Ed West

Should Saudi men be allowed to drive?

Should Saudi men be allowed to drive?
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It’s important that newspapers make themselves sounding boards for unpopular opinions, especially in an age when identity is sacred and people are judged by having the right views rather than the right behaviour.

But we still reserve the right to mock if they are badly argued, such as this Guardian piece arguing that since most Saudi women oppose lifting the driving ban, we should not be campaigning for it. It concludes:

‘People in Saudi Arabia have their own moral views and needs. What works in other societies may not fit in Saudi, and the reverse. In short, instead of launching campaigns to change the driving laws in the kingdom, the west should first ask Saudi women if they really want this or not, and western countries should accept the result, even if it's not to their liking.’ 

That whole ‘it’s their culture’ argument may have been just about passable on campus in 1993, but today it’s wearing a bit thin, surely? Whether Saudi women in a questionnaire express their wish for freedom is beside the point; lots of people don’t want freedom – it’s human nature – but by denying their own rights they deny the rights of others too, and that’s what matters.

And not just other Saudi women, but the wider world too. As Michael Hanlon wrote in this magazine last week, there is a growing global morality gap, and I would argue that this growing divergence between the decadent and barbaric world is linked, the one helping to fuel the other in reaction, while making the west incapable of asserting itself.

Saudi Arabia is the number one force for re-barbarism on earth, in Pakistan, Indonesia, and across the West, where oil money spreads their hugely intolerant strain of Islam. The more we appease their culture, and those of the other Gulf States, the more we strengthen these reactionary forces.

Why is it our business? Taking aside the moral imperative to protect Saudi women, and the pragmatic argument that a less repressive Saudi Arabia will be a more friendly country to us, globalisation is based on reciprocity. Since British women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia, why should Saudi men be able to drive here? Why should they enjoy the benefits of western liberalism without the compromise and tolerance that goes with it? If decadent western countries all acted on this, as with other horrors in that part of the world, they would change. It doesn’t happen, chiefly because we’re enthralled to Saudi money, terrified of their religion, and crippled by uncertainty.

There’s nothing wrong with the Guardian posting a piece arguing that women shouldn’t be allowed to drive, in opposition to all its core principles; it’s a sounding board for debate, but it should be well-argued. Instead this piece only illustrates the intellectually-sapping effect of moral relativism, in which self-affirmation (‘I appreciate all cultures’) trumps reason and logic.

It’s not like women should be barred because it would spoil the gold standard of excellence that is Arab driving; Saudi has an appalling road death rate, twice that of neighbouring United Arab Emirates, which has an awful record itself, and ten times that of Britain. The real question is whether Saudi men should be allowed to drive.