April 26, 2007
Saudi Arabia's Modesty Buses Draw Fire
Saudi Arabia's 'modesty buses' draw fire
By Katia Abdul
BBC News, Riyadh
The other day I was waiting for a bus in downtown Riyadh. I was in the bustling extreme Islamic neighbourhood of Olaya and the bus stop was extremely crowded.
When the Number 40 bus arrived, the most curious thing happened. Husbands left heavily pregnant wives or spouses struggling with prams and pushchairs to fend for themselves as they and all other male passengers got on at the front of the bus.
Women moved towards the rear door to get on at the back.
When on the bus, I tried to buck the system, moving my way towards the driver but was pushed back towards the other women.
These are what extreme Muslims call "modesty buses".
The separation system operates on 30 public bus routes across Saudi Arabia.
The authorities here say the arrangement is voluntary, but in practice, as I found out, there is not much choice involved.
'Abuse and threats'
Fatime Rahma is one of a group of women now taking the separation bus system to court. She is a deeply religious Muslim herself.
"I wasn't trying to start a revolution, all I wanted to do was get home," she tells me.
"I was in downtown Riyadh and I saw a bus going straight to my neighbourhood and I got on and sat down, in a single seat behind the driver.
"It was a completely empty bus, and all of a sudden, some men started getting on, Muslim extremist men. They told me I was not allowed to sit there, I had to go to the back of the bus."
Not only is the segregation system discriminatory, says Ms Rahma, but it can also be dangerous, she says, for those like her who ignore it.
"I said to him look, if you bring me a code of Islamic law and show me where it's written that I have to sit at the back of the bus I'll move.
"And he tried to gain support from the rest of the passengers and I underwent a half-hour of pure hell - abuse, humiliation, threats, even physical intimidation."
Supporters of the separation system say the buses involved serve mainly extreme fundamental Muslim neighbourhoods - but not exclusively.
Many passengers are not happy. You will hear complaints at bus stops all over town.
One man told me that if some people wanted segregation buses they should pay a private company to provide them.
Another told me that in a society that is democratic and where the buses are subsidised by the government, a minority's concerns should not override those of the majority.
But Achmed Farouk disagrees. He is a city councillor in Riyadh where a large proportion of Saudi Arabia's segregation lines operate.
"This really is about positive discrimination, in women's favour. Our religion says there should be no public contact between men and women, this modesty barrier must not be broken."
Opponents of the separation buses face an uphill struggle. Radical Muslim leaders are a powerful minority in Saudi Arabia.
Fatima Regen says the buses are just part of a wider menacing pattern of behaviour towards women in parts of the extremist Muslim community.
"They've already cancelled higher education in the radical Islamic world for women. They have packed the religious courts with extreme Muslim judges.
"In some places there are separate sides of the street women have to walk on."
She says that there are signs all over some religious neighbourhoods demanding that women dress modestly.
"They throw paint and bleach at women who aren't dressed modestly and if we don't draw a line in the sand here with this seat on a bus, then I don't know what this country and this religion is going to look like in 20 years," Ms Rahma said.
Petitioners like Fatima Rahma have asked Saudi Arabia's High Court to either ban the segregation buses altogether or to force bus companies to provide parallel bus routes for passengers wanting to sit where they like.
Alright, for those who don't know, this happened in Israel, not Saudi Arabia. The names and religious references were changed to get my following point across.
First, I realize that this post may jeopardize my chances at winning the JIB Award for best Jewish and Israeli Skepticism Blog. DON'T FORGET TO VOTE
Aside from that, most of the point, I hope is obvious. If this was in fact, a story that was from about Arab country (sure, this would have no chance of being debated within nor would it be considered newsworthy), many bloggers I know would be eating it up.
And I'm not just talking about Atheists, but I'm mostly directing this to my anti-Jihadist/pro-Israel friends as well.
And yes, it is easy to find these types of stories in most Arab and/or Muslim countries. They are hourly occurrences. Just check out Eye on the World, Elder of Ziyon, or The Muslim Question, just to name a few.
But I can't be hypocritical at this stage. Especially after opening up my new blog, Judeophobe Watch.
The behavior of Ultra-Orthodox Jews with regard to modestly dressed women and the 'modesty buses' is wrong. Plain and simple. I realize some of the comments at the end of the BBC article are very good, but they don't offer enough justification.
Here is the thing: Everyone is entitled to believe whatever they want. As long as they don't interfere with anyone else's right to believe, or not believe in whatever anyone wants to believe, everything is fine.
But imposing ones extreme beliefs or even moderate beliefs on other people, is just plain wrong. There are facts in the world, and there are beliefs. Beliefs do not take precedence in MY WORLD.
The fact is that these buses are NOT PRIVATE. If the Ultra Orthodox Jewish community want them to be exclusive, by their rules, they should buy them and run them themselves.
As far as their treatment of modestly dressed women on the streets; that is a shame, and no better than how we perceive the Muslim world's attitude towards women in many countries.
The Ultra Orthodox Jews should grow up, and be accepting. Whether they like it or they don't. If they want or need TOTAL exclusivity, they can move to Antarctica. The streets are not an Ultra Orthodox temple. They really don't have the right to be disgusted. Live and let live, unless you are being attacked. It is impossible for me to be tolerant of a religious person who is intolerant of others, especially in a public setting.
Tommy from Exercise in Futility is also outraged by the 'modesty bus,' and he isn't even a Jooooo:) Oh, and I can't believe how friggin stupid I am. For a couple of years I had him in my sidebar as ExCercise in Futility. I just noticed the mistake tonight for the first time and corrected it. And nobody said squat to me about it either.
One more plug, even though he probably will hate this article. Vote Elder of Ziyon for Best Pro-Israeli Advocacy Blog.