Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, a Saudi teenager, has just tried to save her own life—and in so doing, has risked death for shaming her family and her country.
Rahaf fled her family vacation in Kuwait, took a plane to Bangkok, barricaded herself in her hotel room at the airport and began posting about her plight on social media. She demanded political asylum.
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. In this case, the ammunition is digital and governmental.
Via her smartphone, Rahaf claimed that she had renounced Islam and that her family would surely kill her if she was returned to them. Rahaf obtained 90,000 followers on Twitter. The media began to cover her plight.
The Thai government had been about to deport her back to the family which Rahaf claimed had beaten and imprisoned her for up to six months at a time for minor, alleged offenses. And then, it changed its mind and allowed Rahaf to meet with an official from the UN’s refugee agency (U.N.H.C.R.).
Rahaf wanted asylum in either Australia or Canada and both countries considered her request even as she was being vetted for “refugee” status.
But make no mistake. She remains in real and terrible danger. She has shut down her Twitter account due to death threats. Her family will never, ever stop coming after her.
She is a disobedient woman and as such deserves constant humiliation, beatings, broken bones, solitary confinement, and, if she is lucky, a forced marriage to a man the age of her grandfather, who already has three wives and twenty children. She is also an apostate. This is a capital crime.
By now, her father and brother are probably already in Thailand. They are both her “guardians” or “minders” and she has absolutely no western-style “agency” over this matter. They are claiming that she needs “medical attention.”
I have conductedfourstudies about honor killing globally. I am now working on a fifth study which seeks to identify the variables associated with successfully escaping from being honor killed. Rahaf exemplifies a pattern.
For reasons as yet unknown, Rahaf has decided that her life is worth preserving and that she no longer has to absorb the normalized brutalization and subordination that Saudi women are fated to endure. In addition, she has cannily used the power of social media to attract attention to her plight. Further, she has been able to liaison with government, international, or law enforcement authorities who believe she is in danger—or who know that if they return her and she is “disappeared” or murdered that they would be viewed as accomplices by a watchful world.
In this instance, the internet has played a crucial role in her potential salvation.
Rahaf has decided that her life is worth preserving and that she no longer has to absorb the normalized brutalization and subordination that Saudi women are fated to endure.
So many other Saudi women and dissidents were not as lucky. According to Ali Alyami, the founder of the D.C. based Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (CDHR), other Saudis have tried to save their own lives but have not been successful. He notes Hamza Kashgari (2012) and Dina Ali Lasloom, (2017) both of whom tried to escape after being labeled, respectively, a heretic and a disobedient woman. They were both sent back to the Kingdom and have not been heard from ever since. Alyami also notes how many men and women are literally rotting in prison in Saudi Arabia as dissidents and feminists.
I remember the tragic 1977 case of Saudi princess Mishaal bint Fahd al Saud, who fell in love with a young man of her own choice and was trying to escape from the Kingdom. Her fiancé (not her lover) was be-headed in a botched execution and she was, mercifully, merely shot to death. Being an al Saud did not spare her. Au contraire.
I remember the forty-seven Saudi women who, in the early 1990s, launched the first Drive-In and who were arrested, fired from their jobs, and placed under house arrest for more than a year.
Today, Eman Al-Nafjian languishes in prison where she is being tortured and sexually assaulted as a campaigner for women’s rights.
The feminist revolutions in the West have caught fire in the East where some of the bravest people on the planet are demanding their freedom and dignity.
I hope the world’s governments heed their cries and grant them political asylum. They are Children of the Enlightenment and it is the midnight hour.
Rahaf has just been granted asylum in Canada! I wonder how much it will cost them to provide security for her for the rest of her life?