Excellent article in the Guardian Unlimited about England’s “shared values” with Saudi Arabia: http://politics.guardian.co.uk/foreignaffairs/story/0,,2202909,00.html
For years, starting well before Jemima Khan made modesty fashionable, our female emissaries to Saudi Arabia have gone to enormous trouble to fit in. If Mrs Thatcher never sported a kimono in Japan, or dressed up in toasty furs as a compliment to the Inuit, she always put on a long skirt for the Saudis, even if it concealed her best feature. As for our future queen, Camilla arrived in Saudi Arabia last year with a whole new wardrobe of Wahhabi-placating daywear, mainly tunicky things worn over trousers, with flowing scarves providing additional bosom-cover.
When in London, however, there is little sign of our royal Saudi visitors taking similar steps to conform. No one expected a suit, but would not the inclusion of a woman or two in King Abdullah’s 200-strong entourage have constituted a polite nod towards the British developments that have led to women’s suffrage and the right to leave the house with your ankles showing?
…From Prince Charles, with his history of woman trouble, one has come to expect this creepy respect for an absolute ruler with 30 wives. From Howells, who presumes, no doubt, to be a progressive politician, the reflexive, Foreign Office cringe is more disturbing. What if the more persecuted half of the Saudi population were black? Would he have talked about “shared values” in the days of Pik Botha? Is it because only half its population is oppressed that we share values with Saudi Arabia, but none with Burma?
My favorite line:
Of course Howells is not alone in considering the complete subjugation of Saudi women to be a kind of quirky, cultural difference, rather than an outrage.
There are also a lot of thoughtful comments posted to the article.