Editor’s note: When Azra forwarded us this article, everyone had something to say. Below are thoughts from several MMW contributors.
Azra: I saw this post from The Atlantic come up in my twitter feed, and was intrigued. And then I saw the video and read Max Fisher’s thoughts. My intrigue turned to disappointment.
[See the bottom of this post for a transcript of the video.]
Amnesty UK’s video paints the entire country in one broad stroke, with a vaguely Middle Eastern man (complete with accent) instructs a silent, voiceless Saudi Arabian woman of the finer points of Saudi patriarchy. The insinuation here is clear: Saudi Arabian men are boorish, repressive, and domineering to voiceless, submissive Saudi women. There is little accountability for the role the Saudi government and law plays in how Saudi women are treated. Fisher proclaims the film is “at points surprisingly entertaining,” “disconcertingly funny,” and: “highlights both the violence implicit in the Saudi patriarchal system and the suffocating control that men there have over women.” Touche.
What made this video all the more disappointing was reading that Amnesty hopes the video will serve as an educational aid of sorts to those unfamiliar with human rights (and, of course, Amnesty’s work in this domain). It serves as an important reminder that the submissive Arab/Muslim woman and domineering Arab/Muslim man theme is still alive and kicking, unfortunately, at an international human rights organization.
Lara: I’ve seen some excruciating things done in the name of “raising awareness”, but this not only takes the biscuit, it’s slumped in the corner scoffing packets of hobnobs, burbons and chocolate digestives. However, the teeth grinding this video inspires is worse for your teeth then any biscuit.
Eren: First of all I must say that I and my family have always supported Amnesty’s work. We make donations regularly because we believe that this organization has made a difference in terms of human rights advocacy in Latin America that is where we come from.
Looking at this video was a huge disappointment for me. Some of the things I liked about Amnesty were that they made an effort to understand local contexts, they tried to avoid the stereotypes and they advocated for human rights at the local level while being mindful of cultural and religious differences. This video, which unsuccessfully attempts to use black humour, does nothing to advocate for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
Diana: While I do like this a little better than say, videos of Saudi women being bludgeoned to death by stoning or the trite depictions of seas of burka donned women, this Amnesty UK video has its problems too.
The video carries with it, besides its overarching message, a kind-of satirical racism, as exemplified by the narrator’s shirtless displays of might juxtaposed against pictures of an endless desert or a series of pyramids.
In viewing the video a second time, I realized there was more subtle racism to be had in the video’s background images. For example in the beginning of the video when the narrating character speaks of women, images of white swans appear on the left of the screen. A few seconds later, when the narrating character speaks of men [Arab/Saudi men] a picture of a macaque appears on the right of the screen. Is there a comparison being drawn between Arab men and primates here?
Krista: And the lion noises. Don’t forget the lion noises.
Diana: I think the real question here is does this video actually do much for viewers beyond giving them a brief chuckle?