By Faisal J. Abbas
27 July 2017
A video showing a bunch of youngsters harassing a female pedestrian in Riyadh recently went viral. However, what is alarming is not this anti-social behaviour itself — as such foul actions exist in all societies — but rather the unfortunate way some social media users in Saudi Arabia reacted to the incident.
While some defended the woman, who was merely walking with a friend through Al-Nassim district in the Saudi capital, others blamed her for the incident, claiming she brought the harassment upon herself because she went out in public wearing a T-shirt without the traditional black garment (Abaya) on top of it.
Such despicable beliefs are the epitome of the ancient Arab saying: “When an excuse is uglier than the sin.” Abuse, harassment and rape — in any way, shape or form — should always be blamed on the villain, not the victim.
Of course, nobody is advocating that nudity should be allowed in public places. However, it is equally and simply wrong to say that a person becomes fair game to others if he or she breaks the law or disrespects cultural norms — this is not a jungle!
It is also simply idiotic to think that modest clothing will stop a sick-minded person from harassing someone. Records and media reports in Saudi Arabia are full of incidents in which women who were veiled from top to toe have complained about being targeted in the past.
In other words, neither a Burqa nor a bikini — nor wearing anything in between — should be grounds to justify physical or verbal abuse against a woman. If we allow ourselves to accept such sick arguments, we would only be encouraging rapists to harm our mothers, sisters and daughters.
Furthermore, last week’s incident of the “miniskirt” model — who was released without charges after being held briefly by the police after a video surfaced of her walking without an Abaya in a Saudi heritage site — should send a clear signal to everyone that we are dealing with a rapidly changing Kingdom.
Yet at the end of the day, this is a country like any other, and there will always be the good, the bad and the ugly. As such, as we enjoy more freedoms under the ambitious Vision 2030 plan, there are bound to be those who abuse them.
In less than two years, the Kingdom went from banning music and mixed gatherings to having live public concerts and events, attended by both genders, under the patronage of the government.
This is undoubtedly huge and praiseworthy, especially that all these changes have so far been nearly flawless. This is particularly important given that it has been a year since the powers of the Saudi religious police were curbed; their role is now only advisory and they are no longer allowed to pursue arrest or interrogate anyone.
Advocates for the religious police warned this would cause chaos, but the majority of Saudis have proven that they are as responsible, respectable and reasonable as any other society in the world.
Just because there are a few “chavs” among us — such as those who harassed that innocent woman in the aforementioned video — that does not mean the rest of us should not be allowed to enjoy the freedoms that we all long for and deserve.
Furthermore, like most other countries, there should be ongoing education for women on how to deal with anti-social behaviour, particularly given that the laws provide much protection for them already.
• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News.