Another problem Europe imported:
Should a 14-year-old married girl who migrates to Europe be viewed as a child - or a spouse?
The issue has put European governments in a spin: forcing a policy U-turn in Denmark, new legislation in the Netherlands and an agonised debate in Germany.
Analysts say early marriage is often carried out in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey by families trying to protect girls from poverty or sexual exploitation. Elsewhere, poor families might marry off their young daughters in exchange for dowries.
The question is one of rights and protections - but which? When authorities stop minors cohabiting with their older spouses, are they combating child abuse or breaking up (often already traumatised) families?
Depending on where you go in Europe, you'll find a radically different range of responses to the issue.
This really shouldn't be a problem if we apply a few simple principles:
- If some other cultures in the world approve of child marriage, that's fine. They should be permitted to carry on that custom without interference.
- In modern Western culture, this practice is illegal and against public policy. It should neither be permitted on European soil or recognized in any way.
- This means any marriage in which one partner is underage should be automatically dissolved by law when a couple emigrates to Europe with plans to resettle. Filing an asylum application is proof of intent to resettle. Each partner to the marriage will be processed singly.
- If the parties do not agree to this, they will be summarily returned to the refugee camp from which they emigrated.
This policy should be posted everywhere in Turkish refugee camps, so people will understand before they set out for Europe. Child marriage is accepted in certain cultures and that's OK over there, within that culture. It is not accepted in Europe, and Europe has every right to absolutely ban it under all circumstances. Europeans aren't trying to bring Leather Pride parades to downtown Damascus, and people from Syria shouldn't try to bring child marriage to Europe.
Every cultural practice in its proper place. What's so hard about that?
As a teacher on the Sopranos said about the mobster's feckless, dull-witted son AJ: "Well, like my dad used to say, 'The world needs ditch diggers too.'"
And when Dutch ditchdiggers dolefully depart, the number-one song they choose to accompany their incineration is this:
Of course, they choose the anglicized version of it: 'Time to Say Goodbye', sung as a duet with Sarah Brightman. But that's another ball of wax entirely. English translation of the lyrics here.
This song is also used several times during The Sopranos, both diegetically and non-diegetically, as a sort of psychological cue that one of the grubby, classless Italian mobsters is having a Moment of Profound Emotion. David Chase, one of the world's great misanthropes, used the melling swellody, er I mean swelling melody to spit contempt at the characters he so memorably etched: "Look at these cheap, empty people. This is their idea of a 'bee-yoo-tee-ful' song. Yet they can't even speak the language it's written in anymore, because they're deracinated, lazy, and corrupt. It's just an empty token of their once-proud heritage."
But Chase is wrong! Well, not about the mobsters, but about the song. If you ask me, 'Con te Partiro' is fucking awesome. It's a creamy, silken masterpiece of heart-on-your-sleeve, pop-those-cuffs, if-this-don't-turn-you-on-you-ain't-got-no-switches pop melody-making. I mean come on, once you hear that melody, you'll never forget it. And the sudden key shifts keep the drama intense until the last bar fades.
No wonder this music accompanies the synchronized fountains outside Steve Wynn's Bellagio casino resort in Las Vegas ("The Fountains of Bellagio"!). Once, while watching those fountains in Vegas with a group of friends, 'Con te Partiro' came on. Most of us sneered the sneer of the international urban haute bourgeoisie at this ejaculation of cheese. Yet one of our company, a fluent speaker and lover of Italian culture, visibly choked up. "You assholes don't know quality when you hear it. This is a beautiful old Italian ballad, just amped up with a big orchestra."
I told him that as far as I knew, it had been written in the 1990s for Andrea Bocelli. He said, "Maybe, maybe not," (this was before smartphones), "but even if it was, it's in the grand tradition of Italian song-making. The yearning, the passion, the genuineness of the Neapolitan ballad, it's all there. Laugh all you want, but this is great music. What would you rather have people listening to? Vanilla Ice?"
Needless to say, I've come around to his way of thinking. But judge for yourself:
Tyler Cowen reviews a new book calling into question Scandinavian welfare states as a model for the world, and working out its implications for immigration policy:
Nima Sanandaji, a Swedish policy analyst and president of European Centre for Entrepreneurship and Policy Reform, has recently published a book called "Debunking Utopia: Exposing the Myth of Nordic Socialism." And while the title may be overstated, his best facts and figures are persuasive.
For instance, Danish-Americans have a measured living standard about 55 percent higher than the Danes in Denmark. Swedish-Americans have a living standard 53 percent higher than the Swedes, and Finnish-Americans have a living standard 59 percent higher than those back in Finland. Only for Norway is the gap a small one, because of the extreme oil wealth of Norway, but even there the living standard of American Norwegians measures as 3 percent higher than in Norway. And that comparison is based on numbers from 2013, when the price of oil was higher, so probably that gap has widened.
Of the Nordic groups, Danish-Americans have the highest per capita income, clocking in at $70,925. That compares to an U.S. per capita income of $52,592, again the numbers being from 2013. Sanandaji also notes that Nordic-Americans have lower poverty rates and about half the unemployment rate of their relatives across the Atlantic.It is difficult, after seeing those figures, to conclude that the U.S. ought to be copying the policies of the Nordic nations wholesale. It is instead more plausible to think that Americans might learn something from the cultural practices of Nordic-Americans. Sanandaji says those norms include hard work, honesty, a strong civil society and an ethic of cooperation and volunteerism....For one thing, Nordic immigrants to the United States probably came from the better trained, more literate and more ambitious segments of the population. For instance, data on Danish migrants from 1868 to 1900 show that laborers were underrepresented in the group and artisans and craftsmen were overrepresented by a factor of two. It is perhaps no wonder that the ethnic Danes in the U.S. are relatively high earners, because they are the results of a process of positive selection. And there is a growing literature showing that the cultural traits of migrants can persist to some degree for generations in their new countries....
Most of all we should consider the option of greater freedom of choice for residence decisions. For all the anti-immigrant sentiment that is circulating at the moment, would it hurt the U.S. to have fully open borders with Denmark? It would boost American gross domestic product and probably also improve American education. History teaches that serious assimilation problems would be unlikely, especially since many Danes already speak English.
Open borders wouldn't attract Danes who want to live off welfare because the benefits are so generous at home.
How's this for a simple rule: Open borders for the residents of any democratic country with more generous transfer payments than Uncle Sam's.
A few observations: Simple one-to-one comparisons of Danish to American living standards are not very meaningful, because even if Americans make more money, they have higher living expenses. They have to pay for (or do without) many things a Scandinavian welfare state provides for free or subsidized. How exactly do you calculate the effect on living standards of guaranteed paid parental leave, health insurance, pre-school education, and public transportation so effective that nobody has to buy a car?
That aside, though, notice the argument Cowen is making. Cowen is a professor of economics, a centrist with libertarian tendencies, and an interesting blogger. Being libertarian, he tends to be in favor of immigration in general. Economists tend to like many kinds of immigration, because it fosters economic growth and comparative advantage and those sorts of things.
But since Cowen is a pragmatic American, he accepts two arguments as so obvious as to need no elaboration. First, that immigration should favor the talented and intelligent. The Danes America got are doing well in America because they come from a successful culture, and because they were some of the most enterprising people in that culture. Second, he notes that immigration policy should obviously not attract people "who want to live off welfare". (Also, note that he uses the word "selection" in reference to getting better Danes. The German version of this word, Selektion, is thermonuclear-level verboten in Germany because it was the term used for the process of determining which new arrivals at Nazi death camps would be selected for immediate death, and which would be put to work).
Both of these arguments will immediately be disputed in European Urban Haute Bourgeois circles. Trust me, I know from personal experience. European urban elites who have liberal-arts educations are educated in hothouses of deontological thinking, in which experiences and policies should be evaluated according to abstract universal principles of humanism. In this view, selecting immigrants is denounced as elitist, as ignoring the "sacred principle" of human equality, as treating some persons as more inherently valuable than others, and as implicitly asserting the supposed "superiority" of Western culture.
Discouraging welfare tourism is denounced for similar reasons. Also, you often encounter the notion that Europeans have no "right" to live in comparative safety and prosperity, and therefore have no legitimate objection to foreigners coming to their country and living off state assistance their entire lives. What are you trying to say, that Joseph from Cameroon somehow has less right to live off German welfare than Josef from Dibbersen? Both are human beings, both have the same entitlement to inviolable human dignity, and therefore both must be treated equally by the welfare state. You didn't choose which country you were born in, so how is it fair for you to reap the incalculable privileges of being born in a place like Germany as opposed to, say, Zimbabwe?
To which the average Brit or American (but not Peter Singer) responds: What's all this bosh? These arguments may have abstract appeal in a seminar room, but as guides for formulating policy in a Western democracy, they're useless, not even wrong. Principles are all well and good, but they're hardly a guide to practical policy-making. Favoring skilled immigrants is legal, proper, does not violate any mutual obligations we may owe to others, and benefits us. Same with making sure foreign welfare cases don't burden our system, which is designed for our people. And no, we think the notion that making sure our welfare system helps our people is not only proper, but that it's the only remotely sane approach. And we feel no need to justify or explain these views. As Disraeli said, "Never complain, never explain."
This, gentle readers, is one of the most fascinating and enduring differences between the mindset of the educated elites of the English-speaking world and those of continental Europe.
Here's another cultural difference to add to the others.
If you believe it's a good thing for a country to have a generally positive attitude toward diversity, then you must acknowledge that the USA is morally superior to any European country. European elites overwhelmingly think diversity is a good thing, which makes the results of this survey problematic to them. How can a country which embodies so many things they disapprove of 'score' so well on a value they desperately wish their countrymen shared?
If you're neutral on that question, as I am, this is just an interesting difference. Doubtless the main factor here is that the US is a nation of immigrants, while European nations all have native traditions and populations and thick, deep cultures and identities.
A Syrian refugee in Reutlingen, apparently upset about relationship troubles, hacked a 45-year-old woman to death with a 40-cm döner kebab knife. He then ran shrieking through the city, hacking at other people with the knife, until a man in a BMW ran him over and brought the rampage to an end. Although only in Germany for a year, the accused killer had been in trouble with the police before for drug, property, and violent crimes (g). Early reports about the 27-year-old Syrian rejected asylum seeker who blew himself up in Ansbach, injuring a dozen other people, indicate he had a history of mental illness and had twice attempted suicide.
This is not normal behavior, even for people who (may) have withstood trauma. And this sort of behavior doesn't just crop up one day out of nowhere. It's a good bet both of these men displayed behavior problems back home, although given taboos and the language barrier, it will probably be hard to find out precise facts.
As I've argued before on this blog, it seems that among the hugely disproportionate numbers of random young males Germany allowed to wander across the border last year, there's a disproportionate number of violent, mentally ill young men. The reasoning could hardly be simpler: If you have 5 children, 3 of whom are men, and 2 of those men have jobs and/or families, who are you going to send to Germany to try to set down an anchor there and start the chain migration which, your hope, might one day allow your whole family to resettle? Two of your sons are founding families and/or generating income to support you, so losing them would be a problem. But what about your 18-year-old son, who has always seemed a bit 'off', who says odd things or deals drugs or has a nasty temper or sometimes talks to himself?
One of the reasons families might be eager to off-load family members with mental illnesses is because mental health care in the Arab world is totally inadequate:
The Arab world is taken to mean the 22 members of the Arab League, accounting for 280 million people. The region has the largest proportion of young people in the world: 38% of Arabs are under 14. Life expectancy has increased by 15 years over the past three decades, and infant mortality has dropped by two-thirds. Around 12 million people, or 15% of the labor force, are unemployed. The quality of education has recently deteriorated, and there is a severe mismatch between the labor market and the education system. Adult illiteracy rates have declined, but are still very high: 65 million adults are illiterate, almost two-thirds of them women. Some 10 million children still have no schooling at all.
The health expenditure estimated as a percentage of gross domestic product is highest in Palestine (13.5%), followed by Lebanon (8.8%), Jordan and Djibouti (8.5%) and Egypt (6.4%) 1. Health services in all Arab countries are provided by public (government) and private sector facilities and out of pocket (this last category representing 63.4% of the total in Sudan, 58.7% in Egypt, 58% in Yemen, 56.1% in Morocco and 54.9% in Syria). In some countries insurance systems contribute to the provision of the service. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have come to be recognized as an important actor in the provision of health services, especially in countries with internal instability (in particular, Lebanon in late 1980s and Palestine now).
The mental health expenditure as a percentage of total health expenditure is not available in most Arab countries and not reported by the officials. Only three Arab countries have provided an estimate: Qatar (1%), Egypt (less than 1%) and Palestine (2.5%)....
Currently, most of the Arab countries are exposed to conflicts, wars, terrorism and fundamentalism, which may be the seeds for many behavioral and mental disorders.
Cultural beliefs of possessions and the impact of sorcery or the evil eye affect interpretation of mental symptoms. In this context, the first resort for the families of mental patients is not even the general practitioner, but the traditional healers, who acquire a special importance because of their claim of dealing with the “mystical” and the “unknown”. In the majority of Arab countries there is no interaction between the medical profession and the traditional healers. In Jordan, there is some kind of a relationship, which remains informal and unorganized. In Saudi Arabia, however, they constitute part of the staff, using religious text and recitation in management.
In conclusion, our data show that, in the Arab world, health and education budget assignment is below the recommended requirements far better quality of life. The budget allowed for mental health as a percentage from the total health budget, in the few countries where information is available, is far below the range to promote mental health services. The mental health human resources and the inefficient data collection by the official agencies are incompatible with the gross domestic product of Arab countries. An appeal for implementing mental health in primary care as stipulated as a policy in many Arab countries and to prioritize mental health in the agenda of politicians is urgently needed.
In the close kin-network and community you live in, your son already notorious as a problem child and/or petty criminal and/or target of a curse or evil eye, so he cannot find a job and isn't a suitable match for an arranged marriage. At home, he can do nothing but cause problems for your family. Abroad, nobody knows about his past, and he'll have a chance for a fresh start.
As long as there's a country there offering a welcome and housing and education and money to any random young male who makes it across their borders, what's there to lose? Even the $5,000 for a smuggler isn't that much of a sacrifice, since you will no longer have that mouth to feed, and will no longer have to stay up at night worrying about what your unstable, unpredictable family black sheep might do tomorrow. And if he lands in prison or a mental hospital in Germany, everyone knows those are quite comfortable in comparison with similar institutions anywhere else in the world. And maybe the change will do him good, he'll establish himself, and bring you to join him! What is $5,000 against the priceless prospect of being able to relocate most of your family to a nation which is infinitely more stable and secure than where you live?
More stable and secure for now, that is...
Non-Europeans can't understand the immigration debate in Europe without recognizing a key fact: Every single migrant who enters a (Northern) European country and files an asylum claim is immediately entitled to state-funded housing, healthcare, and education, plus a monthly cash stipend and child benefit. And is automatically legally entitled to all these things indefinitely, no matter what.
If they eventually get to the point where they are employable and then turn down suitable jobs, the benefits may be reduced. But never eliminated. Since the vast majority of migrants arrive not speaking the native language, and a large percentage never learn it to proficiency, all immigrants will be welfare cases for at least 10-15 years, and many will never stop being welfare cases.
In many Western countries, including the U.S. refugees are sponsored and funded by a public-private mix of government (which does the screening), and private charities, often religious in nature, who find housing and aid in integration. This doesn't happen to anywhere near the same extent in Europe. In Europe, private charities operate on a much smaller scale, since they have essentially been frozen out by state welfare. Religious charities run by the major established churches usually have significant government involvement. As the chart above shows, Germany has a comparatively small private charity sector. It's about the OECD average, but it's worth remembering that the OECD includes a lot of countries much poorer than Germany.
So every migrant let into the country who possesses no job skills immediately begins costing the state money. And lots of migrants cost lots of money. Germany is now spending an amount on refugee welfare that exceeds its annual federal education budget. It is spending almost €3 billion per year (g) just caring for 65,000 unaccompanied minor migrants.
Denmark has similar policies to Germany's. Which brings us to Daham Al Hasan, his three wives, and his twenty children:
In Denmark these days, Daham Al Hasan is making headlines. He has twenty children with three wives, but two years ago fled alone from Syria to Denmark, and left his wives and children behind. Recently, under the Danish rules of family unification, one of his wives and eight of his children have joined him in Denmark. But Al Hasan wants all his children with him, as well as all his wives. He has been granted permission for nine additional children to join him, but as Denmark does not allow polygamy, the two remaining wives, under the same rules of family unification, are not permitted to join him. Lawyers, however, estimate that the remaining wives will also be able independently to join their children in Denmark, once they are there.
The case has caused rather a shock in Denmark, not only because of the extraordinary size of the family, and what it will cost the Danish state just in child allowance, but because Al Hassan claims that he is too ill to work or even to learn Danish. "I don't only have mental problems, but also physical problems", he says by way of explanation, "My back and my legs hurt." He has admitted that his "mental illness" consists of missing the children he voluntarily left behind. This means that he and his family live exclusively off the Danish taxpayers' money.
Schwarzenbek, Germany. Never heard of it before? Neither had I. But it does have an English Wikipedia page:
Schwarzenbek is a town in the district of Lauenburg, in Schleswig-Holstein,Germany. It is situated approximately 10 km northeast of Geesthacht, and 35 km east of Hamburg. Schwarzenbeks' coat of arms shows a black wolf on a yellow field, beneath the wolf, the water symbolizes the river Schwarze Beke (meaning Black Creek).
It's probably a typical North German village, with red-brick churches, quaint ivy-encrusted row-houses, and lots of tea drinkers. 15,000 inhabitants.
But then 78 migrant families, mostly Syrian and Afghan, arrived. They were sent to the middle of nowhere by the German migrant resettlement plan, the so-called Königsteiner Agreement, which is intended to spread the burden of resettlement evenly and prevent the creation of ghettos.
All the children had to be packed into Schwarzenbek's school system, which had to expand German as a Second Language classes. And a group of between 8 and 15 migrant boys, depending on whom you ask, are harassing and beating (g) the other children. Severely enough to inflict bruises and scrape wounds. Parents are reporting that their children are afraid to go to school. Nobody can figure out exactly why the boys are doing this, since they speak no German. But all the victims mentioned in the article are girls.
Of course, in rural areas of the third world, this sort of behavior would probably be countered by giving the boys a solid beating. Assuming, of course, that the boys' behavior was seen as a problem at all. But Germany's not that kind of country, so instead school authorities have called the parents in for 'discussions'. Not right away, of course -- they had to wait two weeks for Arabic and Dari/Pashto translators to arrive first. I can imagine those translators have their work cut out for them, traveling to one remote hamlet after another.
Parents have complained: "Principal Andreas Hartung did not try to minimize the problem, but asked the parents for patience: 'Give us time.' A new employee tasked with social integration has only been at the school for two weeks." Given that Schwarzenbek prides itself on being a stable bedroom community, parents weren't expecting their children being terrorized by gangs of foreigners at school. That's why they don't live in Hamburg.
Meanwhile, according to the former chair of the roundtable Willkommenskultur, Christoph Ziehm, the mood in the town is threatening to change. Enraged parents are posting Facebook comments, some with racist overtones, about their experiences. Although the chairman says it's regrettable that a minority of children are besmirching the reputation of the majority who cause no problems, he also agrees that integrating these very foreign foreigners is a "major social problem" and says: "When it comes to the subject of equal rights for women, Syrian families are fifty years behind us, and Afghans are eighty."
And that comes from the chief proponent of Willkommenskultur.
Meanwhile, similar scenes are no doubt occurring in thousands of towns and villages across Germany. Stay tuned.
A workshop for migrants to teach them how to flirt with German women. Including demonstrations of condom use. What could possibly go wrong?
If there's one thing open borders has taught us, it's that 'Borat' was a documentary:
How big is the cultural gap between Germany and the nations many migrants are coming from? One useful document is this State Department guide for American women who are contemplating marrying Saudi nationals. It was later retracted, for reasons that will probably become obvious as you read it. Now, Saudi is a more conservative place than most Arab countries (and also a lot richer), but at least half of the customs described in this document apply in some form to most Arab countries, I would wager. And as you'll see, there are quite a lot of them.
[The] American citizen spouse of a Saudi national is with a handful of exceptions always female. Saudi women are prohibited from marrying non-Arabs except with a special dispensation from the King. (A dispensation is also required before a Saudi woman may marry an Arab who is not a citizen of the Gulf Cooperation Council—i.e., Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.) The Embassy is only aware of four American men who are married to Saudis. A few daughters of Saudi diplomats, raised and educated abroad, are also known to have received Kingly dispensation for marriage to Europeans. Most Saudi women who are married to Westerners tend to reside abroad with their husbands.
American spouses fall into two broad categories: those who are married to well-off, westernized Saudis, and those who are married to not-well-off and non-westernized Saudis. Both meet their husbands when they are students in the U.S. The former tend to maintain homes in the Kingdom and in the West, they socialize with other dual-national couples, they send their children abroad for college education (sometimes high school), travel frequently, and while in the Kingdom have the luxuries of drivers, servants, and villas separate from where the Saudi in-laws reside. Their husbands permit them to appear before men to whom they are not related, accept—if not encourage—their desire to find employment and generally do not require them to veil fully (i.e., cover the face with one or more layers of cloth) while in public. The women are allowed to travel separately with the dual-national children. The women may or may not have converted to Islam; their conversion may or may not be sincere. These represent the minority of dual-national marriages.
Most American women fall in love with westernized Muslim traditionalists, leery of the West and its corrosive ways, and eager to prove their wives' conformity to Saudi standards. The husbands are not "Arab princes" of western folklore; rather, they are part of the vast majority of Saudis who "get along" with the help of extended family members and marginal expectations. Their American citizen wives are often from the South/Southwest (where many Saudis prefer to study), they have virtually no knowledge of Saudi Arabia other than what their fiancés have told them, and do not speak Arabic. When they arrive in the Kingdom, they take up residence in the family's home where family members greet them with varying degrees of enthusiasm and little English. Typically, their only driver will be their husband (or another male family member), their social circle with be the extended family, and they will not be permitted to work or appear uncovered among men to whom their husband is not related. Initially, the American citizen spouse will be almost entirely isolated from the large western community that resides in the Kingdom. Gradually, the spouses who survive form a network with other American citizen women married to Saudis. The majority of American citizen spouses fall into this category.
The Myth of the Westernized Saudi
Inevitably, American citizen spouses characterize their Saudi husbands during their school days in the United States as being completely "westernized"; drinking beer with the best of them, chasing after women and generally celebrating all the diversities and decadence of a secular society. Women married to Saudis who did not fit the stereotype of the partying, or playboy/prince, are careful to point out that their spouses nevertheless displayed a tolerance toward all of these diversions and, particularly, toward them. In other words, the Saudi-American relationship virtually always blossoms in the States, in a climate that allows dating, cohabitation, children out of wedlock, religious diversity, and a multitude of other Islamic sins which go unnoticed by Saudi relatives and religious leaders thousands of miles away.
American citizen wives swear that the transformation in their Saudi husbands occurs during the transatlantic flight to the Kingdom. There is the universal recollection of approaching Riyadh and witnessing the donning of the black abayas and face veils by the fashionably dressed Saudi women. For many women, the Saudi airport is the first time they see their husband in Arab dress (i.e., the thobe and ghutra). For those American women reluctant to wear an abaya (the all-encompassing black cloak) and for those Saudi husbands who did not make an issue of the abaya prior to arriving, the intense public scrutiny that starts at the airport—given to a western woman who is accompanying a Saudi male—is usually the catalyst for the eventual covering up. Since the overwhelming majority of American citizen wives never travel to the Kingdom prior to their marriage, they are abruptly catapulted into Saudi society. When they arrive, their husband's traditional dress, speech, and responsibilities to his family re-emerge and the American citizen wife is left to cope with a new country, a new language, a new family, and a new husband. Whether a Saudi has spent one year or eight studying in the United States, each must return to the fold—grudgingly or with relief—to get along in Saudi society and within the family hierarchy that structures most social and business relations.
Social pressures on even the most liberal Saudi are daunting. Shame is brought upon the entire family for the acts of an American citizen wife who does not dress modestly (e.g., cover) in public, who is not Muslim, who associates with men other than her extended relatives. Silent disapprobation from family and friends is matched by virulent public disapproval by the Kingdom's religious proctors (Mutawwaiin) and vigilante enforcers of the faith. Several American wives, fearing the latest round of religious harassment, have started fully veiling; not to do so, they discovered, meant public squabbles with the Mutawwaiin who vociferously oppose dual-national marriages. The experience of all dual-national couples is that voluntary and involuntary compromises are made or simply evolve. The sum of these compromises is quite often a life very different than the one imagined and speculated upon in the safety of the United States.
What to Expect and Consider
Quality of Life. Life in a desert kingdom that prides itself on its conservative interpretation and application of the Qur'an (Koran) requires that couples talk about very basic lifestyle issues.
How cosmopolitan is the Saudi husband's family? All American wives encourage prospective brides to meet the Saudi family before arriving in the Kingdom as a married woman. (Most Saudi families will travel to the U.S. during the course of their sons' studies, if only to attend graduation.) While it is no guarantee of acceptance, a family that regularly travels abroad or one in which the father has been stationed abroad is generally more broad-minded when it comes to their son marrying a Westerner. It is the parents who can be the greatest source of pressure on a dual-national marriage, and it is important to divine their opinions on what an American wife can and cannot do while living in the Kingdom.
With whom will you live? Many newly married couples move in with the groom's parents, in a sprawling villa which may house several other siblings and their wives and families. Privacy is elusive and tensions with family members who for one reason or another resent the presence of an American wife often make this living arrangement difficult. In a more affluent family, a couple may inhabit one of several homes that comprise a small family compound. Some Saudis live separately in villas or apartments. While that resolves the issue of privacy, many American wives find themselves completely isolated during the day, surrounded by neighbors who only speak Arabic, with no access to public or private transportation.
One tolerably married American citizen wife is not permitted to step out on the apartment porch since the risk is too great that an unrelated male would be able to see her.
The most western, but least common, housing arrangement would be an apartment or villa located in a western compound or on the Diplomatic Quarter. There, a semblance of western suburban life goes on behind high walls or, in the case of the Diplomatic Quarter, under the protective gaze of a multitude of Saudi police officers. However, most Saudi owners of western style compounds ban Saudi tenants since they fear western inhabitants would object. The very rare Saudi male who endorses this living arrangement is generally a naturalized Saudi, of Lebanese or Palestinian origin. For the average Saudi family, residence in a western compound would be an unnatural renunciation of Saudi culture and would make one culturally "suspect."
With whom will you socialize? Saudis socialize within the family. Expatriates who have lived and worked for years in the Kingdom may never meet the wife of a close Saudi friend and, according to custom, should never so much as inquire about her health. For an American wife, a social life confined to her husband's family can be stultifying, particularly since few American wives speak, or learn to speak, Arabic. Whether the Saudi husband permits his wife to socialize with men to whom they are not related determines how "normal" (i.e. how western) a social life they will enjoy. Several American wives have difficulty even visiting the American Embassy for routine passport renewals since their husbands are opposed to their speaking to a male Foreign Service Officer. Because of the segregated society, Saudi men naturally spend much of their time together, separate from wives and family. (Even Saudi weddings are segregated affairs, often held on different evenings and in different locations.) Only the most westernized Saudi will commit to socializing with other dual-national couples.
What freedom of movement will you enjoy? Women are prohibited from driving, riding a motorcycle, pedaling a bicycle, or traveling by taxi, train, or plane without an escort. All American wives were aware that they would not be able to drive while in the Kingdom, but few comprehended just how restricted their movements would be. Only the relatively affluent Saudi family will have a driver on staff; most American women depend entirely upon their husbands and male relatives for transportation. While most expatriate western women routinely use taxis, an American spouse will be expected to have an escort—either another female relative or children—before entering the taxi of an unrelated male.
Will you be permitted to travel separately from your husband? Travel by train or plane inside the Kingdom requires the permission of the male spouse and the presence of a male family escort. Travel outside the Kingdom is even more restricted. Everyone leaving the Kingdom must have an exit visa. For an American spouse, this visa must be obtained by her Saudi husband. The Saudi spouse must accompany his wife to the airport to assure airport officials that he has given his permission for his wife to travel alone or with the children.
One American's marriage contract specified that "she stated that she shall never request to travel from Saudi Arabia with any one of her children unless with his prior consent."...
Will you be permitted to work? There are two hurdles an American wife must overcome before finding work outside the home: the disapproval of the family and the paucity of employment opportunities.
Most husbands will not approve of a wife working outside the home if it entails contact with unrelated men. One American wife, who was a teacher in the U.S. during the entire five years of her courtship with her husband, was shocked when her husband threatened her with divorce when she requested to return to the U.S. to finish up one quarter of classes in order to qualify for a state pension. Now that she was married, the Saudi husband could not tolerate her being in the presence of other men. However, even if the husband is willing, the jobs are few. Employment is generally restricted to the fields of education (teaching women only) and medicine. Unfortunately, there is a tremendous social bias against the nursing profession and Saudi husbands would not approve of a wife working with patients, except in the position of a physician.
Will your husband take a second wife? Among the younger generation, it is rare for a Saudi to have a second wife but it does occur. A man is legally entitled up to four wives, with the proviso that he is able to financially and emotionally accord them equal status. One American wife discovered that her Saudi husband had married her best friend, also an American, while he was on vacation in the U.S.
In principle, all Saudi men must marry Muslims or converts to Islam. In practice, many American women blur the issue, participating in a Sharia wedding ceremony but never actually converting.
The pressure to become a Muslim, or to be come a sincere Muslim, is enormous and never-ending. There is no separation of church and state in Saudi Arabia, and at the popular level there is simply no comprehension of religious freedom, of the desire to remain Christian or undecided. One American wife, approaching her tenth wedding anniversary, has been terrorized by relatives who insist that the King has ordered that all women who don't see the light after ten years must be divorced and deported. For another, the pressure comes mainly from her children who are mercilessly teased at school for having a foreign, non-Muslim mother. (Half-hearted converts to Islam find that their children are ridiculed for having mothers who pray awkwardly or not at all.) One Saudi teacher informed the children of an American citizen mother, who has sincerely converted to Islam, that their mother could never be a Muslim since "only Arabs can be Muslim." Women who don't convert must accept that their children, through hours of Islamic education a day at school and under the tutelage of the family, will be Muslim. Women who do convert must understand that their conversion, particularly in the aftermath of a divorce, will be suspect and their fidelity to Islam perceived to be less than their husband's.
Saudi Arabia has one of the highest birthrates in the world and families with five or more children are the norm. The family is the basic unit of Saudi life and family members have much closer relations than in the United States. Every family member feels free to give an opinion on any facet of another family member's life. Siblings—particularly an older brother—are expected to financially aid each other, and males must band together to guard the honor of their female relations. Children are not expected or encouraged to leave the nest; rather, extended adolescence can occur well into a man's early thirties.
What are the differences in child raising? To a much greater degree than in the West, Saudi children are indulged. Little girls are dressed in miniature prom dresses; little boys wear the latest in western sport togs. Both wreak havoc. American wives must suffer silently when the children of various relations run riot through the house. One wife related the story of a brother-in-law's child who carefully doled out chocolate pudding on the brand new furniture. When she scolded the child, she was in turn scolded for making a fuss about something that could be cleaned.
On the other hand, the Saudi family is replete with babysitters and children always have young and old playmates with whom to mix. Because foreign labor is so cheap in Saudi Arabia, even lower middle class families will have an Indonesian or Filipino housemaid to help with the chores. Among the very affluent Saudi families and particularly within the royal family, each child will generate its own servant.
Many American mothers are frustrated by the dearth of things to do with their children. Absent a driver, mothers are cooped up at home with the children and, even with a driver, there are few venues to visit.
What will it be like to raise a daughter? Cultural differences are never greater than when it comes to the role of women, and raising a daughter is a challenge in any Saudi-American marriage. Growing up in the Kingdom, a young girl will naturally look forward to the day when she comes of age and can wear the abaya and cover her hair. She will naturally be very devout. She may be expected to marry a first cousin. While playing a central role in the family, a girl is nevertheless a statutory second-class citizen who needs to be protected and whose word is worth only half of a man's.
For a Saudi girl, this is the natural state of affairs; for an American mother of a Saudi girl, it can be unsettling. Not surprisingly, most of our child custody cases in which a child has been kidnapped from the United States involve a Saudi father "saving" his daughter from a "sinful" society and her "decadent" mother.
Since Saudi women are prohibited from marrying western men, an American mother must expect her daughter to integrate more tightly into Saudi society. This is not necessarily the case with sons who might be encouraged to study in the U.S. (Saudi girls are permitted to study in the U.S. only if they are chaperoned by a family member), who could freely travel to the West, whose business might facilitate travel between the two countries, and who might elect to marry an American woman. Several very liberal Saudi fathers and their American wives have been embarrassed by their more conservative daughters' decisions not to attend school in the United States in deference to the disapproval of their culture.
If the Marriage Fails
In the worst scenario, an American wife can find herself summarily divorced, deported, and deprived of any right of visitation with her dual-national children. Sharia law decidedly favors men in the dissolution of marriage. And the laws of Saudi Arabia require that all individuals be sponsored by a Saudi citizen in order to receive a visa, resident or otherwise. Therefore, once a marriage breaks up, the ex-wife must leave the Kingdom and may only return with the explicit permission and sponsorship of her ex-husband. (In cases where the Saudi husband attempts to prevent his spouse from leaving, the Embassy can call upon Saudi authorities to facilitate the American wife's departure. The Embassy cannot force a Saudi husband to relinquish the children.)