Hatoon al-Fassi, a history professor and suffragette in Saudi Arabia, observes that “the fact that the issue of women has turned Saudi Arabia into an international joke is another thing that brought the decision now.” That is undeniably true, but Saudi Arabia is and will remain not just an international blot, but an international rebuke. Saudi Arabia, in its day-to-day existence, constitutes a rebuke to the pretensions of the United Nations to care anything about human rights at all. In his speech to the UN on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stated that “it’s here year after year that Israel is unjustly singled out for condemnation. It’s singled out for condemnation more often than all the nations of the world combined. Twenty-one out of the 27 General Assembly resolutions condemn Israel — the one true democracy in the Middle East. Well, this is an unfortunate part of the U.N. institution. It’s the — the theater of the absurd.”
Indeed it is, and not solely because of its ongoing demonization of Israel and submission to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Islamic supremacist propaganda campaign, although that is certainly an enduring blot on its record. The UN is also the theater of the absurd because it directs no condemnation of any kind to Saudi Arabia for its institutionalized discrimination against women, and indeed, never says a single, solitary word about how Islamic law makes life for women subject to oppression that would be excoriated as intolerable were it perpetrated in any context other than an Islamic one.
And life for women in Saudi Arabia will continue to be intolerable even if they have the right to vote in the utterly meaningless Saudi elections. Hatoon al-Fassi and other women like her deserve the respect of every free person for trying to improve a difficult situation, but they have a very, very long way to go and their prospects for success are quite dim. Sunday, King Abdullah raised their hopes in a way he is unlikely to do again as long as Islamic law continues to hold sway in his kingdom. At this point, the international human rights community should not be congratulating or thanking him, but raining down condemnations upon his head.
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