View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Flogging a Dead Horse

The Indispensible MEMRI has a timely reminder of what it is we're up against. It seems that the Saudi Press has been engaged in a long-term, vigorous debate over the uses of public flogging as a punishment for harassment and "congregating in front of girls' schools."

At first, I thought it said "blogging." Certainly there seem to be enough angry Saudis out there, many of them working for the Authority PV & PV. Maybe they dressed up their harassers in orange jumpsuits (the women in orange burkas, of course), and put them in stockades at computer terminals, keeping the "" up-to-date. But no, they mean Thank-You-Sir-May-I-Have-Another flogging. Dozens every week, according to press reports.

Now the first thing to keep in mind is that the very same people who call in a SWAT team when a mother taps her kid in the supermarket aisle to keep him from spilling an entire shelf of Wheaties onto the floor, they have nothing whatsoever to say about this. Two or three whole generations have grown up, who would give you a blank stare if you said to them, "go outside, boy, and cut me a switch." (Well, they'd probably give you a blank stare at pretty much anything, but you get my drift.) This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does make you wonder why, if a little corporal punishment threatens to unbalance Johnny for the rest of his life, selling tickets to said punishment is just a respectable cultural expression of disapproval for groping.

Not that this makes the defenders of flogging defenders of womenhood. Allah, forfend! ISM, who would no doubt have a fit if it were suggested that going half-naked into a barful of drunken sailors on shore leave on Saturday night might not be the best way to, er, "promote virtue," are perfectly happy flying off to keep us from defending ourselves from people who think this way:

It is interesting to note that most advocates of flogging make it clear that the girls are to blame in cases of harassment. Ahmad Abdallah Aal Naji, a member of the teaching staff at the technology college in Abha, wrote that he "enthusiastically supports the punishment of flogging… Immediate flogging is the best and most deterring punishment. Besides, this punishment costs nothing. All you need is a few riyals and a skilled flogger."

Aal Naji also hastened to point out that in his personal opinion, "responsibility for 80% of the cases of harassment lies with the girls, because of their intentional temptations, their diaphanous robes, colorful trousers, provocative veils, tinted lenses, and long fake eyelashes. This is how they force young men into harassing them and following them into their homes. I demand flogging for girls who have been harassed, to be carried out by suitable female preachers in coordination with The Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice and in the presence of their mothers, in order to correct what can be corrected before it is too late.

Talk about blaming the victim. "Long Fake Eyelashes?" This is all it takes to get some poor Saudi slob, straight from the mosque and the latest sermon, to work up a sweat? I guess if you're used to shapeless blobs, maybe. Explain to me how this doesn't play into every 70s detective TV series stereotype about the leering sheik. How on earth would he see the eyelashes, hidden under robes, veils, and tinted lenses. "Provocative veils?" What, do they have their phone numbers written across them?

Remember, we're not talking about a prison sentence here, with Ali Bubba to teach the real meaning of harassment. (Can you say, "Open, Sesame?") We're talking about a full-fledged, public beating of a grown man, and, as a warm-up act, a grown woman. It's a good thing it's so cheap, although that bit about a "skilled flogger" is a little creepy. Do they have flogging schools? Do you work your way up from the provinces to the Big Show in Riyadh or Mecca? "Russell Crowe stars in Flaggellator."

This guy teaches at a technology college. What chance does a society have of learning 21st Century technology from someone whose mind is still mired in pre-history? Just more evidence that confronting people with modernity doesn't mean they won't go retreating back into their diaphanous robes.

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