Nazia Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: On Nazia Quazi and the Media

Despite her story being told in a series of media alerts posted a few weeks ago on Racialicious, Katha Politt’s blog at The Nation, and here at MMW, Nazia Quazi’s problem is not making the headlines it should. Dual Indian-Canadian citizen Quazi has been held in Saudi Arabia for the past two years due to her male guardian’s (in this case, her father) refusal to allow her to leave the country.

There are many versions to Quazi’s story—some including a side trip to Dubai, some including a man, some including her father falsifying her visa. The short version is that Quazi went to Saudi Arabia in 2007 at her father’s request for what was originally intended to be a three-month stay. She has been trying to leave ever since, despite having both her passports and all forms of identification confiscated by her father.

In the traditional press, ink has been spilled repeatedly on the story of another Canadian, Nathalie Morin, held in Saudi Arabia by her husband with her bi-national sons. Morin’s case is different in that she, at least initially, chose to live in Saudi Arabia with her citizen husband and children, who have dual citizenship. Quazi is not a Saudi citizen and is being held there by deceit, a shady visa, and definitely not of her choosing.

But Quazi’s story is seeing much less publicity. Why so much coverage for Morin? Is it because her family has mobilized for her, while Quazi’s family are the perpetrators? While Morin’s story is no less painful and tragic, hers involves a Saudi spouse and several bi-national children. Legally, the Canadian government is averse to get involved in Morin’s case because of the dual-citizen children involved.

In the case of Quazi, neither she nor her father is a Saudi citizen. Why is Saudi Arabia obstinately holding on to someone who isn’t even a subject? Why can’t the Canadian government step up?

What is being ignored in this case are Quazi’s feelings, wishes, and basic human rights in favor of the wishes of her father. We’re dealing with a situation where a man has power over an adult woman who is a citizen of a free country.  This is, as one blog commentor noted, a case of “sexual apartheid.” What scares me just as much as Quazi being blocked in Saudi Arabia is the poor treatment she is likely to have received or is still receiving.  The Human Rights Watch report about her case notes a history of parental abuse, which is ongoing. Her psychological and physical welfare is at stake, and the situation becomes more dangerous with each passing day.

Many of the news outlets who have chosen to write about Quazi note that her father used deception to change her visa and make it necessary for a mahram’s (male guardian) approval to travel. But what type of visa she had is moot—the bottom line is that Quazi cannot leave Saudi Arabia and her health and well-being are threatened.

Another reason the media may not be picking up on Quazi’s story is that hers isn’t the one of the poor white woman corrupted by the vile brown Muslim male.  Hers isn’t the sexy Not Without My Daughter type of case—in fact, some news sources have all but alluded to how Quazi’s case is a “Muslim-on-Muslim” problem (Politt’s article mentions the Canadian embassy’s reluctance to get involved due to it being a “Muslim family dispute”).

In other words, because Quazi comes from a Muslim family, her father’s behavior is somehow to be expected, and all we should do is shake our heads sadly at the poor girl who should have “known better” than going to Saudi Arabia, given what happens to women “over there.” The fact that her father is part of the problem aside, Quazi’s case begs the question of race and religion: is the fact that Nazia Quazi is a brown Muslim female working against her? Can Quazi get the type of press coverage, a documentary on TV5, and a concert in Montreal, like Nathalie Morin?

Pressure must be put on Saudi Arabia and Canada: by writing about it, blogging about it, and keeping her name out there. Saudi Arabia must rethink its guardianship laws in light of Quazi’s situation, and the Canadian and Indian governments must be as vocal as possible about her rights.

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