Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Twisted Logic of the Fanatics

Dr. Khaled Batarfi
Arabnews (June 4, 2006)

It is awfully hard to persuade someone who is convinced he is right. No matter how persuasive your logic, you will find them immune to persuasion with a locked logic of their own. I found this is true with fanatics of all kinds. Ours are no different. Examples are plenty.

Let’s take the latest. The Labor Ministry has given a year’s notice to shops selling women’s clothes to employ Saudi women only. They later had to extend the deadline to an as yet unspecified date.

This was an overdue move. Most shops today employ men to sell women’s stuff, such as lingerie. It is embarrassing, to say the least, for a woman to take advice on what nightclothes to wear for her husband or on the latest panties and swim dresses.

Besides, our women need jobs and the system is not helping. The girls’ curriculum is not geared for work. Graduates, therefore, have few work options, mostly as teachers, doctors or nurses. If a girl wants to be a civil engineer, a lawyer, a pilot or a diplomat, she will have to study abroad.

After graduation come other obstacles. Women must work in women-only environment. Except for hospitals, mixed work environments are forbidden by law. This means the overwhelming majority of job opportunities, by default, go to men.

So, while more than half our graduates are girls, few can work. The rest hang their certificates at home and stay there. What a waste!

As expected, the fanatics threw a fierce fight against the Labor Ministry for suggesting the new law. Their logic is absurd. Women working in shops are vulnerable. Male shop owners and shoppers may take advantage of salesgirls. In their paranoid view, only by staying home could women be safe. And if at all necessary, they can work as teachers in girls-only schools or at home and in women-only businesses.

The underlying assumption here is that our women are weak and cannot be trusted. They are easy prey and can easily fall to temptation. Men are wolves lurking outside looking for any chance to jump on them, as soon as they leave their castles.

With such conviction, no logic in the world may help. You tell them that many women are poor and need to support their families, and they say they should go to charities. You remind them that dire circumstances may lead some to immoral ways, and they say, “the free die of hunger rather than sell themselves to the Devil.”

Another example of twisted logic and locked mentality is the reasoning behind banning women driving. Again, fanatics talk about protecting women. They liberally use the “what if” logic: What if a car broke down in a deserted area? What if men followed a girl or tried to attack her where no help is available? What if she broke a law and policemen had to take her to a male-dominated station? You give them solutions. You tell them: Let’s agree first on the principle, and then study how we solve expected problems. You remind them of a million or more male drivers working in our homes. You list the dangers that are not mere “ifs” but solid reality. You point to the contradiction of worrying about males in the street and accepting males in the driving seat. But you can’t get anything across.

What is really frustrating in their logic is their insistence on forcing the rest of us to follow it. A girl may opt to study Home Improvement in college, but it is not her or her family’s business if my daughter chose to study home building, instead. A woman may choose not to work, but she is not entitled to tell other women not to. Another may insist she won’t work in a mixed environment, but she shouldn’t object if others choose to. She could opt to have a man driving her around, but why would she care if other women choose to drive themselves?

The problem with fanatics is not that they force their logic on their families and dependants — and that’s bad enough — but they insist the whole society follow their lead. All of us should wear as they wear, eat what they eat, study what they study, work and live according to their rules. Not that we are following a different religion.

This has nothing to do with Islam, but with a certain school of thought that belongs to a certain sect. Islam has never forbidden women working or driving, but certain cultures and traditions did.

Good for them, if they choose to but they should not, may not intervene in other peoples’ choices — people from other cultures and with different ways and thoughts. Your freedom must end where others’ starts.

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