SIXTH COLUMN

"History is philosophy teaching by example." (Lord Bolingbroke)

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Exercise a Challenge for Saudi Women



Although there are no laws against women exercising outside their homes, "many in this conservative society are influenced by scholars and clerics who argue against it. "

No one should be surprised as scholars and clerics seem to regulate every moment of their lives, every aspect, every thought, and perhaps, even their dreams.

In Riyadh, hotel gyms and pools are off limits to women. Along the city's walking trails, where the women walk covered in the mandatory black cloaks, they are sometimes harassed by the muttawa.


Remember the incident with the muttawa preventing girls from leaving a burning building because they couldn't put on their chadors? Fifteen girls died that day.

Now they harass women who walk:

Rana al-Abdullah said one such official ordered her to go back to her car when she was out walking one day and wouldn't leave her alone until she did. She now walks in malls.

Many Saudis say they are baffled by the religious arguments.

At a clinic that treats obesity-related diseases, a booklet left by a writer named Muhammad al-Habdan, warned that if girls' schools began P.E., Saudi girls would have to change into workout gear — and good girls should not disrobe outside their homes. Changing in a locker room might cause them to lose the shyness that is the hallmark of good morals, the booklet warned.


What is the moral objection raised by the clerics?

"It went on to say that the girls might be come attracted to each other after seeing their classmates in tight leotards and tops."

That's right. Not content with the strict separation between male and female, clerics are convinced that exercise in the presence of other women will create a rash of Lesbians. Once again, the overwhelming regulation of thought, word, and deed.

Women are to be confined, under wraps, to their homes, where they are again to be strictly monitored for any infraction. The result: obesity.

Changing such attitudes has become the goal of many health-conscious women who are alarmed about the rising rate of obesity in their country.

About 52 percent of Saudi Arabia's men and 66 percent of women are either obese or overweight, according to Saudi press reports. Among adolescents the rate is 18 percent and in preschoolers over 15 percent.


Saudi Arabians do very little as they can afford to import contract labor to do most everything for them.

Health officials blame the plush, oil-fueled Saudi lifestyle for the expanding waistlines. As Saudis have become richer, they have abandoned fiber-rich meals for fast food and meat-based dishes. They have brought in millions of Asian workers to do manual jobs. And they are addicted to technology that encourages staying at home in front of a computer or the TV.

"We're a very affluent society, so we have the luxury not to have to move," said Yasmin al-Tuwaijri, an epidemiologist who studies the obesity epidemic at a leading Riyadh hospital.

"It's because the whole environment doesn't support a change in lifestyle," said al-Tuwaijri.

One of those lifestyle changes is getting more women to work out. But it's not just a matter of persuading them to get off their couches. It's changing a mentality that believes that workouts in schools, gyms or outdoors are an evil that will lead, through giving women more freedoms, to the decline of society.


The government understands the health dangers of obesity, but the clerics will have nothing of that:

One of those lifestyle changes is getting more women to work out. But it's not just a matter of persuading them to get off their couches. It's changing a mentality that believes that workouts in schools, gyms or outdoors are an evil that will lead, through giving women more freedoms, to the decline of society.

"There is no faster way to corrupt nations than the emancipation of women — that is getting her out on the street to entice men and ruin their morals," he added.

"The Muslim woman should realize that she is a target for corruption," said al-Habdan in another booklet on why women should not go to fitness clubs.

"There is no faster way to corrupt nations than the emancipation of women — that is getting her out on the street to entice men and ruin their morals," he added.


For some reason clerics don't see sloth brought on by immense wealth and the use of contract labor for everything as "corruption".
The issue isn't dead..or is it?

Several years ago, some members of the appointed Consultative Council, the closest thing Saudi Arabia has to a Parliament, raised the issue of physical education in girls' schools.

Those who voted against it pointed out that exercise classes in boys' schools have not had much effect on male obesity, according to press reports. That is the same argument al-Habdan makes in his booklets.
Badria al-Bani, a member of the walking campaign al-Nahda is spearheading, said the group's effort will focus on raising awareness among Saudi men of the importance of exercise in a woman's life.
"The first point many women have raised is this point," she said.

She said the group will suggest that girls' schools dedicate 15 minutes of the lunch break for walking. "Isn't that better for the girls than eating?" she asked.

Some months ago, veteran Arab News columnist Abeer Mishkhas said she "was basking in the glow of satisfaction" at some of the successes women had made in 2005 when an article caught her eye and mocked her.

It was a Ministry of Education press release that said rumors that girls' schools will have P.E. classes soon were baseless and misleading. And it reprimanded newspapers for suggesting the possibility.


Some regulation in life is necessary. Even the American Founding Fathers couldn't get around it...and they tried.



But the Muslim clerical-thought police go overboard. In this case they are ruining women's health.

But, what else is new.

3 Comments:

  • At Sun May 21, 12:35:00 PM PDT, Blogger Cubed © said…

    "Some regulation in life is necessary. Even the American Founding Fathers couldn't get around it...and they tried."

    Some regulation is indeed necessary; the regulation that is necessary is that which protects the individual against the violation of his rights, which can be accomplished in two ways: 1) the use of physical force can be initiated against you, or 2) someone can use the intellectual equivalent of physical force, which is fraud or deceit.

    The difference between the Framers' concept of regulation of behavior and that which had preceded it was that the focus was on the rights of the individual, not on the whim of a ruling body.

    The Framers never, ever tried to get around the need for regulation, but for the first time in the history of government, they recognized where the focus should be.

     
  • At Sun May 21, 01:54:00 PM PDT, Blogger Eleanor © said…

    Cubed - You are correct in this comment and on the previous.

    This is what I should have said:

    Fearful of the government in Great Britain and in some of the colonies, the kind of government was a bone of contention as well as the amount of government. Our Fouding Fathers would be appalleded if they could see the amount of government we have today and extent in which it intrudes in our lives.

    Perhaps you all could elaborate.

     
  • At Sun May 21, 03:54:00 PM PDT, Blogger Cubed © said…

    Thanks for the clarification! I think the Founders are absolutely rolling in their graves.

     

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