Home
In this issue
April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Sept. 26, 2008 / 26 Elul 5768

Watching Oprah from behind the veil

By Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby
Printer Friendly Version
Email this article


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | She has been called the most influential woman of our time. They are among the most disempowered women on earth.


She is a self-made billionaire, with worldwide interests that range from television to publishing to education. They are forbidden to get a job without the permission of a male "guardian," and the overwhelming majority of them are unemployed.


She has a face that is recognized the world over. They cannot leave home without covering their face and obscuring their figure in a cloak.


She is famous for her message of confidence, self-improvement, and spiritual uplift. They are denied the right to make the simplest decisions, treated by law like children who cannot be trusted with authority over their own well-being.


She, of course, is Oprah Winfrey. They are the multitude of Saudi Arabian women whose devotion to her has made "The Oprah Winfrey Show" - broadcast twice daily on a Dubai-based satellite channel - the highest-rated English-language program in the kingdom.


A recent New York Times story - "Veiled Saudi Women Are Discovering an Unlikely Role Model in Oprah Winfrey" - explored the appeal of America's iconic talk-show host for the marginalized women of the Arabian peninsula.


"In a country where the sexes are rigorously separated, where topics like sex and race are rarely discussed openly and where a strict code of public morality is enforced by religious police," the Times noted, "Ms. Winfrey provides many young Saudi women with new ways of thinking about the way local taboos affect their lives . . . Some women here say Ms. Winfrey's assurances to her viewers - that no matter how restricted or even abusive their circumstances may be, they can take control in small ways and create lives of value - help them find meaning in their cramped, veiled existence."


And so they avidly analyze Oprah's clothes and hairstyles, and circulate "dog-eared copies" of her magazine, O, and write letters telling her of their dreams and disappointments. Many undoubtedly dream of doing what she did - freeing themselves from the shackling circumstances into which they were born and rising as high as their talents can take them.


But the television star never faced the obstacles that confront her Saudi fans.


That is not to minimize the daunting odds Oprah overcame. She was born to an unwed teenage housemaid in pre-civil rights Mississippi, and spent her first years in such poverty that at times she wore dresses made from potato sacks. She was sexually molested as a child, and ran away from home as a young teen. It was a squalid beginning, one that would have defeated many people not blessed with Oprah's intelligence and drive and native gifts.


But whatever else may be said of Oprah's life, it was never crippled by Wahhabism, the fundamentalist strain of Islam that dominates Saudi Arabia and immiserates Saudi women in ruthless gender apartheid. Strict sex segregation is the law of the land. Women are forbidden to drive, to vote, to freely marry or divorce, to appear in public without a husband or other male guardian, or to attend university without their father's permission. They can be jailed - or worse - for riding in a car with a man to whom they are unrelated. Their testimony in court carries less weight than a man's. They cannot even file a criminal complaint without a male guardian's permission - not even in cases of domestic abuse, when it is their "guardian" who has attacked them.


Could Oprah herself have surmounted such pervasive repression?


Some Saudi women manage to find jobs, but Wahhabist opposition is fierce. In 2006, Youssef Ibrahim reported in the New York Sun on Nabil Ramadan, the owner of a fast-food restaurant in Ranoosh who hired two women to take telephone orders. Within 24 hours, the religious police had him arrested and shut down the restaurant for "promoting lewdness." Ramadan was sentenced by a religious court to 90 lashes on his back and buttocks.


Is it any wonder that women trapped in a culture that treats them so wretchedly idolize someone like Oprah, who epitomizes so much that is absent from their lives? A nation that degrades its women degrades itself, and Oprah's message is an antidote to degradation. Why do they love her? Because all the lies of the Wahhabists cannot stifle the truth she embodies: The blessings of liberty were made for women, too.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.

Jeff Jacoby Archives

© 2006, Boston Globe

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles