Candide’s Notebooks/April 18, 2006
Not a happy day for veiled womanhood. Saudi Arabia, our “friend and ally,” in the words of our own oily monarch, has been on a kick to employ some 200,000 women. “We want to make sure that women job-seekers get opportunities,” a minister of one trope or another told Arab News a week ago. A few days later the Saudi monarchy was all hot and publicly unbothered (robes come in handy in puritan societies) by the prospect of schoolgirls getting the physical education they’ve so far been denied. Further glimmers of progress from our pseudo-Taliban “friend and ally”? Not quite.
We learn today that the owner of a restaurant in a Saudi town ran off from the kingdom to escape a sentence of 90 lashes. His crime? Employing two women for four hours, a grave offense against decency, even though, the restaurant owner assured the authorities, they wore their hijab at all times. The hijab, or veil, or burka, is a thunderhead of conflict more overwrought than any Muhammad cartoon will ever be, thanks as often as not to the West’s own fanatics: Amsterdam’s Social Affairs Alderman, a man who happens to be of Moroccan birth, wants the Dutch government to suspend unemployment insurance for women who wear the burka and can’t get a job because of it. “Nobody,” he tells a Dutch magazine, “wants an employee with a burka. In that case, I say: off with the burka and apply for work. If you don’t want to do that, that’s fine. But then you don’t get a benefit payment.” So much for western enlightenment. What’s Iranian mullahs’ reaction to so much militant decadence? A promise to export 44 tons of caviar this year. And we’re worried about mullahs going nuclear.