I’m glad I don’t live in Saudi Arabia

Not just because I’m a woman, but let’s face it, I’m a woman. And if a woman in Britain whose face and hair shows on Saudi TV freaks those fundamentalists out, I’m very grateful to live in Canada unfilmed by the media.

The unprecedented appearance of a female newsreader on Saudi state television without a headscarf has caused a scandal in the deeply conservative Islamic state.

The unnamed anchor, who has previously worn a hijab in clips circulated online, was reading a bulletin from London for the Al Ekhbariya channel.

Strict Islamic dress codes in Saudi Arabia require women to dress “modestly” – usually with headscarves, veils and full-length abayas.

While women do sometimes appear without head coverings in programmes broadcast by state-controlled channels, newsreaders are never seen without the hijab.

She’s so conservatively dressed in the picture, it’s hard to see what fuss anyone could make out of the woman but fuss there is.

What is considered acceptable varies across the country, with the full veil (niqab) worn almost universally in the more conservative capital Riyadh, whereas some women opt for the hijab in the more relaxed city of Jeddah.

Society has been divided over the possibility of granting women more rights as the Government’s labour ministry encourages more women to take up jobs in the private sector, against strong resistance from conservative groups.

I applaud the women bold enough to let their hair show and I really don’t know if I’d have the audacity and courage to do the same in their position. I really don’t know.

Slightly related, I suggested to my banned book club last week that I’d be interested in reading “I Am Malala” but a couple people scoffed at that, saying it was American propaganda or some such. Maybe they’re right in terms of the plot of the story and its American influence. I don’t know; I haven’t read it. But she is getting propoganda accusations from the Pakistani audience.

The invective often aimed at Malala on Pakistani social media and in comment sections of news websites reflects the ambiguous image the girls’ rights campaigner has in her own country, despite being lauded for her work in the West.

In recent weeks, Malala has been criticized for not being quick enough to publicly condemn the killing of Palestinian civilians in the ongoing Israeli offensive against Hamas in the Gaza strip. Her detractors complain she has been more involved in the effort to release the hundreds of Nigerian schools girls abducted by the hard-line Islamist Militia, Boko Haram in April than she has been in the Gaza conflict. “Did you just realize that Israel and Palestine are at war after you were strongly condemned for not speaking out earlier? Your fan ratings have seriously fallen,” a reader going by the name Sana Imran commented on the online version of a story by a leading paper.

I can’t speak on conflicts half a world away. I’m not following the news intently enough to comment with any assurance that I’d report a valid opinion on anything going on over there. I’m approaching 40. Malala is 17. Not to sound crass, but what does she know? What can she know, really? I’m being serious with my question. How much weight would her opinion have on the people of her country. Would it have any power to alter the status quo? They don’t like where her apparent priorities lie. She’s 17. Maybe she isn’t in a position to have a educated opinion on Gaza or Hamas or Israel or Palestine. Or Boko Haram. I don’t know. Maybe it wouldn’t matter what she’d say on a topic; people would find a reason to disregard it, either because of her age, or because she’s a woman.

Two roadblocks to progress, right there.

I dunno.

Thoughts?

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