Wednesday, February 6, 2008

When a Cup of Coffee sets off Religious Oppression

In this day and age, nowhere in the world do government police snatch an innocent educated businesswoman, interrogate her, confiscate her phone, and throw her in a penitentiary for having a cup of coffee with a business colleague in a crowded public coffee shop. Nowhere except for Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and home to the 1.3 billion Muslims' holy shrines. Despite its ubiquity in Saudi Arabia, this kind of behavior is not only morally abhorrent and in utter disrespect for basic human rights, but an insult to the same Muslim faith that Saudis and Muslims worldwide depict and defend as a faith of tolerance, civility, equality and justice. The gender apartheid system in Saudi Arabia is institutionalized and severely enforced by a ferocious government-hired and trained religious police ("Matawaein" or "domesticators"), who are authorized to terrorize, humiliate and treat Saudi citizens and residents with sheer contempt. Though they claim to be defending Islam, the Saudi-Wahhabi families merely use religion as a pretext to justify their appalling treatment of women, religious minorities, and non-Muslims. Humiliating women and denying them the right to drive, work, buy property and travel without being accompanied by a male relative, are state policies and daily occurrences. The unlimited power bestowed upon the institutionalized religious extremists is not only a dire threat to the future and prosperity of the Saudi people—stifled and lagging in social and political development—but also to Muslims worldwide, especially women, and to the international community. Pretending that religious extremism can be washed away by simply ignoring it is a colossal mistake for which the world has paid dearly. It will only get worse from here.


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