Call Me Mahatma

10.30.134:45 AM ET

Abdullah, Let Your Women Drive

How I became the unlikely “spiritual father” of the Saudi women’s driving moment. By David Keyes.

Days ago, The New York Times reported that hackers took down the website of the Saudi women’s driving campaign and posted a video “in which a man identified as a Zionist calls for women to drive—implying that Saudi’s enemies see this as a way to weaken the kingdom.”

I am the man in that video. My plea in Arabic to support a woman's right to drive runs a little over a minute and now has over half a million views (English translation here). Some of Saudi Arabia’s most famous religious scholars have posted on Twitter that I am the “spiritual father” of the women’s driving movement. In response, thousands of Saudis have called for me to be killed, burn in hell and “eat shit.”

A small sample of the comments: “F**k you for all Jews Dirtiest people in the world,” Saud Hathban wrote. “You and f**king Zion f**ing Israel we well kill u all,” Adel Naser added. “O Muslim, O slave of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. That’s what the rock said. Our time with you is coming closer every morning. Wait for us, you son of a Jew,” Ismail Alsadlan commented. “Peace would only come by behading you and every zionist like you,” another wrote. “F**k your sister and the sister of anyone who is with you, you Jew, dog, pig” wrote Mahmoud Ali. “A descendent of apes and pigs wants to teach us about our life affairs,” yet another reads. “I say to this filthy Jew, where is his state? If Hitler was a Muslim, we would say God have mercy on his soul. He oiled tanks with [the Jews], enslaved their women and fed them hay,” another opined. “You filthy Jew,” another wrote. “God curse you and your nation.” “My greetings to Hitler” yet another commented.

Ironically, I read these comments on my way back from the Treblinka concentration camp where 800,000 Jews were murdered by people with the same views.

So how does a Jewish man living in Manhattan become the “spiritual father” of movement of people whose gender, religion and nationality he does not share? Your guess is as good as mine.

Since my first days in human rights, I have focused my time and efforts on dictatorships. Open societies such as America, Israel and Europe certainly have human rights challenges, but they also have mechanism to correct oversteps. Freedom of speech and press, free and fair elections and an independent judiciary help ensure that problems are addressed.

Tyrannies like Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, have none of that. A single family has ruled the kingdom since its founding in 1932. There is no free speech. Bloggers are thrown in prison for a word or two criticizing religion or the political leadership. Women are banned from traveling without a man’s permission. It particularly baffled and infuriated me that women could not even get behind the wheel of a car. And so I wrote articles, held protests, pulled out a whip on MSNBC, confronted diplomats and launched the First Annual Saudi Women’s Grand Prix.

While I’m flattered to be called the “spiritual father” of this movement, it is an absurd charge. The movement to allow women to drive is led by Saudi women themselves and is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It has support from all four corners of the globe.

I simply hoped to encourage people to stand in solidarity with a woman’s right to drive, so that those who were brave enough to confront tyranny and repression knew they were not alone. The enemies of women’s rights are trying to divert attention to me, as if my views on a 1948 border dispute thousands of miles away is relevant to a woman's right to get behind the wheel.

The best antidote to the racism my video provoked is for more people--of every race, color, creed, gender and nationality—to stand in solidarity with a woman's right to drive. No one should stay silent in the face of such repression.

In short, the Middle East could use a whole lot less KKK and a whole lot more MLK. People should be judged not on the color of their skin (or passport) but on the content of their character.

No one should be denied the right to drive. That remains true whether the person saying it is a Zionist, vegan, Islamist, Martian, Mormon or Belieber.


David Keyes is the executive director of Advancing Human Rights.