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by Jehuda Saar
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Saudi Reality Distortion Field

In a piece entitled "Loosey Goosey Saudi" that appeared in The New York Times on March 3 '10, Op-Ed Columnist Maureen Dowd interviewed Prince Saud al-Faisal, foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, about the "liberal" trends of his country as opposed to the stark conservatism of Israel. While some of the article's most unnerving comments about Israel obviously come from this "leader of the free world", Ms Dowd herself is responsible for some pretty annoying and shortsighted utterances herself. She refers to Israel as growing "less secular" but backs this assertion up with....absolutely nothing, describing a "chief rabbinate that would like to impose a harsh...interpretation of Judaism upon the entire society". I point to the words "would like" as key in that sentence. Assuming that is even correct, Israel is still a democracy and nobody is imposing anything on anyone without laws being passed in the Knesset.

She is quick to downplay the "progressiveness" of Saudi society and yet, reading this piece, one could walk away thinking that there is some sort of tectonic shift in the Middle-East distribution of democracy and liberalism. She makes light of the fact that women are still not allowed to drive in the kingdom and refer to the most minute hints at tolerance as "60s-style cataclysmic social change" given how closed Saudi society is and continues to be. 

I won't downplay the fact that there are indeed vexing problems in Israeli society, that "women in the back of the bus" kind of issues do creep up in certain places and need to be dealt with, but at least in Israel these rules are not imposed from the top. These are expressions of an ultra-orthodox minority in a secular democratic society, not dictates of a religious, totalitarian, family controlled hegemony. But more than anything I find myself wondering: what's the point ? Who, besides Ms Dowd of course, actually buys this BS ? What's the strategy here ? Who are they trying to convince ? Does anyone out there really fall for this stuff ?

Still, even if I were to take the column literally, if our shift to the "religious right" is as "swift" and "dramatic" as the kingdom's monumental move to the liberal and progressive left, I would rather tread water right here my friends, nowhere else.


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