Saturday, June 25, 2011

When Swimming Lessons are a Question of Life, Acculturation, and Public Health/Education

Ottawa's beaches officially open with lifeguards on Saturday, June 18, 2011. Beaches in Gatineau Park open on Friday. [on the Ottawa River]

As someone who has spent a lot of time swimming, lifeguarding, and teaching swimming lessons from non-swimmer to the highest lifeguarding levels, I was very struck when I read last year of the increase in the number of drownings in Canada, and more particularly that there was a direct correlation between newness to Canada and highest risk of drowning. As summer has now officially begun, and the temperatures are warmer, there are once again drownings in the news, and concern about certain patterns.

The statistics and analysis last year came from the Royal Life Saving Society (Canada) and the Red Cross. Deaths by drowning in Canada increased 10%, from 368 in 2009 to 404 in 2010. Those who have been in Canada less than 5 years are 4 times more likely to drown than those who have been here longer. Many come from countries where only the rich can afford swimming lessons or water activities, and now have abundant free or minimal cost open water opportunities:

The Lifesaving Society of Canada estimates about half of Canadian children
never take traditional swimming lessons (Errol Mcgihon/ QMI Agency, file)
Drownings on rise in Canada, Lifesaving Society says

Drownings are on the rise in Canada, the Lifesaving Society says.

According to media reports, drownings in 2010 were up 10% over the year before, the society said Tuesday when it released its new national drowning report.

Barbara Byers, the public education director of the Lifesaving Society, said it's very concerning to see the spike in drownings in 2010 amongst children under five years of age. There were 22 reported drownings in 2010 compared to 14 in 2009.

And drowning numbers are up from just a few years ago. Until 2004, the society said there was a long-term trend where each year saw fewer drownings in Canadian waters. After reaching an all-time low of 433 water-related deaths in 2004, there was an upswing to 492 in 2005; 508 in 2006; and a dip to 480 in 2007. Final statistics for 2008 to 2010 are not available yet, so the society used data from media and Internet reports to determine drownings in 2010 were up again over the previous year.

The society estimates about half of Canadian children never take traditional swimming lessons. But new Canadians — people who have been here for five years or less — also have a higher risk of drowning than those born here.

A study last year showed new Canadians are four times more likely to be unable to swim, but focus group research during the past year gave the society even more insight into why that might be, Byers said.

"Over and over again, we heard from our focus group members that swimming was a very Canadian thing to do," she said. "Many said swimming pools and beaches were not easily accessible for them in their home country. They view Canada as being about the great outdoors and swimming is something they want for their children."

The Lifesaving Society is a charity and volunteer organization that works to prevent water-related injuries and deaths.
 Grand Beach, Grand Beach Provincial Park, on Lake Winnipeg, near Winnipeg, Manitoba

The ways people drown are unchanged. Small children are most at risk as they are top heavy, and tend to topple into water, or get pulled farther out by currents. They are less likely to know how to swim, and a distracted parent may not notice a child in distress, who often doesn't scream or thrash about.

Fishermen and boaters are also more at risk--especially boaters who don't wear lifejackets at all times, and only meet federal regulations by having enough of them onboard (one for each child and each adult). Also at risk are those swimming in unsupervised areas, or undersupervised pools. Backyard, apartment, and hotel pools are usually the worst in terms of a lack of supervision.

Alcohol and water activities don't mix. Male risk taking behaviour makes men more likely to be victims of drowning. Also men have proportionately more muscle and can tend to sink like rocks.

New arrivals want to take part in the aquatic activities available in Canada's numerous bodies of water (lakes, rivers, Great Lakes, oceans), yet may be unfamiliar with the particular dangers given their places of origin, and are less likely to know how to swim. They are also less likely to know the difference between safe and dangerous ice, and what to do if one falls through. There are many who have experience fishing or even boating but are essentially non-swimmers.

The solutions have included offering swimming lessons to adults, usually mothers, in their first languages to ensure that parents can pass on the skills, monitor and guide their children's activities, and perform safe rescues where necessary. I think that is an excellent idea.

Another excellent idea is incorporating swimming and water safety lessons more diligently in the public school physical education. I have taught these classes, and in one instance taught 2 newly arrived boys in my few words of Portuguese plus "close enough" Spanish. I also had a Portuguese friend translate the swimming level and requirements along with their award so their parents would know what they had accomplished, and what level to register them in at a municipal pool. They went from non-swimmers to being able to swim serviceably on front and back; and, more importantly, had a few survival skills if in difficulty--the first being an ability to not panic and right themselves if underwater.

Newcomers with no swimming skills are not a new phenomenon in Canada. What is newer, and not addressed enough, is that cut backs to public education, and particularly to physical education classes, have resulted in fewer children learning adequate swimming and water safety skills as part of their standard education. Schools are built without pools to save costs, and schools with pools are closed. With less time and funding allocated to physical education there is less opportunity to take classes to municipal pools or nearby school pools.

Swimming lessons should start with baby's bath, making it a fun and safe experience, and encouraging a love of movement in water. Next are parent and baby/toddler swims, and then moving on up, at least to a level of good drownproofing and swimming ability and general knowledge of water safety and rescues. Municipal pools usually offer the least expensive classes; sometimes, the programs are free. Any school phys ed opportunity should be taken advantage of, even if the swim suit is a very modest one. Universities offer swimming lessons including for non-swimmers as part of the Athletics program that students have already paid for with their obligatory incidental fees.

My swimming "career" started as above. I knew it was partly a safety issue, but thought it was mostly because my mother loved swimming and going to the beach. We often did so with her, or with her and her brother, another beach-y swimmer. I only discovered,  when my mother started taking my nephew to municipal family swims, and lessons, how much it was a safety issue. One day, she said, "I thought I was finished with all this when you two got your lifeguard qualifications, and I could relax."

My Dad was a non-swimmer because there were no Catholic swimming lessons, and my grandmother didn't want him going to Protestant ones, whether at the Y or at the public municipal pools. He was also one of those non-swimmers who was pushed into the water "for fun" and got a scare, making sure he didn't like swimming. He did learn, as an adult--at the same Protestant YMCA pool he wasn't allowed to learn at as a kid--to protect his toddler daughters from mishap. I learned and taught at the YWCA, and there was no religion involved.

Let's just say that drowning is an interfaith, transcultural, physiological response. Learning to swim is great fun, enhances safety, is one of the life long fitness sports, and opens the way to other aquatic activities--for all!

Somehow, I now feel like blowing a whistle, and yelling "No running!", "No pushing!"; or giving a weak swimmer the eye to get back to the shallow end, or to get off that diving board; or carefully explaining to tattling little girls that if they don't want the little boys to push them under water, they should stop taunting them into doing so, and then showing they are having so much fun while being "drowned". :D

Parlee Beach, New Brunswick. Handout photo, New Brunswick Department of Tourism and Parks

Further Reading:

Drownings in Canada increase 10 per cent
Drowning risk high for young children, new immigrants: Stats
Kids under 5 at higher risk of drowning, report warns
Let’s find a way to make water safety a cool issue
Swimming & Water Safety
Water Safe

What is the availability of swimming lessons and aquatic activities in your country?
How did you learn to swim?
What would your suggestions be to make water safety a cool issue?
What would your suggestions be to make swimming and water safety lessons more accessible to newcomers?
How much are sports part of acculturation to a new country and society?
Other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, surfing the Atlantic

Friday, June 24, 2011

Some Husbands Just Can't Handle the Truth--Of Their Wife's Success

Rumana Monzur is now unable to see her daughter Anoushe, photographed with her here on a visit to the hospital. (S.K. Enamul Haq for The Globe and Mail)

I found this story very disturbing from the time I first learned of it, as a brief news item, 2 days ago. Since then, the increased attention to, and detail given about, the blinding of a Master's candidate in Political Science has become more challenging to learn about, let alone live.

Ms Rumana Monzur, a 33 year old Bangladeshi, is on a prestigious Fullbright scholarship to do graduate studies at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada), eventually including a PhD. She is also on faculty at the University of Dhaka where she will take up a professorial position once her graduate studies are completed.

Ms Monzur had returned to her native Bangladesh to visit her 5-year-old daughter and her husband during a summer break after the first year of her Master's studies, when she was attacked and blinded by her husband, Hassan Syeed, who gouged her eyes out, bit off part of her nose, and attacked her on the neck. While he claims he didn't want her to return to her studies as he accused her of infidelity, she insists that he was jealous she was getting further education. Others who know her, including the small Bangladeshi community at UBC, insist she wasn't unfaithful, and that it would have been impossible to carry on an extramarital affair without it becoming known.

While it is common enough for a husband to feel jealous of a wife's career success, especially when it eclipses his own, it is uncommon to express that jealousy in such a way. More often there are attempts, some more passive aggressive than others, to sabotage the wife's success, make it secondary to their own or leave the marriage. Most often, the husband celebrates the wife's success as a tribute to her, one that reflects well on him too. That holds true cross-culturally in my experience of graduate students and dual career professional couples.

Gouging someone's eyes out is a particularly brutal form of expression, and doing it such that your 5-year-old daughter is forced to watch is unusually aberrant. I have spoken to a number of South Asians and Bangladeshis about this case. They support the explanations those who know Ms Monazur give--that this is about professional jealousy, and the accusation of adultery is a cultural excuse. They also celebrate that the husband was arrested, and faces 10 years in jail. This, they say, is part of progress in Bangladesh, towards ending domestic violence in general, including any harassment of the wife by the husband.

The interview with Ms Monzur below is the first I have seen. I certainly hope that specialists in the USA are able to restore her sight, and applaud the support that has been given by the UBC community, including the administration. I do hope that if her sight is not restored, she learns to live well unsighted, including availing herself of the excellent accessibility services available at most Canadian and American universities.

As for her daughter, Anoushe, hopefully the excellent support being given by Ms Monzur's family will help ease her trauma. 

Rumana Monzur's daughter Anoushe has been to the hospital in Dhaka, Bangladesh twice to visit her mother, who was savagely attacked two weeks ago. (S.K. Enamul Haq for The Globe and Mail)

Emotional Interview
‘I screamed, ‘Save me, save her,' blinded UBC student recounts
stephanie nolen
NEW DELHI— From Friday's Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Jun. 24, 2011 4:44AM EDT
Last updated Friday, Jun. 24, 2011 5:01AM EDT

She can no longer read, cannot write, so Rumana Monzur has long and empty hours to lie in her hospital bed in Bangladesh and enumerate what she has lost.

“In Canada, I learned how to dream,” said Ms. Monzur, the University of British Columbia graduate student blinded in a savage attack she alleges her husband committed in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka two weeks ago. Now, “I don’t know how anything will be possible. I’m helpless.”

In a lengthy, often tearful interview, Ms. Monzur, 33, described the attack; her ongoing fears for her safety, and that of her daughter and parents; and her despair at what she feels is the irrevocable loss of her dreams for all of them.

Ms. Monzur enrolled last autumn as a visiting student in the master’s program in international relations at UBC. After nine months in Vancouver, she flew home in mid-May to see her family.

From the moment of her arrival, she said, relations with her husband, Hassan Sayeed, were rocky. He had often been physically and verbally abusive in the early years of their marriage, she said, but after their daughter Anoushe was born five years ago, the violence stopped. “I thought everything was normal again, that it would be okay.”

Ms. Monzur explained that Mr. Sayeed had told her before they married that he had a degree in electrical engineering – but somehow he never found a job. Frustrated by his lack of ambition, Ms. Monzur got a job of her own, teaching international relations at Dhaka University. In secret, though, she applied for graduate work in Canada – and when she was accepted, with a scholarship, she told her husband. “I didn’t ask his permission. He didn’t say no, but he didn’t say yes … he knew I would come back because my daughter was in Bangladesh.”

Anoushe stayed behind, in the care of Ms. Monzur’s parents.

She talked to her family almost every day from Vancouver, and nothing seemed amiss with her husband, she said. But a few days after she returned to Dhaka, she said, he physically attacked her once again. Afterward, Ms. Monzur said, she told him she would not live with him any longer: her time in Canada had hardened her resolve about the life she wanted. Mr. Sayeed left her parents’ house.

Two weeks later, on a quiet afternoon when her parents were out, she was in a bedroom working at her laptop while Anoushe was painting on the bed next to her. Her husband burst in, locked the door, and grabbed her from behind with the words, “You don’t want to live with me, so I will kill you,” she recalled, sobbing.

“First he attacked my neck and then he put his fingers in my eyes. He bit my nose. I tried to protect myself. He bit my hands – I have several injuries in hands and face. Then when I couldn’t see and my nose was bleeding, I was slipping in my own blood. I was almost unconscious.”

Anoushe, still next to her on the bed, was shrieking. “She was screaming, ‘Don’t do this to my mom, don’t do this.’ ”

She said the attack ended only when domestic staff used a second set of keys to open the door and then Mr. Sayeed ran out, with these parting words: “I will kill you wherever you are and when ever I find you. I will shoot you or I will throw acid at you. I won’t let you leave.”

Ms. Monzur, by then, was scrabbling on the floor – she could not see the people who came in, but felt them trying to lift her. “I screamed, ‘Save me, save her – don’t let him take my daughter.’ “ She remembers little after that until she was in hospital, with doctors saying the only hope to save her eyes was expert help in India.

The family arranged to fly to her to Chennai, but ophthalmologists there could not help either. Now, Ms. Monzur is awaiting plastic surgery to rebuild her nose, and hoping desperately for word from medical institutions in the United States and in British Columbia about a last-ditch medical procedure that might restore her eyesight.

Without it, she said, choked with tears, she does not know how she can ever again care for her daughter or resume her work.

Anoushe has been to visit her mother twice in hospital. “I’m trying to be normal in front of her, I’m laughing, I’m telling her stories, I’m singing rhymes,” Ms. Monzur said. “But whenever she tries to show me something and realizes that I can’t see, then she cries, and that’s very been painful to me. Every day she asks me, ‘Are your eyes okay yet?’ She doesn’t know.”

Ms. Monzur said she has been told by family that her daughter goes through their house now pointing at possessions left behind by her father and says, “Daddy was naughty.” Anoushe knows from media reports that he is in jail.

Ms. Monzur’s father, Monzur Hussain, reported the attack to police shortly after it happened; he and several of her cousins returned repeatedly to the station to try to push police to arrest Mr. Sayeed, she said, but only after the Dhaka University teacher’s union threatened labour action in solidarity with her did police pick him up.

He remains in jail, but Ms. Monzur said that does not make her feel safer. The Bangladeshi legal system is weak: it is not unusual for well-to-do defendants to bribe themselves out of custody. “He’s in jail now – but he has friends and he can do anything, because he has money.” Mr. Sayeed comes from a well-off family, she said.

“I feel totally threatened and insecure. I am not sure I can protect my daughter. If he can do this to me, he can do this to my parents and my daughter, too. I am not in a position to protect them – I’m the one they have to take care of now. I can’t feel secure any more because I can’t see.”

The greatest animation came into Ms. Monzur’s voice when she described her academic work. Momentarily distracted from her pain, she talked at length about her work in the emerging field of human security and climate change. She was exploring the negotiating power of developing countries in climate change talks for her master’s thesis, which she had planned to begin writing when she returned to UBC in the autumn. She hoped to continue those studies in a doctorate at the university. Bangladesh, most of which is at sea level, is one of the nations most severely affected by climate change and sea-level rise.

Ms. Monzur said she gave a news conference a few days ago to respond to the stories she says her husband and his relatives were spreading about her in Dhaka. The Bangladeshi media have focused on his allegations of infidelity, which she denies, as a sort of explanation for his assault. “I don’t care what he is saying – that doesn’t give him the right to do this to me,” she said. Rather, she had something else she wanted to make clear.

“Everyone is asking why I tolerated him for so long – why an educated person is tolerating him,” she said. “Because I really loved him. Every time [he was abusive], he convinced me, asked for forgiveness, that’s why I tolerated him. I had a daughter and my daughter needed a father. I didn’t want her to be deprived of her father’s love because of me.”

Ms. Monzur broke down again as she described her gratitude for the support she has received from fellow students and faculty at UBC. She spoke with longing about the idea of somehow returning to her work. “I want to finish my program – I want to do that so badly. I want to do my PhD – but I don’t know how it’s possible …

“Please pray for me so that I get my vision back. I don’t want to live like this. I want to finish my studies and be the person I wanted to be and take care of my daughter – take care of her future.”


Rumana Monzur's daughter Anoushe was in the room when her mother was attacked two weeks ago in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (S.K. Enamul Haq for The Globe and Mail)

See Also:
UBC student blinded in attack
Husband arrested after UBC student beaten, blinded in Bangladesh
Vicious attack in Bangladesh leaves UBC student blind; husband arrested
Women's-education advocates rally behind UBC scholar blinded in Bangladesh
In pictures: Rumana Monzur in hospital
Blinded UBC student Rumana Monzur on her husband MP3 Audio
Blinded UBC student Rumana Monzur on her condition MP3 Audio

Your comments, thoughts, and impressions?

"In Canada I learned how to dream," Romana Monzur told The Globe and Mail in an interview. She says she hopes to regain her sight to finish her studies and take care of her daughter. (S.K. Enamul Haq for The Globe and Mail)

Update--February 12, 2012

Rumana Manzur, the University of B.C. student who was attacked and blinded by her husband, talks about her life since her return to Canada, Vancouver, October 11 2011.
Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG

Since the original post, Romana has learned that her sight could not be restored, and has returned to life as a mother and student, now blind. Her daughter is learning to adjust to her mother`s challenges too. Her husband Hassan was found dead in a hospital bathroom, apparently of a heart attack. He had been transferred to hospital from jail to attend to his health concerns.

Two articles from December 2011 describe Romana's current life, and her reaction to her husband`s death: UBC student Rumana Monzur starts over as blind mother; B.C. woman Rumana Monzur shocked at news of husband's death.

News reports in Bangladesh say that the husband of blinded University of British Columbia student Rumana Monzur, pictured, has died in custody.
Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Saudi Women Driving Garners Attention; Saudi Women's Education Brings Substantive Change--Including to Driving

In this image made from video released by, a Saudi Arabian woman drives a car as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, June 17. From The Christian Science Monitor article, "Why Hillary Clinton hasn't weighed in on Saudi women's right to drive"

I found the following article a good summary of the place of the Women2Drive campaign within Saudi women's activism. Despite the campaign captivating international attention, author Hamida Ghafour argues that, more importantly, feminists of both genders are preparing for "massive social change" through  education. In my own words, she asserts that women's education at universities in Saudi and abroad is altering the social fabric even as key societal institutions resist change. Ghafour concludes that Saudi men who aren't on board will be left behind by this generation of educated wives and mothers, and their daughters.

Hamida Ghafour
Saudi women’s activism accelerates
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Jun. 21, 2011 2:00AM EDT

In the past few days, some Saudi women have been answering a Facebook-organized campaign that encouraged them to flout their country’s female driving ban and get behind the wheel to do everyday chores. It’s hardly the pretext for the sort of bloody uprising seen in other Arab countries, but the question of whether women should be allowed to drive goes to the very heart of Saudi society’s values.

It’s not clear how many women have been driving. The number runs to dozens at most – hardly enough to sweep away the restrictive gender-based laws. But nearly all those who have been sharing their experiences on social media or have spoken to the press are professional, well-educated women, and this, perhaps, is the most compelling aspect of the protest.

Forget the driving ban for a moment. It captures international attention because Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women can’t drive. Saudi feminists and their male supporters are, in fact, quietly laying the groundwork for massive social change by focusing on education.

Private women’s colleges are springing up all over the kingdom. Indeed, 60 per cent of all college or university graduates are women. These girls are motivated and driven probably because they’ve had to fight for everything in a way their indulged brothers who occupy an exulted place in the family never have.

The enrolment of girls in primary and higher education grew by an average of 8.3 per cent a year, compared with 4.2 per cent for boys between 1975 and 2000, according to United Nations figures.

The latest school to open is Princess Nora bint Abdulrahman University, a women-only institution in Riyadh built to accommodate 50,000 students. So far, 28,000 are enrolled. Among the degrees offered are those in medicine, dentistry, information technology and languages.

The most respected is Dar Al-Hekma College, a private women’s school in Jeddah that’s financially backed by the business community. Dar Al-Hekma opened in 1999, has 1,500 students and offers one of the few Saudi degrees recognized internationally.

The government also pays tuition and board for the thousands of women who travel to the West – particularly Britain and the United States – every year to study.

This is already having an impact. An American-educated teacher was appointed vice-minister for women’s education in 2009, becoming the first female Saudi minister.

Manal al-Sharif, who was jailed for 10 days in May because she drove, is an IT specialist. So is Maha al-Qahtani, who got behind the wheel of her SUV on Friday in Riyadh with her husband, a human-rights activist. Women who have previously violated the driving ban included dentists and university lecturers.

The potential is huge. Saudi women own 40 per cent of the country’s private wealth, and, according to Amnesty International, there are 16,390 women-owned businesses, although laws on segregating the sexes in the workplace make it difficult for them to pursue capitalism as freely as their male counterparts.

Saudi women, unfortunately, still make up only 15 per cent of the labour force, and of those who do work, 95 per cent are in the public sector. These jobs are socially acceptable because working in the service of your nation is considered patriotic.

Yet, it’s hard to believe that the next generation of such highly educated women and their daughters will submissively stay at home or accept personal status laws that force them to seek permission from a male guardian before travelling or undergoing medical procedures.

It may be Saudi men who are left behind as women are propelled to the forefront of social change.

Hamida Ghafour is an author and journalist who has reported extensively from the Muslim world. She is currently based in the Netherlands.


What, rather than whom, do you see as substantive agents of change in Saudi Arabia?
What is the place of the driving campaign in effecting long term and substantive change?
Are education and the driving campaign interconnected?
Other comments, thoughts, impressions?

Saudi women get into the backseat of a car in Riyadh on June 14, 2011, three days before a June 17 nationwide campaign by Saudi women who are planning to take the wheel in protest against a driving ban which is unique to the kingdom that applies a strict version of Sunni Islam. (FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Women Driving, in the West and Saudi; Other Parameters of Women's Quality of Life; Hope for Change

The "etceterini" classes in Italy would continue through the 1960s, but this was perhaps their last chance to attract international attention. This Ermini Sport Scaglietti, as seen here, provided the buck for the fiberglas Devin sports car in America. It is one of the most beautiful small cars ever built. A 1100cc version placed second in class in the 1956 Mille Miglia. From Veloce Today, "Mille Miglia 2006-Part II"

I discovered this article while searching for another on a different topic completely--though in fact a driving tour of the North Carolina's historical moonshine country (to email Susanne :D). I initially read this article because of the title, and the announced topic. It does mention the June 17 Saudi driving movement and the jubilation when dozens did drive.

However, I was most struck by the author's broader approach to women's status in a given society, and his rightful emphasis on societal mutability, even of the societies we think are frozen in essentialist beliefs. Those essentialisms have less to do with religion than with "religion" as a set of societal constructs held to be true--until society changes.

Also striking is the reminder that change can happen more quickly than one might expect--or seemingly more quickly, as change comes into public awareness out of its long, slow build behind the scenes. The reference to Canada brings home the changes that happened for women in the West throughout the 60's and 70's.

The article reminded me that when I established my Italian citizenship, I had to have proof of when my grandparents became Canadian citizens. My fully bilingual-bicultural paternal grandmother, who had arrived in Canada at the age of 6, had no Canadian citizenship papers. She had the right to vote, proving her citizenship, because she was married to my grandfather, who had arrived in Canada at the age of 26, and was far less fluent in English or Canadian culture. However, as the man of the family, when he took citizenship, his wife obtained it too. My grandmother's voting permission made it clear that as woman not born in Canada only her marriage to a Canadian gave her the right to vote. She was mentioned by her married name and "wife of".

The title of the article below is startling--though anyone doing cross cultural medicine is well aware of India's differential treatment of women--because 2011 is the Year of India in Canada, with many sponsored cultural events and festivals as well as trade development and exchanges. Currently the Bollywood International Indian Film Awards are being hosted in Brampton Ontario, in the Greater Toronto Area. Criticizing India is not fashionable at the moment. Nonetheless, the author makes excellent points about India's "religion" vs religion, and the need for change.

The survey referenced in the article, that polled of 213 aid professionals, academics, health workers, policymakers, journalists and development specialists on the topic "What is the worst place for women to live?", is fully reported here.

Doug Saunders
India is no exception: The subjection of women is its own religion
DOUG SAUNDERS | Columnist profile | E-mail
Globe and Mail Update
Published Saturday, Jun. 18, 2011 2:00AM EDT

My mother began her career as a high-school teacher in a country that regarded women as the property of men. She could not get a bank account or a credit card of her own, only one bearing my father’s name – and only with his permission and under his control. Most jobs were open only to men. Only a quarter of drivers were women, and the whole phenomenon of women driving was hotly debated in the media.

That was Canada in the 1960s. I kept that in mind on Friday as I watched the ebullient spectacle of dozens of Saudi Arabian women daring to defy their country’s laws by getting into cars and driving. You might think their humble rebellion is doomed to failure. But we forget how fast things can change, and how suddenly that change can begin.

We tend to think of the gross mistreatment of women as a matter of deeply rooted tradition and custom: Some places are just like that. Religion and culture are timeless, we like to believe. Sexual equality, then, is pointless: It would be an utterly alien import.

But the world doesn’t work that way. The mistreatment of women is not some inevitable outcome of specific cultures and customs; rather, it is something that emerges in its own right, a poison that takes over and paralyzes nations.

That became vividly apparent this week with the release of a study conducted by Thomson Reuters Corp. on behalf of a legal foundation. It posed a bold question: “What is the worst place in the world to be a woman?” And it got its answer by surveying 213 experts on gender relations from five continents, all of whom have knowledge of the situations in multiple countries.

That Afghanistan (Muslim) and Congo (Christian) were the two worst countries wasn’t any surprise: Both are victims of terrible conflicts that have used the mass abuse of women as martial acts. Pakistan, the third worst, was also no surprise: Also once far more open, its political chaos and poverty have left it open to the worst religious influences.

What stood out was the presence of India, the world’s largest democracy, a place that has risen dramatically from poverty into “middle income” success, as the fourth worst of 195 countries for women. How could this be? A country that is 80 per cent Hindu, a religion that says little about the subjection of women, and deifies some? A country that, as my colleague Stephanie Nolen recently reported, “has more key political powerbrokers who are women than any other country in the world,” including its president, the head of its ruling party, and the premiers of four of its states?

But few experts would disagree with the assessment. I wouldn’t either. It isn’t just the headline issues – murder of non-boy babies, teenage forced marriage and pregnancy, mass sex trafficking of unwanted female children – but also the treatment of women as dowry tokens, the disdain for non-arranged marriage, the all-too widespread groping and simmering sexual abuse, the belief among too many men that women are either virtuous brides or disposable whores. This is not in the nature of Indians, but rather has become habitual among too many men, some of whom can be found in every social class. Much of this has not improved, but has become worse: As economic gains have brought smaller families, the preference for boy children has multiplied.

None of it is traditional or timeless or built into the religion. Indian culture or economics or poverty aren’t causing it, but it is having a dire effect on them. It has arisen and become a faith unto itself. It is unrelated, in any important way, to the wider culture – but it has choked back social and economic progress, preventing poor families from becoming more prosperous.

The second-class status of women is not, as this study shows, an inevitable outcome of any one religion or culture: The subjection of women is its own religion; it is a cause, not an effect. In all these countries, it usually expresses itself not as shame, but as celebration. Our women are precious, it is usually said. They must not be cast into the common world of men, but protected. The protection of their virtue is the subject of obsessive fear. As one commentator posted on a Pakistani news site in response to the study: “Compared to other countries, our women are much safer.”

Here’s a good rule: If you refer to them as “our women,” then there is something deeply wrong. We are hardly in a position to act superior, for this sort of language was our part of guiding religion only recently, its effects still being felt within my lifetime. There is nothing timeless or inevitable about it.


Your comments, thoughts, impressions?

Happy Father's Day 2011!

To all fathers, uncles, grandfathers,
and paternal figures,
Happy Father's Day!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Saudi Women June 17 Driving Guidelines (Women2Drive): If you are going to do it, drive safely!

While driving safely in other countries means things like drive defensively (assume the other driver is an idiot, and be prepared), leave a safe stopping distance between cars dependent on speed, and remember to pump the brakes, never brake hard in slippery conditions, in Saudi Arabia the upcoming planned women's driving movement, starting Friday June 17 has different safety guidelines, or additional ones, in light of Saudi prohibitions (law, custom, fatwa) against women driving.

It is important for others, especially those who are Saudi-based, to remember that the Saudi women organizers have asked that non-Saudi women refrain from participating by driving. I see that as a safety issue as well. It would feed opposition arguments and ire, as well as cloud the meaning and purpose of the action, if non-Saudis and particularly Westerners were to be engaged in driving too. One can be supportive in other ways.

Some Saudi women have decided to make driving a highly visible statement of their demands for reform for women in Saudi society. I respect their decision, and also the decision of those who put their energies elsewhere, or deem that at this conjuncture it is not safe for them to participate in Women2Drive June 17.

For those who will be driving, the safety guidelines below are from Sabria Jawhar's post Saudi Women June 17 Driving Guidelines on her blog, Sabria's Out of the Box. Those offering support in other ways should also be aware of these guidelines.

Saudi women planning to drive on June 17 should observe the following guidelines for their safety:

1) Islamic dress code

2) There won’t be any gatherings. Go out only to run important errands, visit the hospital, drop kids off at school, etc.

3) It is encouraged that you videotape the event and upload it on Youtube.

4) Drive within city limits only.

5) To reaffirm our patriotism, fly the Saudi flag and lift up a photo of Abu Mit’ib (the King).

6) No need to be scared. If the police arrest you, you’ll only be required to sign on a pledge.

7) It is preferred that whoever plans on driving to have an international driver’s license.

8) It is better if a male accompanies you to protect you and to guarantee your safety (since the ball would just be starting to roll).

9) Avoid driving into any empty plots or deserted or faraway areas because that might pose some danger to you.

10) Driving is not scheduled for one day only. Saudi women are starting Friday but will continue to take to their cars beyond that date until a royal decree is issued.

11) Any woman who fails to comply is responsible for any possible consequences.

12) Ensure notifying family and friends of your intentions to drive (in case you go missing they’ll have an idea how to act).

13) If you have a phone with internet connection, follow WOMEN2DRIVE on Facebook and Twitter.

I hope all those who choose to drive have a safe experience!

Women2Drive on Facebook, and #women2drive on Twitter. Real Time results for Women2Drive via Google are another way to follow events and coverage of them.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Nathalie Morin To Appear in Saudi Court Today to Set Trial Date for Attempted Child Abduction: Legalities National and International

Cette photo de Nathalie Morin et de deux de ses trois enfants a été prise par sa mère Johanne Durocher, lors de sa dernière visite, en juillet. Photo: La Presse [July 2009 photo of Nathalie Morin and 2 of her children, taken by her mother during a visit to Saudi Arabia]

Sometime today, June 12, Nathalie Morin will appear in a Saudi court in Dammam, in order to set a trial date on child abduction charges, following incidents which occurred a few days ago. On June 6, Nathalie Morin was discovered leaving her home with her children. She reportedly was attempting to abduct them out of Saudi Arabia and eventually to Canada with the aid of 2 Saudi feminist activists, Wajeha Al-Huwaider, and Fawzia Layouni. Nathalie's mother, and the 2 activists claim they were only helping Nathalie to get food and provisions for her and the children after her husband, Said Al-Shahrani, left the family locked in their home for days while he attended a cousin's wedding in his city of origin, Jubail. All the adults involved are subject to Saudi law. (See previous post)

As regards the children, there are 2 sets of laws that govern this case. The first, and the one that has predominated all along, is Saudi family law, or the moudwana, which, as in other Muslim countries, is based on Sharia law. The second is the Hague Convention on the International Rights of the Child. According to Saudi family law, the children are in the custody of the father. When the children are very young, the mother may be allowed to raise them, but custody, that is, legal guardianship and decision-making about the children, remains with the father. Sometimes, in preference to the mother being allowed to raise them, very young children would be raised by the paternal grandmother. This is a decision for the father to make.

  Members States of the Organisation
Non-Member States of the Organisation

When there is an issue of taking children across international borders, the Hague Convention of the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (enforced since 1983) predominates. This is primarily true where both countries have signed and ratified the Hague Abduction Convention, but also is invoked when they have not. Muslim countries have not ratified the Convention, and where they have signed, have only done so with the proviso that the aspects contravening Sharia family law do not apply.

This is one of the reasons that certain parental child abduction cases--involving usually a father taking the children from a Western country to a Muslim one--make headlines, whereas they are in the minority of parental child abduction cases. Most often in these cases there has been a marital breakdown, divorce, and the Western court favoured the mother for custody, as most often happens generally in custody cases in the West. Where joint custody is awarded, all major decisions about the children, even including schooling for example, require the consent of both parents.

For most Canadians, the Hague Abduction Convention only comes in to play when they apply for a passport for their child. Such a passport (children are no longer on a parental passport) requires legal documentation of both parents, and of custody agreements where there has been legal separation or divorce. Where one parent has relinquished all rights, this too must be legally documented.

Some Canadian parents live through the agony of one parent abducting the child, usually not returning after a legal visit. Sometimes, as in a recent case in the news, the parent has taken the child to a different province. Often, the US is the international border crossed, as in the famous case of Canadian Olympian Myriam Bédard, who took her daughter across the Canada-US border to live with her and her new love interest. As Canada and the US are both signatories to the Hague Abduction Convention, Bédard was arrested on an international warrant, and she and her daughter returned to Quebec. Bédard was convicted of violating her child custody agreement, and sentenced to a conditional discharge and 2 years probation.

The essence of the Hague Abduction Convention is that the child is to be immediately returned to the country of usual residence, and the legal norms of the custody agreement already in place are to be respected until a court in the home country decides otherwise. The first step is a return to the status quo. After that, the family courts in the home country decide what new provisions should apply, and the criminal courts decide on the abduction charges.

In the case of Nathalie Morin, even though Canada enforces the Hague Abduction Convention, Saudi Arabia is not a signatory. Even if both countries were signatories, she and the children habitually reside in Saudi Arabia--so the status quo would apply. That is, the children would be returned to, or remain in, Saudi Arabia and Saudi family law would apply. Her husband would have custody of the children even after divorce, and would determine what contact, if any, she would have with them. In the case of a divorce, Morin would most likely not have the legal right to remain in Saudi Arabia, as she would no longer have a spousal iqama or visa.

As Saudi Arabia is not a signatory to the Hague Abduction Convention, and Morin is in Saudi Arabia, its family law applies in this case, and its criminal laws apply regarding child abduction. This means that the children's guardian continues to be their father. Because of the Saudi interpretation of the mahrem system, Nathalie's husband, Said Al-Shahrani, continues to be her guardian as well. If they were to divorce, she would not have custody of the children, and not have the legal right to live in the country or visit them--unless her then former husband agreed.

Johanne Durocher, la mère de Nathalie Morin, Québécoise retenue contre son gré en Arabie Saoudite avec ses trois enfants, déplore l'analyse des autorités consulaires canadiennes qui considèrent la situation de sa fille comme une «question familiale du domaine privé». Photo: Martin Chamberland, Archives La Presse
[2009-Johanne Durocher, the mother of Nathalie Morin, a Quebecker kept against her will in Saudi Arabia with her 3 children, deplores the analysis made by Canadian consular officials, who consider her daughter's situation as a "family question in the private domain".]

Despite the efforts of Nathalie's mother, Johanne Durocher, there is little that the Canadian government can do in this case, beyond mediation attempts already made by the Canadian Embassy, and moral support for a Canadian in legal difficulty abroad. Even the question of the husband's alleged abuses has not been leverage, either in law or in popular support. Part of the reason is that the abuse hasn't been proven, and there is suspicion that it is exaggerated to achieve the aim of bringing the children and Nathalie to Canada. Another part of the reason is that the abuse in itself would not change custody or residency laws.

Since the events of June 6, and particularly due to the efforts of Nathalie's mother, Johanne Durocher, there is increasing news coverage in the West of this latest turn in Nathalie Morin's case. The article below is one example. Note that Johanne Durocher refers to the cost of bringing Nathalie and the 3 children to Canada being $100,000 each. She is alluding to paid professional kidnappers, often former military men, who undertake to go to the country where the children are and abduct them, or re-abduct them when the children have been removed from their home country to another.

These professional services are expensive, rarely successful, and illegal. Moreover, child experts agree that both abduction and re-abduction are traumatizing to the children. The usual advice is to follow the best interests of the child, which is to leave them where they are, and avoid further psychological trauma. The psychologically traumatized parent must work on a healing process.

Most often, there is the hope that once the child is legally an adult, they will be free to seek out their parent and are likely to do so. Here, the Saudi interpretation of the mahrem system comes into play again. Whereas in other Muslim majority countries both sons and daughters become legal adults, often at the age of 18, in Saudi Arabia daughters do not become legal adults, in the sense that they are always required to have a legal male guardian--father, husband, brother, adult son, other responsible male family member--whose consent would be required to leave the country or to meet with the biological mother.

As stated in the previous post, sorting the details of this case is particularly difficult due to a number of confounds. However, for sure, Nathalie Morin, and her children with her husband Said Al-Shahrani, are subject to Saudi law. Hopefully there will be the happiest resolution possible for all family members, and particularly its youngest, most vulnerable ones.

‘Terrified’ Quebec mom faces Saudi court
Published On Thu Jun 09 2011

Jim Wilkes
Staff Reporter

Nathalie Morin is a long way from home with the odds stacked against her.

The Quebec woman’s efforts to bring her family to Canada may have taken a drastic step backwards after she was detained by police in Saudi Arabia this week and told to face a court hearing on Sunday, accused of trying to kidnap her three children.

Morin, 26, has been stuck in Dammam, about 500 kilometres from the Saudi capital of Riyadh, since 2006, when she last visited Canada alone. Under Saudi law, she is not allowed to leave home with her children without her husband’s permission.

Johanne Durocher, Morin’s mother, said in an interview from Montreal Thursday that her daughter was detained by police after trying to take her children shopping while her husband was out of town.

She said Morin is frustrated and “terrified” to face this weekend’s tribunal. But she said communications problems have made it difficult to learn specific details of her daughter‘s case.

“My girl, she is very afraid,” Durocher told the Star. “She is terrified.”

She said Morin had already been left in her apartment with her children for two days while her husband, Saeed Al Shahrani, travelled to his hometown for a week-long visit.

On Monday, she said the family was running low on food and water, so Durocher contacted a Saudi journalist and feminist, Wajeha Al Huwaider, to take her shopping.

As they were leaving, she said Shahrani was waiting with police outside.

Durocher claims Shahrani had bugged the apartment and alerted police when she attempted to leave about 8:30 p.m. with her children, aged 8, 4 and 2.

Morin was sent back to the apartment, but Huwaider was questioned for two hours by police, she explained.

Durocher said police returned about 11 p.m. “and took my girl to the police station.” Morin was returned home two hours later, told she must face a court on Sunday to set a date for a trial.

If found guilty of trying to kidnap her children, Morin could face any number of penalties, said Ali Alyami, founder and executive director of Washington’s Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.

“There is no codified rule of law in Saudi Arabia,” he explained. “Shariah law is subject to interpretation by a judge.

Alyami said the case smacks of “entrapment.”

“One way to get rid of her and keep the children is by accusing her of trying to kidnap them,” he said. “In Saudi Arabia, children are property, just like the wife. They are the property of the father.”

In a video from earlier this year, Morin said she and her children are confined to an apartment without a key of her own to come and go. She said they have been subjected to “physical abuse and psychological abuse.”

In 2009, Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to then-Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, said Morin’s abuse allegations had been probed by the Saudi Arabia Human Rights Commission and “found not to be credible.”

Durocher said Thursday that her daughter has tried to sponsor Shahrani to immigrate to Canada, but a visa has not been approved. She said all three children already hold Canadian passports.

Durocher said that if she could afford it, she would have already arranged for her daughter to escape with the children. But she said it would cost $100,000 each to get them out.

John Babcock, spokesperson for Minister of State Diane Ablonczy, said in an email from Ottawa Thursday that Canada’s involvement in the matter is limited by Saudi Arabia’s laws.

“This is a very complex family dispute with no easy solution,” he wrote. “This case has been raised by the former minister of foreign affairs and the current government House leader in their meetings with Saudi officials.

“We are bound by both Saudi law and the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, under which the children cannot leave without the consent of both parents.

“Our government has twice facilitated Ms. Morin’s return to Canada, and we stand ready to facilitate her return again, but custody of the children must be resolved before we can facilitate their departure from Saudi Arabia.”

Shahrani disputes his wife claims.

“How can my wife be the victim of any torture or detention when she is currently learning Arabic at a specialized society and speaks with her mother on the phone daily?” he told the Saudi daily Al-Watan last month.

“Whether or not I allow my children to leave Saudi Arabia is a matter which concerns both myself and my wife only,” he said. “Besides, I am entitled to keep my children in my custody according to Shariah, and I have not prevented my wife from staying with them.”


Your comments, thoughts, impressions?

Related Post:
Saudi Activists Wajeha Al-Huwaider and Fawzia Layouni Detained for Attempting to Help Canadian Nathalie Morin Flee Saudi Arabia with her 3 Children

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Real Truth (and Truthiness) About Canadian vs Saudi Oil and the USA

On June 9, 2011 The Daily Show with Jon Stewart exposed the truth about Canada's ethical oil and bituminous sands. All I can say is, it is a good thing Saudi is developing solar, and if you are American, be afraid, be very afraid.

If you are Canada-based, you must watch it here. Others may watch it here (after the spin of the p*n*s wheel).

Best 5 minutes of oil geopolitics ever!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Saudi Activists Wajeha Al-Huwaider and Fawzia Layouni Detained for Attempting to Help Canadian Nathalie Morin Flee Saudi Arabia with her 3 Children

Wajeha Al Huwaider and Fawzia Layouni were detained by Dammam police on the evening of Monday June 6, 2011 and are still being held in a police station south of Dammam on charges of attempted smuggling and kidnapping. Initial reports that the 2 had been released on Tuesday after renunciation and promises not to repeat the act have been contradicted. It had been reported that the 2 were released without bail after the intervention of His Highness Prince Mohammed bin Fahd of the Eastern Province and taking an oath to allow the Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Embassy follow through on accusations that Ms Morin was being confined and mistreated by her husband, Said Al-Shahrani. *Update: Statement by Al-Hawaider and Layouni that they were released on July 7, 2011 at 1:00am--تصريح إعلامي من المهتمات بحقوق الإنسان : وجيهة الحويدر و فوزية العيوني

Wajeha Al-Huwaider; photo for Fawzia Layouni not found

The 2 Saudi activists for women's rights were trying to help Canadian-Quebecker Nathalie Morin escape Saudi with her 3 Saudi children. Morin's husband, Said Al-Shahrani, became suspicious of a possible escape attempt by his wife when he noticed certain activity on her mobile phone. His suspicions were exacerbated when he saw a text message from one of the 2 activists. He notified police who tracked the 2 and his wife and children, then moved to the arrests as soon as the attempt to leave the country by car was underway.

The women and children were in the car and the luggage was being loaded in front of the family home when the police stepped in, accompanied by the husband. The police claim Al-Huwaider and Layouni initially protested their arrest, but the police already had an order prepared by Eastern Province authorities. Security services claim that during questioning Al-Huwaider attempted to use her cell phone to let Westerners and the local human rights group know of their arrest but was prevented from doing so and her phone confiscated. When contacted by security, the Dammam Branch of the Human Rights Commission denied that Al-Huwaider was a member. Morin is also charged--with attempted kidnapping of her children.

Al-Huwaider and Layouni became involved in the Morin case after Morin's mother, Johanne Durocher, contacted Huwaider by email last year. Johanne Durocher has been very active in trying to get her daughter out of Saudi Arabia, involving the Quebec and Canadian governments, and organizing protests in Montreal and Ottawa. She has been very disappointed in the Canadian government's response.

Mme Durocher has given a different accounting of the arrests to a Quebec news outlet. According to her, Said Al-Shahrani (aka Al-Bishi), a former police officer, set a trap for Nathalie with his police friends. He told his wife that he would be attending a cousin's wedding, a 13 hour drive from their home. As usual, he left her and the 3 children without a phone, money, or a key to go out of the house. Mme Durocher asked Wajeha Al-Huwaider, who lives in the same city, to bring money to Nathalie so she could buy food. Al-Huwaider did go to Nathalie's home as requested. When Nathalie opened the door, using a key that her mother had been able to give her surreptitiously during a visit to Saudi, the women were surprised by the husband and police waiting for their moment. Morin was arrested, questioned, and appeared in court where she was charged with kidnapping. If she is found guilty, it is possible that she will be deported because of the kidnapping attempt--without her children.

I did considerable research on the Nathalie Morin case in the fall of 2009 when it was given a lot of attention by both the Canadian and Saudi presses.

Said Al-Shahrani, Nathalie Morin's husband, with their sons Abdullah and Samir, 2009

From that research I learned that Nathalie Morin (b. 1984) had met Said Al-Shahrani (aka Al-Bishi) in September 2001 when he was a Concordia University student in Montreal, Quebec. They married (Nathalie's mother denies this), and had a son, Samir, in July 2002. Al-Bishi was refused a visa to stay longer in Canada, and left with a deportation order (possibly for spying) pending in September 2002. Over 2003-4 the couple stayed in contact, and Al-Shahrani wanted Nathalie to join him in Saudi Arabia. In March 2005, Nathalie Morin joined him in Saudi Arabia with their son. Since that time she has had 2 more children, Abdullah (June 2006) and Sarah (November 2008).  She did leave to spend one month in Quebec in October-November 2006 at her mother's expense, but returned to be with her sons then aged 4 years (Samir), and 5 months (Abdullah).

Her mother insists that she is being abused, beaten, starved, and held hostage in the home without phone, money, or a key to leave. Her mother insists that Nathalie wants to leave Saudi Arabia with her children, but that her husband either refuses outright or demands money and a Canadian visa. Said Al-Shahrani denies all these accustions.

13-year-old Rami, one of Said's cousins holds up a message for Nathalie Morin's mother. In the February 25, 2009 article, the paternal family states that Mme Durocher should learn to be a proper grandmother according to Saudi norms. A French translation of the article, provided by the Canadian government is here.

Nathalie's statements about her situation vary depending on whether her husband is present or not. She is consistent that she wants to be with her children. Nathalie's mother insists she was a naive young woman who regrets her decisions and wants to return to Quebec with her children. She states that Nathalie never really married her husband, and was under the Canadian legal age for consent when she conceived her first child, but has a marriage permission certificate since Said's father works for the Saudi Ministry of the Interior. Some of Nathalie's statements support her regret of naively made decisions.

In the fall of 2009, I concluded:
It is difficult to sort family difficulties in the most favourable of circumstances—for example, in a private and confidential family therapy setting with all participants present-- and far more so with only the media to rely on, and international political and religious overlays to the story. There are obvious confounds: the tension between a husband and wife and the complications of children; the tension between mother-in-law and son-in-law; the relationship between mother and young daughter; Quebec-Canada-Saudi Arabia as national political and religious entities; the rules of international diplomacy about private nationals’ matters vs national laws; and, the challenge of obtaining reliable information about abuse when the abuser is present, or when the story of abuse serves an alternate agenda like invoking government and NGO intervention.

During the period of the Quiet Revolution to the “not so Quiet” Revolution—the 1950’s to the 1970’s—Quebec moved from being a very traditional Jansenist Catholic society, to a highly secular one with very strong women’s rights, to the extent of precluding a woman from taking her husband’s name on marriage, Landmark abortion cases in Quebec courts de-criminalized abortion in Canada, and gave the woman the sole decision making capacity about it. Part of this revolutionary evolution was made in opposition to the Church, and part in opposition to the English presence in Quebec, and the English dominance in the whole of Canada and its federal government.

These tensions flare periodically in referenda on separation (the last one in 1995 narrowly defeated by <1%, largely due to the English and corporate presence in Montreal). They are now playing out in both the media coverage of the Nathalie Morin case in Quebec and in Canada, and in the political activism around the case. Mme Durocher has elicited the support of 3 Quebec opposition party Members of Canadian Parliament (MPs) from 3 different political parties—the Bloc Quebecois (BQ) the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberal Party of Canada (LP) --with the New Democrat MP Thomas Mulcair, and the separatist Bloc Québécois MP Francine Lalonde being the most vocal.
Mme Durocher has accused the Canadian government of giving priority to the Kohail brothers who are threatened with execution for their part in a fight amongst adolescents at a private school in Saudi; to the women of Afghanistan (Canada has active combat troops there since the start of the war in 2003); and to starving children in Africa, over her grandchildren being starved, beaten, and deliberately burned by their father in Saudi.
In fact, the Canadian government, and particularly the current one, hasn’t been of much help to Canadians in difficult situations overseas; and, the current Foreign Minister is being personally sued by Abousfian Abdelrazik for $3million, along with another $24million for the government itself, which participated actively in false accusations, torture, and refusing to allow him back on Canadian soil as part of a coverup. William Sampson (a dual British-Canadian citizen), Maher Arar (Syrian-Canadian) , Omar Khadr (Canadian Guantanamo detainee), and Suaad Hagi Mohamud (Somali-Canadian) are others who have found the government and its embassies unhelpful (to say the least).
Still, it seems to me that Nathalie is a lot more married than her mother would like to believe, and at least initially pursued this man. The Canadian government won’t give him a visa to immigrate to Canada (he was under threat of deportation when he first left Canada); and, her daughter is subject to Saudi law, as even a tourist in Saudi would be—a fact of which the Canadian government reminds departing Canadians at all airports, with a pamphlet explaining that when you are in any country you are subject to its laws, and the Embassy can do little against that.
None of this argues against finding a better solution for this family, and using mediators to do so. At some point, something must give, and hopefully the solution will be the best for all concerned, but especially anyone who is being victimized in any way.
Nathalie Morin and children, bruising

This may be the point at which something gives--at least for Nathalie Morin, who may find herself in Quebec without her children. After being a poster example for the reform of guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia, she may be on an even more losing end of Saudi law.

Other women, hopefully married to more normal Saudis than Said Al-Shahrani has been accused of being, should remember that Saudi law gives the husband rights over their movements, and those of the children. They should expect that they may be allowed to divorce, and may be allowed to leave the country, but that the children are considered Saudi and will remain with the father or paternal family in Saudi. This is true even where the woman's country of origin has an agreement with the Saudi government to allow the woman to leave, as is the case for Americans.

For the 2 Saudi activists, and particularly Al-Huwaider, also a strong voice for Saudi women's legal right to drive, this may be an (unfortunate) opportunity for their opponents.

Your comments, thoughts and impressions?

*Thank you to Eman Al-Nafjan of Saudiwoman's Weblog who has been tweeting about these arrests which brought it to my attention. 

Articles on the arrests:
إحالة تهريب «نتالي» الكندية لإمارة الشرقية
تورط ناشطتين حقوقيتين في خطف وتهريب كندية وأطفالها
Canoe – Infos – Faits divers: Une Québécoise prisonnière de l'Arabie Saoudite?
Nathalie Morin, ambushed by her partner with the complicity of Saudi police
Activists held over Canadian woman’s flight bid released
تصريح إعلامي من المهتمات بحقوق الإنسان : وجيهة الحويدر و فوزية العيوني Statement by Al-Hawaidar and Layouni on arrest and release. They state they were giving humanitarian aid only.

Background on the Nathalie Morin case:
Comité de soutien à Nathalie Morin, Samir, Abdullah et Sarah English language timeline here.
Que. woman seeks PM's help for daughter's safe return from Saudi Arabia
Canada Will Not Repatriate Woman in Saudi Arabia
Pas de rapatriement en vue
Husband demands $300,000 to ‘free’ Canadian wife, kids
‘I won’t take money for my children’
لست رهينة بالسعودية.. بل بقائي نابع من رغبتي للعيش مع زوجي وأبنائي
Concert held in Montreal to support Nathalie Morin
Nathalie Morin call transcript: 'I want to come back to Canada'
Images et témoignage de Nathalie Morin en Arabie Saoudite from Soutien Nathaliemorin on Vimeo. A video in French composed of images taken during the visit to Nathalie Morin's home in Saudi Arabia by her mother Johanne Durocher and her brother Dominique Morin

Newer blog site for Nathalie Morin, in French and English
Most recent entry in "Nathalie's Day Life": Monday, November 8th
Last night Saeed woke Nathalie at 3:00 am. He told her to go wash her face because they would be leaving. Nathalie went to the bathroom.
When she came out, he old her that they would be leaving in 20 minutes and to go sit in the living room for now. She sat on the couch.
There was a movie on TV: A true story. She listened to the film. The story took place in Iran. A muslim husband wanted to rid himself of his wife. So he decided to acuse her of adultery and made up a whole scenario. At the end of the movie the whole village believes the man and the woman is publicly stoned to death and dies.
When the film is over, Saeed tells Nathalie that they are not going anywhere and that she should return to bed. It was 5:00 am. Without speaking a word, Nathalie went back to bed.

Samir, Abdullah, and Sarah

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

An‑Naksah (The Setback) June 5-June 10: The 1967 Pre-Emptive Israeli War on Palestine that Reset Borders

Nir Elias/Reuters
Protesters pray close to the Syrian-Israeli border
Protesters pray close to the Syrian-Israeli border fence near the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the war and annexed the territory in 1981, a move not recognised internationally. (In Pictures: 'Naksa Day' Golan protests--Al Jazeera)

An-Naksah Day, June 5, this year was marked by Palestinian-Syrian protests at the Golan Heights cease fire line with Israel; and, by Israeli firing on unarmed protesters, who were at the barbed wire fence. 23 were killed by Israeli Forces, including a 12-year-old boy, according to the Syrians. Israel claims 10 dead, and none killed by Israelis. In its official comment, the US states that Israel has the right to defend itself. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

There was further Palestinian protest the following day, June 6, at the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus. Mourners accused the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) of inciting youth to protest in the Golan Heights, and burned their local headquarters. The PFLP accused elements outside of the camp for the violence.

Nir Elias/Reuters
An injured protester is dragged away
A wounded protester is dragged away from the Syrian-Israeli border near the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights. Israeli troops opened fire on Sunday at Palestinian protesters in Syria who rushed towards a border fence and Syrian state television said six demonstrators were killed. (In Pictures: 'Naksa Day' Golan protests--Al Jazeera)

June 7 has been marked most ominously in Syria with the government's threat to retaliate against armed groups it claims are responsible for the ambush and death of 120 members of Syrian security forces it states were on their way to defend the inhabitants of Jisr al-Shughur, at the townspeople's request. However, activists who have spoken with AP and Al Jazeera insist the protesters were inactive on June 6, and that the security forces were killed by gunmen, not those who have been trying to conduct peaceful anti-government protests. According to human rights groups, Syrian government forces have arrested 10,000 and killed 1100 since civilian protests began in March. Among the Arab Spring protests against national dictators, repression has been particularly brutal by Syria's President Bashar Assad. Only recently have international sanctions against Syria begun.

The CIA May 22, 1967 assessment of who would win an Israeli-United Arab Forces war in 1967, released April 2004.

Another aspect of June 7 and An-Naksah struck me when I read the article below. It is based on the author Sandy Tolan's research at the President Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas. He discovered that on June 7, 1967 Zakariya Mohieddin, Vice President to Gamal Abdel Nasser, the President of Egypt, was supposed to meet with the US President at Nasser's request, in an attempt to stave off an Arab-Israeli War. Of course, the meeting never took place, since Israel made a pre-emptive strike on June 5--after the US had warned it of the planned upcoming meeting on the 7th. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

The meeting that did happen: President Lyndon B Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara listen to Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, May 27, 1967.

Journalist and professor Sandy Tolan shares his research, and his interpretation of it, in the article copied below.

Gamal Abdel Nasser was publicly bellicose towards Israel but privately beseeching the US to mediate peace

June 7: The anniversary nobody remembers
A secret meeting 44 years ago today could have changed the course of Middle Eastern history. But it never happened.

Sandy Tolan Last Modified: 07 Jun 2011 09:42

In this part of the world, carrying tragic dates around in your head is kind of like breathing: you do it automatically, without thinking. This time of year, for Palestinians, June 5 marks the 44th anniversary of their occupation by Israel. June 6, in the evening, evokes the darkness when Ramallah fell, and finally people realised that the tanks rolling into town were not Iraqis sent to the aid of the local people: they belonged to the army of Israel.

June 7? That's the morning Ramallah woke up to soldiers calling through bullhorns for the people to hang something white from the windows: unambiguous signs of surrender to the occupying forces. "I couldn't find anything," remembers Rima Tarazi, now 79, a pianist and composer whose family founded Bir Zeit University in the 1920s. So she took one of her child's diapers and hung it from the balcony.

Just two days earlier, as the war broke out, Tarazi had confidently assured a worried neighbour, "Don't worry, our day of victory is at hand." Today, she laughs at the absurdity.

But buried beneath such memories of defeat and illusion for the Arabs in the Six Day War is the story of a momentous June 7 meeting that never happened. If it had, it just might have carved a different path for the Middle East.

All bark and no bite

June 7, 1967, was to be the day that the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser would dispatch his vice president, Zakariya Mohieddin, to Washington for secret meetings with US President Lyndon Johnson and members of his cabinet. The plans for this meeting are found in state department cables and other documents at the Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. From those documents, it's clear that, despite his bellicose statements for consumption by the Arab street ("We are prepared, our sons are prepared, our army is prepared, the entire Arab nation is prepared"), and despite his provocative blockade of the Straits of Tiran, the populist Nasser had been sending repeated messages to the US and the Soviet Union that he wanted to avoid war with Israel. Despite the months of build-up toward war - fuelled by the Palestinian dream to return to the homelands they lost in 1948; by the hunger in the Arab world to defeat Israel; and by Israeli citizens' hair-trigger psychology, based on a palpable mortal fear of another Holocaust - Egyptian and at least some US officials seemed to share a hope war could be avoided.

Already US officials were sceptical of Israel's claims that 100,000 Egyptian troops were poised along the border of the Sinai Peninsula. US and British intelligence agencies had concluded otherwise. The CIA, in a May 22 memorandum, declared Egyptian troop strength at 50,000 men, and characterised Nasser's Sinai forces as "defensive in character". National Security Agency chief Eugene Rostow called the Israeli estimates "highly disturbing", and the CIA concluded that they were part of a "political gambit intended to influence the US". Israel, according to this CIA assessment, wanted the United States to pressure Nasser into ending his blockade of the Straits, or alternately, for the US to send more military hardware to Israel or allow Israel to take matters into its own hands.

And so it would. Following a cabinet shake-up, Meir Amit, the Mossad [Israeli spy agency] director, embarked on a trip to Washington, where he would recall telling Defence Secretary Robert McNamara that "I, Meir Amit, am going to recommend that our government strike". According to Amit, McNamara, preoccupied with Vietnam, asked him how long a war would last. "Seven days," the Mossad director responded. US intelligence concurred with this assessment of Israel's military superiority. As US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach would recall: "The intelligence was absolutely flat on the fact that the Israelis ... could mop up the Arabs in no time at all."

Nasser, in the meantime, was sending schizophrenic signals: publicly taunting Israel, while privately telling US and Soviet envoys that he wanted to avoid war. If he did, then why all the blustering? Nasser confidant Mohamed Heikel said the president's rhetoric was meant to be a "strong warning, not a declaration of war". But if the threats were meant to be a bluff for Arab consumption, under the circumstances, with an apocalyptic atmosphere in Israel, they amounted to "unheard-of foolishness", according to former Israeli General Matti Peled.

The meeting that almost was

At 7:45am on Monday, June 5, Israel called Nasser's bluff, as French-built Israeli bombers roared out of their bases, crossed Egyptian airspace, and destroyed Egypt's entire air force on the ground, before similarly eliminating the air forces of Jordan and Syria. The Six Day War was essentially over in six hours. Soon, ordinary Israelis would be celebrating what, at the time, they considered a miracle of survival; Palestinians would come to terms with life under military rule, while slowly devising strategies to fight the occupation.

Had Israel not attacked on June 5, the June 7 meeting between LBJ and the Egyptian vice president would have remained on the White House's agenda. Could that meeting have led to a cooling of tensions - something the US and Soviet Union had repeatedly advocated for? Of course, it's impossible to say; by then it may have been too late.

But there's one telling detail I unearthed in the LBJ archive in Austin. During the preparations for Mohieddin's visit, Eugene Rostow wrote a memo suggesting that the US notify Israel of the "secret" meeting, since "my guess is that their intelligence will pick it up". And indeed the US did notify Israel of the June 7 meeting, an apparent last-ditch effort by Nasser to avoid war.

But of course Mohieddin never made it to Washington. By the time of the scheduled meeting, it was already day three of the Six-Day War. The Israelis had captured Sinai, Gaza and the West Bank, and Arab forces were beating a humiliating retreat.

And so June 7 will be remembered here in Ramallah not for the meeting that never happened, but rather as the dawn of a 44-year occupation, and the day Rima Tarazi and her neighbours were looking for anything white they could hang in their windows.

Sandy Tolan is author of The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, and associate professor at the Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication at the University of Southern California. He blogs at

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera


“One of the finest existential accounts of Palestinian displacement that we now have.”— Edward Said

Palestinian novelist Mourid Barghouti was a 4th year student at the University of Cairo, writing the final exams for his degree in literature, when An-Naksa occurred. He would be the first in his family to receive a university degree. As one of the Ramallah residents living outside of Ramallah on June 7, he was one of those prevented from returning to Palestine for lack of an Israeli ID card.

Barghouti's much-heralded memoir, I Saw Ramallah, is his reflection on his return to Ramallah after 30 years in exile. An excerpt from Chapter 1, "The Bridge", can be read on his website--here. An abridged version of Edward Said's "Introduction" is available on the same website here. Barghouti's website, and Said's "Introduction" abridged, in Arabic.

While sometimes presented as an act of generosity by the occupying Israeli Defense Forces, issuing Israeli IDs to only those present at the time of capture in 1967, simultaneously gave Israel control over West Bank Palestinians and reduced their numbers--particularly excluding the educated, the young adults, and the wealthy, that is, the likely leaders of rebellion.

Aerial view of Ramallah and al-Bira in 1967. North to the right.

Your comments, thoughts, impressions?

Israeli checkpoint at Ramallah


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