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U.S. Allies and Enemies Speak Differently About Women's Liberation in Iraq

Sex-segregated Mc Donalds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Women are confined to a separate "family section." New York Times, January 19, 2003.


The Associated Press recently described Saudi Arabia as "a conservative kingdom that according to a strict interpretation of the Quran cuts off the hands of thieves and forces women to fully veil themselves in public."
--"Muslim rage flares as U.S. strikes Iraq" Associated Press, March 24, 2003.

"The Saudi religious police... use sticks to make sure women hide beneath their abayas, the long black cloaks. Women also have to use separate banks and schools and obtain written permission before traveling alone or going to a hospital. They must sit in the back seats of cars they are not allowed to drive."
Maureen Dowd, "Cleopatra and Osama," New York Times, Nov. 18, 2001, p. wk 13.

"In a three-hour Muslim cultural awareness class that is mandatory for all [US military] units at Ft. Dix... [The instructor] explained that Arab women have restrictions on behavior, dress and other personal displays. She then told them of a GI during the Persian Gulf War who had sex with a Muslim woman. 'He got shipped out of the country before anything bad could happen to him. She got beheaded,' Penner said."
"Gulf-bound troops get primer on Islam," Associated Press April 9, 2003

"Saudi Arabia has always had rigid segregation of men and women in universities and elsewhere in public life, with male faculty members teaching female students only through one-way video. In Oman, Sultan Qaboos University built separate corridors and entrances for men and women when its campus was being constructed in the late 1980's but students have generally refused to divide themselves."
--"Kuwaiti Universities Return to Separating Men and Women," Daniel del Castillo, Chronicle of Higher Education, 1-3-03, pp.A44-A46

In Kuwait, an Islamic-dominated parliament officially passed a bill in 1996 calling for the segregation of male and female students in higher education... The government gave Kuwait University five years "to develop existing buildings... to guarantee that male and female students do not mix... advocates of segregation also say that it improves the comfort level for women. "University students must talk and debate, but women are shy of speaking in front of men, and consequently they don't talk at all in class," said [a segregation advocate]. Many female students say that's nonsense. "What makes us shy is to grow up segregated from boys," says Khadija Ashkanani, a senior majoring in sociology. "When girls are segregated, their ideas are limited to what their families want, which is basically to have us stay home and produce babies."
--"Kuwaiti Universities Return to Separating Men and Women," Daniel del Castillo, Chronicle of Higher Education, 1-3-03, pp.A44-A46.
"If American ground troops are allowed to storm across the desert from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, then American servicewomen will theoretically not be able to drive vehicles as long as they are in Saudi Arabia and will be advised to wear an abaya over their heads. As soon as they cross the border into enemy Iraq, they'll feel as if they are entering the free world: they can legally drive, uncover their heads, and even call men idiots."
--Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, October 1, 2002 "Iraq's Little Secret."

"Saddam ran a brutal dictatorship. [but] centuries of vicious discrimination against girls and women was ended by one stroke of the modernizing dictator's pen. I used to drive past the Mustansariya University on my way home from downtown Baghdad. It was miraculous -- I use the word advisedly -- it was nothing short of miraculous to see hundreds of girl-students thronging the campus, none in "burkhas" or "chador" -- the head- to-toe black cape that was, and is, essential dress for women in most of the Islamic world -- and almost all in skirts and blouses that would grace a Western university. The liberation of women -- that is half the population of Iraq, as for any other country -- has been the most dramatic achievement of Saddam's regime. To understand how dramatic just look across the Iraqi border at America's once-favorite Arab satrap, Saudi Arabia."
--Mani Shankar Aiyar, Deputy Chief of Mission, Indian Embassy in Baghdad 1976-1978
Writing for United Press International, "India File: The Other Saddam" April 6, 2003.

"A man can stop a woman on the street in Baghdad and ask for directions without causing a scandal. Men and women can pray at the mosque together, go to restaurants together, swim together, court together or quarrel together. Girls compete in after-school sports almost as often as boys, and Iraqi television broadcasts women's sports as well as men's. 'No one thinks that sports are just for men,' said Nadia Yasser, the captain of the Iraqi women's soccer team, 'It's true that my mother was a bit concerned at first when I took up soccer, but I insisted, and so she accepted it and just started praying for me.'"

"More broadly, in a region where women are treated as doormats, Iraq offers an example of how an Arab country can adhere to Islam and yet provide women with opportunities. 'I look at women in Saudi Arabia, and I feel sorry for them,' said Thuha Farhook, a young woman doctor in Basra. 'They can't learn. They can't improve themselves.' At the Basra Maternity and Pediatrics Teaching Hospital, 25 of the 26 students in ob-gyn are women. Across town, 54 percent of Basra University's students are female."
--Nicholas Kristof, New York Times October 1, 2002 "Iraq's Little Secret."