She wants to go to college to study architecture. She would like to take English classes. She is wondering about how to harness her newfound media stardom.
In Saudi Arabia, Ms. Alqunun was a first-year university student, studying basic science and math. One of 10 children of a well-off emir, she said that life had been financially comfortable, but that she had no freedom.
Things grew even harder, she said, when her father left the city and put her under the guardianship of her older brother. She described her life as one of strict rules and abuse at the hands of her family. After she cut her hair in a way her family did not approve, her brother locked her in a room for six months, she said. A few months ago, when she removed her niqab, he beat her and locked her up again, she said.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun is like many people who read this weblog. The “life of the mind” is important to us, the freedom to learn, to experience. To make use of one’s liberty to flourish.
When reading the biography of an early fighter for the liberties of American women, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, I perceive a clear distillation of myself, despite differences of race, sex, and time. The genius, the power, of the early Enlightenment movement and the universalisms that it unleashed is that is that it refracts our common individual yearnings, and propagates them throughout humanity. To me, this is the culmination of the visions of the “Good Society” propagated by the religions and ethical systems of the Axial Age thousands of years ago: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I may not believe in the Christ Jesus, but I believe in common humanity.
This is not to say that I am here promoting a flat, formless society, defined by our most pressing near impulses. Human societies tend to exhibit order, hierarchy, and tradition. Men and women are different from each other, just as people of different religions and social classes tend to have different values and habits. We are not all the same, but there are common threads which bind us together in our humanity.
The society of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one where women, half the population, are chattel to men with power, whether it be their father or their brother. Their “guardians,” who tend them like they are valuable sheep. The fundamental problem with the society of KSA is that it is not in balance, with its surfeit of petro-profits perpetuating a system of sex-slavery that most of the world has long moved beyond.
Today we have moved to a global consensus that holding other human beings as property without the rights of humanity on account of their origin or life circumstance is wrong. That such deprivation of liberty is without justice. Our brothers’ blood cries out from the lashes received. As this century progresses I believe we will see that the same is true of women in the KSA.