30 October 2007

Our Arabian "Shared Values"

The Huffington Post: Laura Bush Dons Hijab, Will Opprobrium Follow?With Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells suggesting that Britain and Saudi Arabia could unite around our "shared values," I thought I'd see what this year's Country Report on Human Rights Practices said about Saudi Arabia:

The following significant human rights problems were reported: no right to peacefully change the government; infliction of severe pain by judicially sanctioned corporal punishments; beatings and other abuses; inadequate prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, sometimes incommunicado; denial of fair public trials; exemption from the rule of law for some individuals and lack of judicial independence; arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence; and significant restriction of civil liberties--freedoms of speech and press, including the Internet; assembly; association; and movement. The government committed severe violations of religious freedom. There was a widespread perception of serious corruption and a lack of government transparency, as well as legal and societal discrimination and violence against women. Other religious, ethnic, and minority groups faced discrimination. There were strict limitations on worker rights, especially for foreign workers.
Which somewhat explains why the likes of the Jerusalem Post are upset at America's First Lady, Laura Bush, donning the hijab in Saudi Arabia — as they conclude, it's not exactly a symbol of the freedom and liberty that her husband claims to have spent his presidency trying to introduce to the Middle East.

Irrespective of the cultural significance of the headscarf, Dan Hannan is surely right to observe about King Abdullah's state visit:
"When a free democracy lowers its standards in order to accommodate a sleazy autocracy, the former is diminished and the latter magnified. We are, all of us, slightly cheapened by the readiness of our leaders to appease a handful of rich men. And don’t fall for any nonsense about British jobs, by the way. We pay the same price for Saudi oil that other purchasers do, and they the same price for our luxury goods. Our foreign policy is not, or at least ought not to be, synonymous with the interests of BAE Systems."
I for one am looking forward to the new complete English translation of The Thousand and One Arabian Nights, undertaken by Cambridge University's Professor Malcolm Lyons and due to be published next year, the first since Burton's in 1885.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps America's First Lady was encouraged by her husband to don the hijab to show that Americans are prepared to follow the idea that "When in Rome do what the Roman's do"; in the hope that they will likewise follow the American (or even Western) way of life when visiting us and the US.

He was maybe also exercising his right over his wife in 'telling' her what to do?

Although sceptical, like many others I have my livelihood and comfortable western way of life thanks to the British Defence Industry where both my husband and I worked at one time, so I would not like to see BAE (and its employees) go down.

G in Oxfordshire.