Thursday, August 9, 2012

Saudi Judo competitor returns home to jeers and slurs

Even though Saudi Arabia was pressured to send athletes to the London Olympics, and did so under duress, the fact that Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani was not even qualified to compete, being only a blue belt, and that her match lasted less than 90 seconds should not have garnered her the derision and contempt for her actions she received.  Called a prostitute and other derisive comments shows not just the shallow and demeaning aspect of Islam but also the utter lack of respect for women in Islamic society.  She should have been praised for taking on a challenge way beyond her means, as shallow as that may appear.  The goal of this exercise was to promote Islam; Saudi officials demanded, and received special dispensation to allow Shahrkhani to wear a modified hijab, despite rules saying any headgear is illegal and not allowed.  Islam prevailed at the Olympics and sharia law ruled a small part of the glory that is world-wide competition.

From The Daily Beast August 6 by Qanta Ahmed

Saudi Olympic Athletes Test Kingdom's Dedication To Gender Apartheid
Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani returns to Saudi Arabia as the first woman to represent the Kingdom in judo, but while her participation has been celebrated globally the domestic reaction to her accomplishment has ranged from lukewarm to openly hostile. Her father, a judo referee who said he wanted his daughter to make "new history for Saudi's women," is reportedly incensed at conservative Saudis who showered her with racial slurs on Twitter and called her a “prostitute” for participating.

The Kingdom bent to a combination of international pressure and the increasingly powerful Saudi vox populi by announcing—just a month before the Games began—that Shahrkhani and Sarah Attar, a California born-and-bred track runner at Pepperdine with dual citizenship, would compete at the Games. But while the decision was a baby step toward gender equality for the approximately 11 million women and girls who call Saudi Arabia home, the move trigged a powerful conservative backlash from clerics and others.

Saudi Arabia, along with Qatar and Brunei, allowed female athletes to compete at the Olympics for the first time in London, but the Kingdom’s move seemed intended more to draw a new line than to allow for further reform. Qatar, a small nation with a rising diplomatic star that is often seen as a pernicious irritation by the Kingdom, is home to Al Jazeera and in 2022 will become the first Muslim nation to host the FIFA World Cup (their bid assured that soccer fans would be able to drink beer at matches). To prepare for that moment, the state has already begun massive statewide investment in sporting facilities and programs, including one for female athletes. Unlike the Kingdom, both Qatar and Brunei had already sent women to the Islamic Women’s Games.

Even as the pressure builds for Saudi Arabia to allow women to participate or risk becoming an outlier even in the Islamic world—Iran and Yemen have women’s soccer teams, for instance—the state has tried to hold the line. Its Olympic athletes have barely been brought up in the state-sanctioned press, and much of the Twitter conversation about them has been hostile. Steps of the Devil: Denial of Women and Girls’ Rights to Sport in Saudi Arabia, a devastating report by Human Rights Watch details the profoundly deviant yet tenaciously held religious objections of Saudi clerics to women engaging in sports. Allowing Saudi girls and women to compete would invite them to engage in immodest movement, aberrant clothing, and performances in front of unrelated males that would lead to immorality and desecration of the purity of the Saudi female, influential clerics insist. They argue that vigorous movement is a threat to the health and honor of the "virgin girl," a profound deterrent in a shame-and-honor-centered culture that places extraordinary value on the intact hymen of an unmarried woman.

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