‘Shame on you, ladies, for showing so little pride in your own hard-won Western freedoms’
Of all the sorts of writing it’s possible to do badly, maybe travel writing—apart from sex—is the easiest. Is there any place on earth, I wonder, which really isn’t “a country of contrasts”? But Judith Chalmers, Lord love her, need blush no more. For as it turns out, even those with 2:1s from perfectly respectable universities are prey to the hot’n’heavy travel bug which knocks them off their feet the minute they set foot on foreign soil.
It’s nothing new of course—inhabitants of this soggy island have always been vulnerable to sexual sunstroke. A few words of Spanish historically have a powerful aphrodisiac effect on many young Englishwomen of working-class stock, while their more delicately-bred sisters come over all unnecessary at the thought of a Provençal hot-pot.
But what about when the very thing that turns the sallow traveller on is a belief system—radical Islam—which some consider to be the biggest threat to peace, pleasure and progress since (gulp!) actual fascism? One can understand silly old T.E. Lawrence getting his knickers in a twist over anything in a dishdash; but why on earth would a woman buy into such a fantasy? An educated woman, too—not some teen tot who fell for a Turkish waiter while on holiday with her parents.
Here is Sally Emerson coming over positively purple about Oman in the Sunday Times last month: “The country’s tribal customs and its domination by Islam have helped to preserve its toughness… You seldom see a woman in the streets and shops of Oman; if you do, she is swathed in black, like a shadow. It is as though the women have vanished, been stolen away, and all that is left is men, stately men, like angels in their crisp, clean white gowns and fetchingly embroidered caps…” (Oooh, I bet I know who did all that gown-laundry and cap-embroidery, and it wasn’t those tough angels!)
“At the goat market… I do see a few women—Bedouin in black face masks, wrenching open the mouths of kids and calves.” (Nice to see the gals getting all the good jobs.) “One wears a gold mask. A few Westerners hang about the edges, taking pictures and looking astonished.” (Oh, the dumb tourists! Not fancy-pants travellers, like Sal!) “Their bright clothes look absurdly out of place, like something Doctor Who brought in.” (And wearing masks, while stumbling around done up like a parrot cage, is really not absurd at all.)
But wait. Is Sal, back at the hotel spa, showing the first signs of irritation with the Way of the Prophet? “It was good to cool off from the obliterating 40C heat in the wadi’s turquoise waters, though the interest my swimming caused among the young men took the edge off the magic—and I was extremely well covered up, shirt and all.”
Several questions occur—(A) How much hotter must those poor broads in the face-masks feel in that heat? (B) Did it not occur to you that when a country’s women have been “stolen”, any old broad who dares show her ankles is going to get perved over? And (C) did you look absurd in your Western shirt, like the tourists did in theirs, or do different rules apply to you because you’re a “traveller”?
Brown-nosing loves company, and so it was that last month also saw Molly Watson, writing in the Spectator, having the ab-dabs over Abu Dhabi. She starts swooning over this theocracy the minute she lands. How unutterably vulgar freedom of dress seems under such tasteful oppression: “At street level, there is something far more alluring about the veiled women of Abu Dhabi, in their beautifully cut abaya gowns accessorised with designer heels and handbags, than the scantily-clad Westerners…” (And how extraordinary of a career woman, to presume that the main business of women is to be alluring. “Alluring”… it’s such a weasel word, redolent of “temptress” and odd coming from a woman. I bet when women say no they mean yes, too, eh Moll?) “I didn’t think traditional dress could be chic until I… saw that a modest black robe can still be a modest black robe when it is cut in silk and embroidered in crystals.” In the UK, Moll would no doubt dismiss the bearers of such as brainless WAGS.
At the risk of coming over like a superannuated punk, surely the Sex Pistols summed up this swill best as “a cheap holiday in other people’s misery”. Even forgetting the persecution of gays and the near-enslavement of immigrant workers in these lush hellholes, the position of women under fundamentalist Islam indicates that Sal and Moll are suffering from some sort of sexual Stockholm Syndrome which is just as vile as sex tourism.
I can’t list all the ways in which the lives of these women are ruined, but the obscenity of “honour” killings and the epidemic of forced marriages to old strangers will do well enough. “Honour”, “pride” and “shame” are words which are flung about a great deal in Arab/Islamic culture, and as these women are such great fans of the whole rotten spectacle, I would sum up by saying: “Shame on you, ladies, for showing so little pride in your own hard-won Western freedoms and grovelling to such a shameful, woman-hating, life-denying excuse for a culture.”
I blame Turkish Delight adverts myself.