Bryan Fischer should really get together with Debbie Schlussel to form the world’s greatest Sharia plot detection team. I mean, you can’t fool those two. No matter how cleverly you hide that secret plot to impose Sharia law on the world, they’ll sniff it out. I mean, you’d think that having the first female athlete ever from Saudi Arabia in the Olympics might be seen as a step forward, even if a small one, for women in Islam — but Fischer knows better. It’s all a plot to “enshrine” Sharia law at the Olympics.
There is irony here, of course. The reality is that the reactionaries in Saudi Arabia are furious over the mere act of allowing women to compete.
Even as the pressure builds for Saudi Arabia to allow women to participate or risk becoming an outlier even in the Islamic world—Iran and Yemen have women’s soccer teams, for instance—the state has tried to hold the line. Its Olympic athletes have barely been brought up in the state-sanctioned press, and much of the Twitter conversation about them has been hostile. Steps of the Devil: Denial of Women and Girls’ Rights to Sport in Saudi Arabia, a devastating report by Human Rights Watch details the profoundly deviant yet tenaciously held religious objections of Saudi clerics to women engaging in sports. Allowing Saudi girls and women to compete would invite them to engage in immodest movement, aberrant clothing, and performances in front of unrelated males that would lead to immorality and desecration of the purity of the Saudi female, influential clerics insist. They argue that vigorous movement is a threat to the health and honor of the “virgin girl,” a profound deterrent in a shame-and-honor-centered culture that places extraordinary value on the intact hymen of an unmarried woman.
Dr. Mohammad al-Arifi, an influential cleric who preaches at Al-Bawardi Mosque in Riyadh, is on faculty at King Saud University, warned Prince Nawaf against sending Saudi women to the Olympics:
“Women practicing sports … is fundamentally allowed … but if this leads to mixing with men … or revealing private parts … or men watching her sometimes run, sometimes fall down … sometimes laugh and sometimes cry or quarrel with another female athlete … or mount a horse … or practice gymnastics … or wrestling … or other sports … while the cameras film and the [television] channels broadcast … then there can be no doubt that it is forbidden.”
The state’s gender apartheid is powerful. While Saudi men and boys can attend any of 153 official sports clubs, regulated by the General Presidency for Youth Welfare, as well as innumerable gyms and spas, Saudi women and girls have no place to play. Even in the days running up to the London 2012 Opening Ceremony, efforts by Saudis within the Kingdom to arrange sporting activities for girls and women to celebrate Ramadan were met by firm official rebukes.
Allowing women to compete in the Olympics is not an attempt to “enshrine” Sharia law, it’s a major cultural blow to its advocates.