Watching Women in the KSA

Sometimes a news article doesn’t come close to the startling insights and drama of the responses it elicits. The recent Arab news piece on the surveillance of Saudi women gives us the best of both worlds — objective news reporting with a smattering of yellow journalism woven into the comments. The interior ministry of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), not to be beleaguered by the policing, supervising and small-time electioning within the country, has also taken upon itself to electronically monitor the cross-border movements of the nation’s women. The Raw Story reported in November 2012:

“Saudi women’s male guardians began receiving text messages on their phones informing them when women under their custody leave the country, even if they are traveling together.”

Instances of men, having never registered or requesting the service from the interior ministry, receiving such notifications indicate that like the attentions of the modesty police, this government resource is also unsolicited. People all over the world read the stories and agree that it is fucked up; even though the monitoring system has been suspended, the KSA in its brilliant career of trampling women’s rights has earned another ignoble medal on its proud chest. But then, tucked away at the bottom are comments from women that make you catch your breath.

This happens to me a lot — faced with shreds of arguments so circular in their reasoning, my mystified mind creates a music video. This one has a panopticon and the music is Nirvana’s Sappy. First things first, why Sappy? When you hear the opening lines, you’ll know why. Plus anything set to Nirvana’s music is true.

And if you save yourself
You will make him happy

panopticon / minaretWhy a panopticon? By erecting a virtual observation tower that electronically monitors the movement of women, the KSA is simply capitalizing on the outcome of its long held social mores that ‘individualize’ the monitored by sequestering them in their homes. Placing them in a state of constant visibility only heightens a woman’s role, Foucault suggests, as”the object of information, never a subject in communication.”

He’ll keep you in a jar
And you’ll think you’re happy

Foucault, in his examination of the ever-visible subjects of the panopticon adds, “[s]he who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; [s]he makes them play spontaneously upon [her]self; [s]he inscribes in [her]self the power relation in which [s]he simultaneously plays both roles; [s]he becomes the principle of [her] own subjection.”

Umm Maha : “What is the big issue? As a Muslim women we shouldnt be travelling without a mahram anyway except for necessity and if your guardian has already given you permission then whats the big deal that he gets a text message? Saudi women need to understand that true freedom isnt by imitating the west, rather its being upright upon the religion and striving to please Allah. These small things shouldnt even be an issue!” (source)

He’ll give you breathing holes
And you’ll think you’re happy

Another questions why women have any objection to their guardians or husbands being informed about their movements.Then comes the inevitable Rorschach test, the pathological ills of the East and West held up as bilaterally symmetrical forms. “If you take the west it has gone to such an extent that a husband cannot ask his wife why you are late to home and vice-versa. This system is only to protect the women and her safety so that she has a happy life with family.”


But wait, there’s more.

ISM : “What harm in it letting your parents/guardians know where you are traveling, unless you want to hide something or cheat.Its very immature and childish to compare with babysitting, it actually helps you if you are in trouble in traveled country so that your guardians can help you in time. By notifications guardians can know you exited the country safely. There is no question of ‘freedom’ here you are already freed since you are at the airport.” (source)

He’ll cover you with grass
And you’ll think you’re happy now

Rameez Sehgal’s comment insists that the skewed policies are put in place to protect the desire of Saudi men to keep the nation racially pure. He mentions the liberal lifestyles of Saudi men, spreading their wild oats on their “edu-ventures”. Saudi women thus have to bear the burden of, among other things, maintaining national identity by making Saudi babies only. Let’s add genetic purity to the long list of must haves, right under your traditional kabssah and your doughy samboosak. Never mind that Muslim women already bear the unfair burden of keeping their men chaste by making themselves blurry. The insane imperative to compensate for the failings of men in their civic responsibilities has already turned women’s bodies as the site whereupon Muslim men demonstrate their moral convictions.

**Look at Abu Hashim; he is a fine, upstanding member of society, no one has ever set eyes on the women of his household.**

“If the inmates are convicts, there is no danger of a plot, an attempt at collective escape, the planning of new crimes for the future, bad reciprocal influences; if they are patients, there is no danger of contagion; if they are madmen there is no risk of their committing violence upon one another; if they are schoolchildren, there is no copying, no noise, no chatter, no waste of time; if they are workers, there are no disorders, no theft, no coalitions, none of those distractions that slow down the rate of work, make it less perfect or cause accidents.”

Foucault’s analysis sheds light on the condition of Muslim women as persons infantilized and disciplined. No matter how mangy the man may be, a Muslim woman must “save” herself in order to  purify her husband. The KSA takes this a step further because it always does stupid bigger and better than anywhere else. With the aid of travel restrictions and constant surveillance, Saudi women must purify their men and only their men..

You’re in a laundry room
You’re in a laundry room
The clue that came to you, oh

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