In line with a new level of desperation among some of the young men of this country, I see that several of them have improved their self-marketing techniques. Instead of brazenly displaying haphazardly written-on pieces of cereal box (as shown in Blue Peter) with hastily scribbled telephone numbers in various shades of board marker, they are now resorting to far more professionally produced placards. Such bulletin boards are almost as reflective of status as the cars or the numbers themselves and can be flashed around much more conveniently to every passing vehicle that contains any shape or form of woman, from 9 to 99.
This new genre of sophistication is probably a covert national attempt at recycling as the previously disposable variety wasn’t very environmentally friendly. Some of these gentlemen even go to the extent of laminating their signs with clear plastic in order to easily wipe clean any of those stubborn stains that are unavoidable when you are driving, chasing girls and whipping out your ad whilst trying to drink a coffee. A source of pride and satisfaction to many of us must be that these obliging citizens are culturally sensitive to the expatriate community and, unlike several of the indecipherable road signs, provide a translation of their phone numbers. Although at the moment, this is limited to English, other languages are currently being considered by the board of the Tahliya Street Mob.
It really is a sad state of affairs that in a country that claims to uphold the highest of moral values, women are subject to this source of harassment and unpleasantness on a daily basis. My daughter upon witnessing such an event declared, “Mum, I am ashamed to be Saudi.” I doubt whether there is a woman alive in this country who has not been subject to this kind of flagrantly demeaning and irresponsible behavior by men here.
I was returning home one evening when I was flanked by the usual entourage of caffeine crazed morons out in force carrying their shiny new billboards, pressed against passenger windows in an effort to help the short-sighted. Horns were ferociously pressed as each car tried to outdo the other to see which could maneuver closest to mine. Some of the occupants jumped up and down in excitement as if to more effectively advertise their mobile numbers.
Having ignored them for the most part, we came to a spot where there were roadworks in progress and the tract was narrowed to two lanes. The car adjacent to mine almost rammed into me and I looked up in dismay to see a head emerge from a blacked out window displaying a sign and shouting animatedly, “Yallah! Yallah! Call! Call!” At that very second, my mobile began to ring with the words “Private Number” flashing across the screen. I answered to find my mother calling from London.
What I hadn’t noticed was that there was a big patrol type jeep that had been tailing me for quite a while and had swerved to a dangerous halt bang in front of me, causing me to stop dead in my tracks. A man with a long beard emerged and started screaming at me in a most threatening manner. He was accompanied by a woman who was demonstrating her might by waving her black begloved fists in my direction. I was entirely perplexed at this display of outrage and hung up the phone while viewing the developing drama in astonishment. Lunging within a few centimeters of my car the man expectorated up the choice contents of his lungs and spat them all over my windscreen.
He repeated this a couple of times and insulted and abused me in between his deposits of saliva, narrating how I was accursed and would go to hell. His companion cheered him on with gusto and after his alveoli had dried up completely, he got into his car and left.
As I contemplated the passing of events while watching the remnants of his assault slide down my windshield, it all made perfect sense. I suddenly realized that this good citizen had seen the car chase, the freak hanging out of his car, the huge sign with the phone number, my answering the call and had assumed that I was trying to avail myself of the wonderful opportunity presented to me.
As usual, and in line with the concept of the original sin, it is always deemed to be the woman’s fault. Naturally it would not have occurred to the vigilante concerned to accost the culprit and give him some religious guidance as to his culpability in the whole matter. After all, no one is interested in dealing with the basic social problem that exists, but just tackling the symptoms that present from time to time. Once when I had complained about this to a so-called “liberal” friend of mine, she said, “What do you expect if you go around the city with your face uncovered?” I would like to know why it is that an issue like covering your face is always so vehemently enforced in spite of the fact that it is not even mentioned in the Holy Qur’an and is still the topic of much scholarly debate and dissent. However, an important verse where God commands believers to lower their gaze is never alluded to.
Strange indeed that an uncovered face implies soliciting this kind of humiliation. What then of our sisters who are covered from head to toe? Are they spared such lascivious attention? The answer of course is a blanket “no”. If anything, I would venture to profess that they are more frequently victimized than the rest of us as they appear to represent an even greater challenge: The allure of the unknown.
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(Lubna Hussain is a Saudi writer. She is based in Riyadh.)