SAUDI ARABIA—According to Saudi academic Kamal Subhi, the consequences to society if women are allowed to drive will be dire, and could in fact threaten traditions that many believe are the foundations of Saudi Arabian culture, such as virgin brides. In a report delivered to the Shura Council, an all-male consultancy to the monarchy and King Abdullah, Subhi claimed that overturning the country’s prohibition on women drivers will lead to premarital sex.
In the West, despite the fact that the concept of virgin brides has long since been relegated to a porn niche, we have known for at least a century that the Saudi fear is warranted, and yet the decision was made early on—rumors allege it was the working of the tire lobby—to risk this country’s future in order to put women behind the wheel. For some people, that decision has been proven to be wrong. Premarital sex, a culture of divorce, fast food binge eating and the resurrection of the Ku Klux Klan are just a few of the devastating developments that some believe can be directly traced back to women being allowed to hit the interstate all by their lonesome.
In Western culture, this unexpressed-and-yet-deep-seated-fear-in-the-soul-of-all-men was encapsulated in the hit Hollywood movie Thelma & Louise, which begins with two women ALONE in a car, and ends with the (some would say) proper death (by driving off a cliff; how significant!) as the police surround the now fugitive women.
Saudi Arabia may not have its own Thelmas and Louises (yet!), but they do have Shaima Jastaniah, an otherwise devout Muslim who earlier this year dared to drive her beloved black BMW X5—which she had had shipped back home from Houston (aha!), where she lived for many years—through the city of Jeddah. She was caught and subsequently sentenced to ten lashes, an act of perceived injustice among feminists in the kingdom calling for the repeal of the driving prohibition.
After the news of the sentence went global and viral, King Abdullah, perhaps prodded by the wife of one of his nephews, pardoned Jastaniah and canceled the lashing. However, according to an article published today by The Atlantic, in November “she was served with an official notice that, notwithstanding the royal pardon, she will be flogged unless she wins a legal appeal in mid-December.”
The author of the article, Nivien Saleh, who has been in touch with Jastaniah, wrote that the woman’s options appear limited at the moment. “She might submit and take her lashing, hire local counsel who could quietly attempt to both appeal and obtain another royal pardon, or hire an international human rights counsel who could take the case to a foreign tribunal under international law,” she wrote.
“When she asked for my advice,” added Saleh, I turned to a friend with knowledge of the country, who said: ‘Her options boil down to two strategies: She can either hire a local lawyer and bow and scrape; or she can go nuclear by dishing this to the international press.’”
It looks like she chose the latter, and that Saudi Arabia may in fact have a Thelma and Louise, all rolled into one, on its hands.
Photo: Susan Sarandon (l.) as Louise, and Geena Davis as Thelma, from Thelma & Louise.