Friday, July 26, 2002

American Women and Marriage to Saudi nationals

More on the Saudi thing:

I am still awaiting the daily media outrage over the American citizens, mostly children of American women formerly married to Saudi men, being held captive in Saudi Arabia. If you ladies out there would like to know what it might be like to share your destiny with one of these fellows, you can read about it in a document that used to occupy space on the State Department's website. The original link was from The Corner at NRO via Anne Wilson, whose blog is now extinct. The document was removed from State's website in the wake of complaints from the American Muslim Council, allowing the fogheads down there one more opportunity to put their cowardice on display. But you can still find it here. I can't emphasize enough what essential reading this is for everyone, not just American women who have thrown in their romantic lot with a charming Middle Eastern or Muslim man. Some of these men come to stay. They came because they wanted to be Americans. These guys are (probably) different, although you might want to ask if they draw a moral equivalence between the tactics of Palestinian suicide bombers and the Israeli Defense Force. Then there is the man who says he will marry you but that eventually he must return to his country. This is the fellow you think you know but you don't. If you imagine that you will return with him to live the life of Queen Noor of Jordan, you are very mistaken.

Some highlights from State's document: The foreign service estimates “that approximately 500 American women reside in the Kingdom with their Saudi husbands.” Our Embassy currently monitors “approximately 40 child custody cases and instances of extreme marital discord and abuse." Some American women are "lucky" in that they marry a well-off westernized Saudi who at home has servants and villas, permits his wife to appear before men to whom she is not related, might allow her to seek employment (job opportunities are rather limited), and might not require her to veil fully. These women are the minority. Most marry what are called "westernized Muslim traditionalists", an oxymoron if I ever heard one. These fellows are not Princes, not well-off. Such a man is part of the "vast majority" who introduces his wife to a whole bunch of extended family members who hang together virtually all of the time, speak little or no English, and greet this non-Arabic speaking, non-veiled, non-Muslim American woman with varying and alternating degrees of warmth and hostility. The oppressive looks cast her way by family and stranger alike will eventually force her to veil. Under a similar pressure, some will convert to Islam, a conversion usually lacking in sincerity. She will never travel by car unless her husband or a male relative is driving; she will never work or appear in public before men unrelated to her husband. For a while, she will be totally isolated from the greater Western community that lives and works in the Kingdom. Later, she might become part of a network of American women married to Saudis, but how such a network forms is not clear from the document. She will travel nowhere in the Kingdom by plane or train without the permission of her husband and the company of a male relative. She will socialize within the family. One "tolerably married American wife is not permitted to step out on the apartment porch since the risk is too great that an unrelated male would be able to see her." She might never meet any of her husband's close friends and, indeed, it is forbidden that such a friend “even inquire about her health”. Saudi men spend a lot of time together, "separate from wives and family," making her life sort of the nightmare version of a golf widow. An interesting passage says that

Shame is brought upon the entire family for the acts of an American citizen wife who does not dress modestly (e.g., cover) in public, who is not Muslim, who associates with men other than her extended relatives. Silent disapprobation from family and friends is matched by virulent public disapproval by the Kingdom's religious proctors (Mutawwaiin) and vigilante enforcers of the faith. Several American wives, fearing the latest round of religious harassment, have started fully veiling; not to do so, they discovered, meant public squabbles with the Mutawwaiin who vociferously oppose dual-national marriages.

If she has a daughter, the child will be decked out in "miniature prom dresses" and spoiled rotten; in fact it is the mother who is likely to be scolded if she attempts to discipline too sharply. In time, the daughter will “look forward to the day when… she can don the abaya and cover her hair." She will grow in reverence to her faith and in deference to her culture. Her English skills will atrophy. She is unlikely to travel to the States to study, as might her brother, and certainly not without her father's permission and a family member as chaperone. The lavish attention and hope for the future that an American mother bestows upon her daughter will be to no avail and rarely permitted. Most all things American will have disappeared from the mother's life, and nothing will bring this home to her more powerfully and tragically than should her husband decide to take another, second, wife. He is entitled to four if he has the financial ability “to accord them equal status.” Apparently this practice is rare "among the younger generation." But one American woman found out "that her Saudi husband had married her best friend, also an American, while he was on vacation in the U.S." (I know, sounds like there's a story behind that one: how does her best friend not know that she is married to the guy?). If things don't work out, the American wife can be "summarily divorced, deported, and denied any Light of visitation with her dual national children." She can't come back without the permission of her husband and, in such event, the visitation will lack any note of privacy, transpiring only in the swarming presence of the extended family if not of the husband himself. During the custody dispute in a Sharia court, she will find that her word is worth only half of a man's, and that in any case the court's only concern is that the children be raised good Muslims, a matter upon which the woman will never be trusted even if she has converted to Islam. The upshot: our Embassy has "no knowledge of an American or western woman ever winning custody of dual national children in a Sharia court."

This offers merely a fragment of the rich detail contained in the State Department document. Aside from the typographical errors which seem to infest internet publications, it is remarkably well written for a bureaucratic exercise, and its author(s) manage to convey a sincere concern for the well-being of American women who might consider taking up life in the desert. Please seek it out.

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