Germany from a Saudi Perspective

I was invited by the German Foreign Ministry to spend ten days in Berlin as part of a blogger tour initiative. I’ve never been to Germany before as a tourist, let alone a guest of the government. It was an educational experience in which I learned a lot about Germany and also the countries of the 14 other bloggers who were invited too. read more


Filed under Eman, Regional and International

32 responses to “Germany from a Saudi Perspective

  1. that is very interesting Ms. Eman.
    I was hoping u post some pics though! 🙂

    ” Unfortunately this is all hidden behind a thick curtain of extremism that might differ superficially from Nazism but has the same debauched core.”
    this is so true!
    this is what I would call the harsh reality!

  2. Waw! You have been to Germany?
    I liked your article.
    If you ever come to Holland let me know!

  3. Fascinating…I’m so glad you had this opportunity and shared it with us.

    I agree with Aafke, indeed your statement is a clear vision, sah!

  4. Great article, and I am glad you had this opportunity.

    I am not sure I understand the following sentence though:

    Unfortunately this is all hidden behind a thick curtain of extremism that might differ superficially from Nazism but has the same debauched core.

    I am very cautious about Nazi metaphors, as I think they are often misplaced, and ultimately their overuse generally tends to minimize the horror that was the Nazi regime–not the only horrendous regime of course, but a very particular one with very particular connotations.

    Under Nazism not only were certain groups (Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, indigents, mentally ill, mentally handicapped–each with their own coloured triangle to mark them in the camps) persecuted, there was a deliberate extermination plan, for after they were slave labour, or were experimented on in the most horrendous ways (including injecting women’s reproductive organs with rubber, cement, caesarians with no anesthetic, or on premature fetuses, etc).

    I appreciate that there are unusually conservative laws that disadvantage women in Saudi Arabia, but I find it hard to imagine that the regime has the same core as the Nazi one.

    I am not a literalist, and have done a lot of work on metaphor, but perhaps I have misunderstood y0ur sentence above. I hope so.

    I would think if any German analogy were apt, it would be the high level of control of East Germany, also not great for women, really (just ask any of their former Olympic swimmers), but not given to systematized extermination of societal “undesirables”.

    • I do agree that it might not be to the scale of what the Nazis did but what do you think of a country where it is legal to marry off by force a 10 year old to a fifty year old? A country where women who are abused by their guardians are forced to return to them. Where if you’re family kills you and buries you in the desert, no one would care as long as its not reported. Just the other day there was news about a drug addict who had been abusing his two sisters for 12 years and when they interviewed the sisters, they said that neither the government nor their own extended family would help them.–q-q.html

      • Of course, as I stated, there are laws (or lack of protective laws) in Saudi that reflect an extreme conservatism that disadvantages women in particular.

        Some of what you describe is also part of the traditional mentality of a significant part of the population. This needs to change as well or the laws will be circumvented, even if they are enacted.

        Whatever the failings of the Saudi government and society (and all governments and societies have failings, which is no excuse, but a universal, some worse than others), they are different than having a “round them up, exterminate them, and document it all” plan for women.

        I think Saudi would benefit more from its own transformative metaphors than vilification by analogy with Nazism. However, I appreciate that in the context in which you wrote about your experience, the metaphor seemed apt to you.

        Once again, it is a great article, and I am glad for you that you had this experience.

      • Usman

        Though it is your country and you know the best how to put the situation in words, but I think you need to reread the history of Nazism. And if nothing else, the Academy Award winning movie Schindler’s List might help.
        What you described about KSA is not much different from human rights conditions in several other third world nations. Gross it might be, but I don’t think any of them share the “debauched core” with Nazism.

      • I know what Nazism is. And I also know that other “third world countries” may have issues culturally and within society. But here in Saudi Arabia, to go to school you have to put a black rag on your face in the morning and when you leave school with not even a slit for the eyes just because you’re a girl. You are cornered into hiring a man to drive you around regardless of whether or not you can afford it. If you have a case in court, it is most likely that things will go against you especially if your opponent is a Saudi man, regardless of whether you are right or wrong. These are issues not only at the cultural level like in other countries but sanctioned by law. And that’s what I meant when I compared it to Nazism, gross discrimination that is governmentally implemented.

  5. Oops, sorry omaimanajjar I attributed your comment to Aafke.

    Aafke, sorry for putting words into your mouth, my bad!

  6. lark

    Sometimes I am frightened for women in conservative middle eastern societies that things could get out of hand and many could get killed.

    Women already get killed for dishonoring the family for (often imaginary) offenses, or die because it is unacceptable that they be seen by a male rescuer.

    I think this is reflects an imbalance and repression in society that generates hysteria, and that this hysteria could take more dangerous (and lethal) forms than it currently takes.

    There is a saying, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting sicker. I think that Saudi Arabia needs to get better in this respect, or women could be increasingly at risk.

  7. The comparison with Nazism is not so strange if you look at one of it’s basic premises:
    Choosing and singling out one group from society
    And then:
    -attributing that group with all kinds of imaginary deficiencies,
    -make this official by putting it in books,
    -having pseudo-scientists ”prove” the inferiority of the group,
    -indoctrinating children with this nonsense in schools
    -forcing this selected group into easily recognisable uniform garments
    -segregating this group from the rest of society
    -trying to restrict this group to certain areas
    -restricting the group from participating in society and the jobs they are allowed to take
    -restricting this group from public transport
    -restricting this group from transporting itself
    -restricting this group from the media
    -courts and judges are biased against this group and they have government approval
    -making sure this group has far fewer rights as the preferred group
    -facilities to which this group is restricted are markedly inferior if existing at all
    -members to the despised group can be harassed or abused without punishment by members of the preferred group
    -government officials habitually harass this group without provocation.
    -serious crimes committed against this group by the preferred group carry none or very light punishment, the victim might even be the one punished
    – there is a special government body, or vigilante group whose primary task it is to harass members of the group
    -those who protest against these discriminations are punished by the officials, regardless if they belong to this group or not. Although belonging to the group will get you heavier punishment
    -bodily punishments and death sentences are public and used to scare the people into submission
    -creating an environment where this group is hardly known by the other group (because no social interaction) thereby fascillitating the sense of ”the others” and the imaginary inferiority of this group.

    You know, until I started this list I had no idea how many similarities there actually are! In Saudi it it not taken to the ultimate extreme of locking all women up in camps, total segregation, and there is no plan to gass all women, but there really are a lot of the same tactics.
    It also made clear to me an effect of gender segregation I had not fully recognised before: The isolation of a group is very helpful if you want that group to be despised. Isolation makes it possible to stop people from being able to meet, discuss, get to know and support each other. Isolation is a key element in perpetuating myths of in-adequacy and inferiority of a group.
    And because Saudi Arabia is not totally segregating it’s chosen group in ghettos and camps they have devised another system: Members of the group are totally dependent on the compliance of the members of the preferred group for every little detail in their lives, including permission to travel.
    This also continually instills a sense of superiority in the preferred group, and inferiority in the despised group.

    And now I see you had a valid point in considering the emancipation of Saudi women as of more importance than abolishing the death penalty.

    But, you know, the plight of women really gets very little importance in the western world also. We may be more emancipated, but the cultures of the west still, sub-consciously, consider women’s issues as far inferior to men’s issues. There is still no true equality between the sexes here either.

  8. PS and I think there are better research options into Nazism as popular Hollywood movies.

  9. Aafke’s list is an excellent one, and the reason I emphasized that the Nazi analogy falls apart particularly, but not exclusively, at the extermination plan. That is the primary reason that I don’t see the core of the Nazi Regime and the KSA as being analogous. One might argue, and many academics have, that the list Aafke gives is common to repression 101 or to extreme conservatism 101.

    For various professional reasons, I have done a lot of reading of well-researched articles and books on various oppressive regimes and the consequences of their practices. So far KSA isn’t among the genocidal, but alongside others, though not among those at the level of the massive state disappearance of societal groups and those who have a (politicized) doctor’s address in their personal phone book.

    I have also treated the torture victims of various repressive regimes (mostly hispanoamerican and african), and worked alongside those who escaped and either immigrated or were offered refugee status.

    I have treated the tattooed victims of the Nazi regime, who were liberated before being sent to a gas chamber. I have listened to their children, including among my colleagues, describe the ongoing psychological trauma. Now, poor souls, these survivors are often too old and frail to be cared for at home, and are sent to live in nursing homes. One of the best, allied to a top Jewish public geriatric hospital in Canada, has noted the rise in admissions and in recurrent traumas, because the institutionalization reminds of the camps, and the camp doctors were among the tormentors. So, lights out, cafeteria line ups , and people in white coats cause flashbacks, nightmares, and delusional content of being back in an extermination camp. There is a lot of work being done to revise the facilities routines and spread their research and clinical results to other facilities.

    That is also part of why I found the analogy jarring. There are probably better ones, but ones that don’t resonate with an article on Germany as well.

    My point was not meant to detract from your article or your experience but only to hope that neither KSA nor feminist activism there goes that particular analogy route.

  10. stefania

    “But, you know, the plight of women really gets very little importance in the western world also. We may be more emancipated, but the cultures of the west still, sub-consciously, consider women’s issues as far inferior to men’s issues. There is still no true equality between the sexes here either.”

    Aafke, I TOTALLY agree with you! I found all your comment great!

  11. Wendy

    As much as I don’t like the inequality and restrictions of KSA there is simply no comparison to the horror of Nazi Germany. The rise of the neo-nazi is another frightening thing.
    With all that happened to the Jews during this nightmare time I can only shake my head in sorrow and wonder how Israel can do what they are doing now. It is all beyond my comprehension.

  12. nodders

    When I read the (beautifully presented) original article I found the Nazi analogy strange but not irritating. Then I read Chiara’s comment and had some serious thought about why I found it “strange” but not “jarring” as she did, and pondered on the very good points she makes.

    I came to a conclusion that there is a bit of a cultural context for my sentiments. In the Western world, of which I am part, we are accustomed to treat the Nazi regime like ultimate evil, a horror so very special, that takes special precedence in the very definition of human evil. Very seldom is it even compared to other genocides (Armenians, Cambodia, Uganda, Bosnia etc etc) and definitely never accosted to repressive regimes/dictatorships often witnessed by human kind (like the dictatorships in Chile or Argentina, or the present day repression in Gaza etc).

    This might be down to several motives, good or bad: Hollywood movies, Jewish propaganda, the fact that it happened in Europe the birthplace of the Western world, its particularly cold-minded and effective methods, the sheer scale of the horror, the wealth of documents and research, the Nuremberg trials, the testimony of survivors. I don’t have the expertise to know for sure why, but undoubtedly in Western culture the Shoa is treated differently.

    Clearly Saudiwoman looks at it from a different prospective: a repressive regime that segregated a part of its people with the scope of controlling and later exterminating it. Apart from the killing, everything else more or less matches the conditions of women in KSA (brilliant post Aafke!).

    One might or not agree with her prospective, but undoubtedly is nothing that it doesn’t claim to be, it’s simply “Germany from a Saudi Perspective”.
    Her point of view, even if strange/irritating/or even wrong, has helped me question where mine comes from and whether there is bias in the way I look at this issue in particular.

  13. Njabo

    Hi everyone,
    it is very interesting for me, a German from Berlin, to read your comments on saudiwoman´s post. Her post focused on the positive change of the German society from a repressive regime to a – more or less – democratic, open and human rights defending society.
    However, your comments are discussing the relation/difference between Nazi Germany and todays Saudis reality. That´s fair enough and also a helpful discussion. I just would like to come back to saudiwomans message in her post. That is (as far as I understood): any nation can change for the better and she came back home with new hope for her own society.
    Your post saudiwoman, really touched me. It shows me your strength and your ability to have a vision. People like you, with your enthusiasm, endurance and ability to bring people to think, is what a society needs to change. Thank you so much for that!
    Furthermore, as a German your are often confronted with the horrible past of our nation, that is good and very important. But saudiwoman also showed that Germany is more than the ultimative example of “absolute evil”. Germany nowadays is far away from a perfect society, but today a good place to live in and with. I really appreciate your differentiated view.

  14. Nice article, interesting discussion, good comments …hey, next time your in Germany please notify us before. I think at least Njabo and I would be very interested in meeting you 🙂

    Thilo (also from Berlin)

  15. I have friends who survived the Nazi camps. Obviously they are old people, but one thing we talked about is how some news of the death camps did trickle through to the people in The Netherlands, and people just didn’t believe it. My friends family was Jewish, and they had a fugitive staying with them for a few days on his way to England, and he told them about the death camps. But they didn’t believe it. They could not believe how a civilized people like the Germans could even think of doing such things.

    My point is that people are wrong to think only of what we know now of the Nazis and what they did. Say the word Nazi and the first image in your head is of the death camps.

    But that is not how it started straight away. People forget that it ended with death camps, but it started much earlier, with restrictions, with isolation of the group the Jews, with making them recognisable on the streets, with keeping them out of society and schools and certain professions.

    This is how it starts.
    People tend to forget that you should remember how it starts. If you wait until the death camps have been built you are way too late. If you were ever to hear of them at all. It is very shortsighted to so easily dismiss the very dangerous first signs.

    I still think Saudi woman has every right to compare some of the Nazi tactics to the tactics of the responsible group in Saudi Arabia if she thinks they are compatible.
    And she should know: she is living it daily.
    I think people who are not female and/or do not live in KSA have no right to consider themselves better informed.

    I think it shows limited thinking to dismiss the signs of a similar ideology because it is not yet fully fledged, or because it is unlikely to result in the ultimate destruction. (Half way is evil enough for me.) And on the contrary, they should be ringing a great big warning bell.

  16. As I stated above, I was not wishing to denigrate Saudiwoman’s article, but only to understand better how she was using the analogy of KSA and Nazi Germany sharing a core, despite more superficial differences.

    I came to my understanding of the Holocaust first from a non-Western perspective, in total agreement with Frantz Fanon that genocides happen in the non-Western world, some perpetrated by colonizing Europeans, without much concern on the part of the West. He pointed out that a major part of the impact of the Holocaust was because for the 1st time in recent history this was a European phenomenon against others living in their midst, and who had been Europeanized. From his African perspective it was a White-on-White genocide that made it more worthy of attention in the eyes of the Whites.

    As a Christian married to a Muslim working in a highly Jewish environment (medicine and psychiatry) I am well aware of the privileged position of the Holocaust in Western media and cultural productions–especially so in the USA. I am also well aware that Jews themselves (at least my friends and colleagues) believe it was a unique persecution, except in line with other persecutions against them, and don’t appreciate others having an opinion on the topic.

    However, in many ways it wasn’t which is why there are now departments of genocide studies, the Armenians make their claims, Rwanda is a major topic etc.

    The potential option of extermination was there from the beginning though escalated towards the end. Nazism was categorically different than other forms of repression in Latin American dictatorships for example while having similar aspects to all extreme repressions.

    Although I am well aware of other aspects of Nazism besides the extermination camps, I don’t see the analogy as holding, specifically because of them. As some one pointed out there are unintended (I assume) consequences of raising that analogy as a plank on which to fight for women’s rights in KSA, which is how I saw Saudiwoman using it. Unless the current head of state of KSA envisages rounding up and deporting all Saudi women to other countries, and when that meets with resistance killing them, then I think it is an exaggerated metaphor. The fight for women’s rights in KSA would be better served by a less loaded one.

    That is only my opinion of course, and if I didn’t value Saudiwoman’s post and appreciate her activisim, I wouldn’t have bothered raising it. Easier to spend my time doing something else, and let her go down a metaphoric path she might wish to reconsider.

    I still hold that impression despite agreeing with Njabo that Germany serves as an excellent example of dealing with one’s collective past and creating a new future. So does Japan for that matter; or Spain; or South Africa; or a number of others.

    Again, my comments are not intended to take anything away from the quality of her article. On the contrary.

  17. Arpad

    I second Chiara’s reservations, mainly because the roots of oppression are very different. The Germans reckoned they’d be better off without the Jews (and they were partly proved wrong with the American A-bomb, developed with many Jewish scientists on the team), while the Saudi certainly don’t wish to exterminate their women. I’ve contemplated this a lot since we met and all I could think of is the following.
    The system is based on an extreme lack of self-confidence on behalf of Saudi men. When one’s wife goes out to have a party in town, or spends an afternoon shopping or whatever, it is not normally our first idea that she’s about to cheat on us. If the relationship is working well, there is no need to think so. And there is no need to maintain an elaborate system of captivity to block any communication with other men.

    It is also called trust.

    • Hi Arpad!
      Yes like I’ve said before I see everybody’s point in thinking that the analogy is extreme but I chose it for three reasons:
      1- Nazism and Saudi extreme discrimination against women are both practiced at the government level.
      2- It’s an ugly part of German history that they were able to overcome and that’s my aspiration for my country.
      3- I wrote that right after I arrived here and I always tend to be a little passionate the first couple of days.

      • Usman

        There are a number of countries who practice discrimination against women and religious minorities on government level. Come South Asia…, and I will show you. You could also have chosen the oppression in East Germany as an example.
        Judging by your third point, I think you were overwhelmed by your visit in first couple of days and went on to make an analogy which is highly exaggerated. How you will counter those typical Saudi-bashers who will make every effort to portray KSA and Saudis as Evil by using your own words?
        Come a few weeks…and your words are going to haunt you.

  18. Arpad

    The GDR (East Germany) is again very different, and an understatement when talking about women’s rights. Socialism, even the harshest variations of it, never declared women to be inferior. Actually, it failed to recognize even the physical differences: some early Stalinist regimes had government-approved movements of “female tractorists”, that is, tractor drivers. Until they found that heavy vibration effectively destroys genital organs in women, most of all the womb and ovary.
    So the KSA practice has little to do with Socialism. On the other hand, traditional male chauvinism certainly existed on the Soviet bloc and women rarely got to the top level of administration.

  19. Malika

    Wow your article really touched me Eman…..I even got tears in my eyes….As a woman forced to wear an Abaya and give 20% of my salary to my driver even though I have a driving license I can truly understand you and am everyday struggling with life like you and millions of other women do….Its obvious Eman that you could extract the very fundamental core of the bloggertour not only that but you were also able to put it in words….congratulations for this truly amazing article….People like you build bridges between different cultures and people like you can cause things to change in Saudi-Arabia….
    Keep it up!

  20. Great Post! I was just watching a documentary on Germany yesterday with my husband, love how their Reichstag building has a dome that is symbolized as a hat, where the citizens of the country are walking on the top of the hat, while parliament is in session. Symbolically showing how democracy is in action. I hope to go there in person enshallah. I hope you took some pictures to share 🙂

  21. NN

    Interesting article, SW. However, I’d love to have you comment more on your statement that Saudi Arabia is a birthplace of “Arabic language and literature.” Really? Seriously? There was no Arabic language outside of Saudi?

    Literature? What literary giants has Saudia produced in the last, oh, three hundred years? Famous publishing houses? World-reknown libraries? Learning and thought centers for aspiring poets? Writers’ societies?

  22. Pingback: Origins of Saudi-American Relations « Mohammed Abbasi

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