Pik and Ab
[I]t would be a simple matter to send out for professional reinforcements, thus demonstrating to King Abdullah that, whatever the Prince of Wales may have told him in the dunes, our shared values do not, currently, feature male supremacy. Instead of Prince Charles fawning on the airstrip, one pictures, say, Sandi Toksvig, heading a welcoming party composed of adulterers, gays, Jews, Catholics, apostates, immodestly dressed women and a variety of other law-abiding sinners who would be dead, or at least severely incapacitated, if they lived in King Abdullah’s country. After inspecting a battalion of beautifully turned out slags (replacing the Welsh Guards), he and his companions would be driven – by women drivers of Filipina extraction – to a special performance of the Vagina Monologues, after which a female journalist (replacing John Simpson), would explore the extent of our shared values on behalf of the BBC.
Then some rather pointed questions.
From Prince Charles, with his history of woman trouble, one has come to expect this creepy respect for an absolute ruler with 30 wives. From Howells, who presumes, no doubt, to be a progressive politician, the reflexive, Foreign Office cringe is more disturbing. What if the more persecuted half of the Saudi population were black? Would he have talked about “shared values” in the days of Pik Botha? Is it because only half its population is oppressed that we share values with Saudi Arabia, but none with Burma?
Umm…yes. It’s democracy, you see. Women are only half the population and they’re oppressed in so many places – that it would be undemocratic to make an issue of it. Colonialist and undemocratic. Pik Botha different, Pik Botha bloody Boer, King Ab not a bloody Boer.
Of course Howells is not alone in considering the complete subjugation of Saudi women to be a kind of quirky, cultural difference, rather than an outrage…With the advance of young British veil wearers, proudly declaring their right to be invisible and their love of extreme modesty, this and many other forms of faith-related female subjugation have become complicated areas for liberal protest. If, as we’re often told, many British Muslim women love their jilbabs, how can we be sure Saudi women do not also rejoice in their coverings, accepting, in the same dutiful spirit, total exclusion from civic life and physical chastisement by their devout partners? How can we be sure their would-be liberators are not – like women who adorn themselves and women who cut their hair short – just a few more Women Who Will Go to Hell?
We can’t, so let’s talk about something else, shall we?