Saudi Woman Sentenced to Lashes for Driving

A Saudi woman will be whipped for driving. David Keyes says it's still a gender-apartheid dictatorship.

Amena Bakr, Reuters / Landov

Only Saudi Arabia could be praised globally for improvements in human rights the same week that it beheads a man for sorcery, announces the whipping of a woman for driving, and detains two other female drivers. That’s how low the bar is in Saudi Arabia. It is as if the world is congratulating a man for enslaving only 10 women in his basement this week because last week he enslaved 11. Progress.

There is a joke: What did the snail say when he went for a ride on the turtle’s back? Answer: Woo-hooooooo! Women in Saudi Arabia have been marginalized for so long that the right to vote in municipal elections is deliriously exciting, like the feeling a snail might get from riding on a turtle’s back. Never mind that the vote will be in 2015 at the earliest and it will be for half a municipal body with almost no power.

Deep down, everyone knows that the fight for human rights in Saudi Arabia has just begun. All one has to do is imagine the campaign of a Saudi woman running for municipal council. When she wants to cast her ballot, a man will have to drive her there. If she sits with her campaign manager alone and he’s not a relative, she’ll be whipped. If she wants to travel abroad to raise funds, a man will have to grant her permission. If she wants to criticize the king, she’ll likely be arrested. And so on.

Today’s announcement by Saudi authorities that a woman named Sheima Jastaniah will be whipped for driving reminds us that the desert kingdom remains a draconian, theocratic, gender-apartheid dictatorship. For anyone wondering what a whip actually looks like, I pulled one out live on MSNBC yesterday.

Jastaniah’s lashing will be done by a jallad, a flogger or executioner in Arabic. It will likely be done on Friday, perhaps in public. Shema’s hands will be bound, and the flogger will use an asa, or stick make of bamboo, typically about a yard long and half an inch in diameter. A leather handle will help him strike her with maximum force. Her skin will be torn off. That will teach her not to drive again. Before the whipping, Shema’s sentence will be read aloud by a member of the Interior Ministry.

There is no need for King Abdullah to wait until 2015 to stop the whipping of women for driving. He can do that today. He should have done it yesterday. It should never have existed at all.

The snail must be taken off the turtle’s back and put squarely atop a red-hot Ferrari.