwas ordering the killing of anyone who disagrees [with it]? Have liberals ever excommunicated you from your religious community? Have [you ever] heard of a liberal accusing anyone of heresy?

"You need to distinguish between those who preach life and those who preach death."

 

[1] For more information about the video and the reactions to it on social media, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1483, Saudi Arabia's General Department Of Counter-Extremism Describes Feminism, Homosexuality, Westernization As Forbidden Extremism, Only To Backtrack Several Days Later, Following Criticism, November 13, 2019.

[2] Al-Budair repeated the main points of her article in a November 17, 2019 episode of the TV show "Perspectives," which she hosts on the popular Rotana Khalejia channel, explaining that she wrote the article in response to the heated debate on Twitter about the claim that feminism is an expression of extremism.  Twitter.com/Etijahat, November 17, 2019.

[3] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), November 15, 2019.