A test for US allies: How they treat women

Pakistan's treatment of women shows why they should be considered US allies in the war on terror, unlike Saudi Arabia.

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To win the war on terror, the US needs allies it can trust. Some countries deserve to be considered friends of the US, and some don't. A US ally should share the ideals of liberty and justice – or at least be moving toward the adoption of these values. And it is especially critical for America to know which countries it can depend on in the Muslim world.

The US considers both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to be allies in the terror war. But only Pakistan is worthy of this status. A simple look at how each nation treats women reveals why.

There has been much talk about the recent steps Pakistan has taken to ensure that rape victims are able to properly seek justice. According to the former law in Pakistan, a rape victim was obligated to present four male witnesses to corroborate her story. Failure to do so could possibly lead to the victim's execution on charges of adultery. But a change to this law, enacted Dec. 1, was pushed hard by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who has struggled to subdue Islamic extremist movements throughout his country.

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There have been times when some have questioned Mr. Musharraf's commitment to the war on terror and ending Islamic extremism as a whole, but this step toward equal rights suggests that Pakistan is on a progressive path.

Unfortunately, these accolades cannot be extended to Saudi Arabia. In mid-November, a Saudi woman who was gang raped by seven men was sentenced to 90 lashes for her participation in "adulterous relations." More telling of Saudi Arabia's justice system is the fact that, as of now, her sentence is harsher than those of some of her attackers. Although the Saudi government is aware of the case, it has made no attempts to intervene.

In fact, the Saudi monarchy's position on rape is much more troubling than its mere act of turning a blind eye to this case.

In June, Colorado resident Homaidan al-Turki was found guilty of sexually abusing an Indonesian maid and holding her as a virtual slave in his home. He was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison, pending an appeal. Soon after the sentencing, the attorney general of Colorado, John Suthers, was flown to Saudi Arabia at the behest of Saudi King Abdullah and with the compliance of the State Department. While in Saudi Arabia, high ranking officials, including the king, questioned Mr. Suthers about whether Mr. Turki – who is from a prominent Saudi family – had been treated fairly. The officials suspected an anti-Muslim bias against Turki.

The Turki case demonstrates that Saudi Arabia doesn't just willfully ignore rape; it seems to tacitly endorse it. To be sure, most Muslims do not believe that rape and slavery are authentic aspects of civilized Islamic culture. That the Saudi government would discount such offenses should insult devout Muslims – and the US.

It is outrageous that the State Department felt it necessary to send the attorney general of Colorado to explain the simple fact that, in the US, when one person rapes another, the assailant goes to prison. It is a bad sign for American democracy when the US government officially allows an absolute monarch to question a US court decision.

On the one hand, there is Pakistan's government, which is dealing with the threat of a popular uprising staged by the country's many extremist militias. Yet in spite of this, the government has had the courage to rebuke Islamic extremism and institute critical reforms dealing with the rights of women.

On the other hand, there is the stable Saudi monarchy, which has faced no serious threat of an extremist uprising in many years. The only entity preventing the emergence of women's rights in Saudi Arabia is the Saudi monarchy itself.

Year after year, the Saudi government has promised to enact reforms to elevate the status of women, but year after year, the State Department reports that the kingdom has made little, if any, progress.

Simply put, Saudi Arabia has not reformed because it does not want to make reforms.

It must be understood that today's war is on two fronts: The first is a battle against terrorism, and the second is a battle against ideology.

Fanatical ideology drives Muslim terrorists – not the other way around. Saudi Arabia's abhorrent position on the rape of women, and women's rights in general, are indicators of the country's general ideology. Until the Saudi monarchy changes its stance on these issues, the US has no good reason to consider Saudi Arabia a true ally.

Matthew Mainen is a policy analyst at the Institute for Gulf Affairs.

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