Saudi Arabia & social reforms
In a historic decision, the ban on women driving cars in Saudi Arabia was lifted on Sunday. Despite high-income levels in the country, Saudi Arabia discriminated against its women and did not allow them to have any interaction with the outside world. They were forced by their families to stay at home and were seldom allowed to take up jobs like men and women from other countries. Though the Saudi Arabian government, which is run by King Salman and his powerful son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has allowed the women to drive cars, the country has not adopted social reforms on a full scale. Before allowing the women to drive cars, the government brought in a stringent law against sexual harassment of women and also arrested and jailed a number of social activists who were cheered the change and demanded more of such reforms. The government has made it amply clear that it is the King and the Crown Prince who would decide what and how much of the social reform would be allowed in the country. Giving equal status to women is certainly not on their agenda. Thanks to the oil economy and massive domestic and foreign investments, Saudi Arabia is an economic powerhouse today, attracting businesses and professionals from around the world and giving its cities a cosmopolitan character. Not allowing women to drive the car was making the country look retrograde and that was not quite in harmony with the image that the country's rulers wanted to project about their country.
However, giving an equal status to women is an issue all over the Islamic world and it has impacted the social and political life adversely in these countries. From Pakistan to Syria, the Muslim world is tormented by extremism and dictatorship, where women have virtually no say and they are the worst victims of the turmoil that has gripped these countries. Though the situation cannot be compared with Saudi Arabia where there is both political stability and economic prosperity, the situation in most other Islamic countries is pathetic. First of all, they do not follow modern education or prepare their citizens for the economic environment that exists today. Secondly, they discriminate against their women in virtually all aspects of social and political life by denying them the opportunity to either pursue modern education or seek a role in public life. Such a restricted environment breeds social anomaly and a paranoid worldview among the citizens. The fact that youths as young as 15-20 years are joining the ranks of militants in Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria and carrying out deadly attacks on rival groups is an indicator of how the social milieu has deteriorated in these counties. At a time when these youth should have been studying or doing something worthwhile, they have taken to guns and are headed to a hopeless future, where their life is predictably very short. Even their family members are not able to convince them to mend their ways as they themselves are not sure what is the right path for their children in absence of an unbiased education. Whether it should start from Saudi Arabia or somewhere else, there is an urgent need to introduce social and political reforms in Islamic countries to ensure that there is a greater peace and harmony among the citizens and the governments in these countries. Giving women an equal status and a fair say in social and political life and imbibing modern education and political system are some of the measures that instantly need to be introduced in the Muslim society around the world. Being tolerant of other religions and a faith in coexistence would lead them to a more meaningful social and political life. The Muslim countries should also try to come out of the shadow of 'big brother' countries, which have so far not shown any interest in forsaking age-old unpractical and retrograde beliefs and customs. Without denouncing these self-defeating beliefs and customs, they cannot imbibe modern social and political ethos. At the moment, the Muslim world is at a crossroad, where they are constantly in conflict with the modern world, which is competitive and progressive, and their worldview and social milieu, which is caught in paranoia and backwardness. Bringing social reforms is easy in Saudi Arabia or Iran, where there is a strong government but it is very difficult in a country like Pakistan or Iraq, where the government wields little influence on their citizens and fringe elements rule the roost.