I hear you’re back from your jaunt over in Saudi Arabia. Kudos to you for making it back from that big, bad place. Somebody get this woman the gin and tonic she deserves!
First, a secret: I am so tired of frothy, pop-culture media and art about the question of veiling. It’s really reached the point where whenever I hear about a story about the “Muslim world,” I feel premonitory exhaustion at the prospect of having to respond to its same tired clichés and unnecessary dichotomies, all of which result in a nice big pat on Orientalism’s back. But I know, Maureen—you don’t care about my angst.
Did you go out of your way to collaborate with the writers of Sex and the City 2 when you wrote your August Vanity Fair piece on Saudi tourism? Titled “A Girls’ Guide to Saudi Arabia” and introduced on the magazine’s front with the absurd pun “Maureen Dowd Shakes Up the Sheikhs,” the story reeks of magic-carpet exoticism à la Carrie Bradshaw, except no one really expected sound political and intellectual commentary from a chick-flick. We expect it from you (well, I’m familiar with your work, so I don’t—but I’m sure other people do).
As Haroon Moghul and Hussein Rashid both mentioned over at Religion Dispatches, you not only believe that Saudi Arabia is the single best place to learn about Islam; you also seem to think the country and its customs should pander to your narrow sensibilities. This, perhaps, is why you spend the majority of the article whining about the abaya and what would happen to you if you just tore it off in some liberating spectacle that would make Laura Bush proud. You talk about your first visit to Saudi, and how you wore your hot-pink skirt (with fringe) in presumable defiance of cultural norms with which you plainly disagree. But here’s a sociological truth, Maureen: it’s not defiance when you do it; it’s defiance when a Saudi woman does it. When you do it, it’s just good ol’ cultural imperialism.