- - Monday, February 15, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Welcome to Starbucks in Saudi Arabia. With your tall nonfat latte you will also get an extra special gift: a giant, steaming pile of gender apartheid.

U.N. Watch refers to Saudi Arabia as having “arguably the worst record in the world when it comes to religious freedom and women’s rights,” so it came as no surprise last week when women were barred from entering a Starbucks of all places.

A person attempting to be a Starbucks customer was waylaid by the 6th century. Thinking she would get her java at the Riyadh Starbucks, instead she received some tall extra-fat Sharia and encountered a sign which she promptly tweeted. Outside the coffee shop was a notice that read in English and Arabic, “Please no entry for ladies only send your driver to order thank you.”

Social media exploded when “ManarM” tweeted, “#Starbucks store in Riyadh refused 2 serve me just because I’m a WOMAN & asked me 2 send a man instead.”

Confirming the situation, Starbuck’s issued a statement to CNN that was not filled with disgust and outrage, but instead, excuses. It cited “local customs” and “local law” as it explained that the only reason women were temporarily banned from that Starbucks was because they needed to build a gender wall inside the store.

Come on people, we were missing our gender wall! Chillax!

Starbucks welcomes all customers, including women and families, to enjoy the Starbucks experience. We have worked with local authorities to obtain approval to refurbish one of our stores in Jarir, which was originally built without a gender wall. That meant it could only accommodate men in accordance with local law,” the company told CNN.

That’s sort of like a diner in 1960s Greensboro saying they love all their customers, it’s just that the black ones can’t sit at the counter. Because, you know, tradition.

This from the same company that last year encouraged their U.S. baristas to engage customers in conversations about race relations. A communications executive tweeted about the project, “Conversation has the power to change hearts and minds. Let’s #RaceTogether @Starbucks to foster compassion and dialog.”

Yet, strangely Starbucks is just fine doing business in a country that requires gender walls and treats women like chattel.

Saudi Arabia’s backward treatment of women is well-known. Women are not allowed to drive; they must have a male chaperone at all times when they leave the house; they are forbidden from wearing make-up or clothes that “show off their beauty”; they cannot interact with men, swim, compete freely in sports, or try on clothes when shopping, reports The Week magazine in England.

This misogyny is, of course, excused as “religious,” which appears to give the Western world’s liberals the excuse they need to ignore the pesky human rights abuses of the Islamic world.

Yet, the Saudi government pledges every now and then to end the oppression. Last year, women were allowed to run for municipal office and vote, an action in the Kingdom that means very little when the Religious Police and ministries control everything.

Most of us recall the success of the international anti-apartheid movement to end the obscene bigotry and discrimination of South Africa. Racial segregation there finally came to an end in the early 1990s after decades of international boycotts involving sports, the economy, education, and commerce. South Africa was also expelled from the Olympics due to its racist apartheid policy.

In an essay for the Hollywood Reporter, television host Bill Maher noted, “Forty countries in the world have some version of Sharia law. I just don’t understand how liberals who fought the battle for civil rights in the ‘60s, fought against apartheid in the ‘80s, can then just simply ignore Sharia law in 40 countries. Apartheid was only in one.”

Mr. Maher asks a good question, so let’s not forget one thing that makes ignoring human rights abuses and gender apartheid easy: There’s lots and lots of money in the Middle East for movies and speeches and film festivals and parties. And presidential libraries. And a famous coffee brand, among many other American companies.

Movie stars, politicians, and Hollywood executives, from all over the world, don’t think twice when flying into Riyadh for fun, business and money.

The celebrated liberals of the West then fly blissfully away from that cauldron of abuse where recently, as The Washington Post reports, a blogger was sentenced to 1000 lashes for writing about free speech and a political dissident was sentenced with beheading and crucifixion. Western movers and shakers can’t spend too much time in Saudi Arabia though, because after all, they’ve got Americans who need lecturing on racism.

The argument “Because religion!” is simply an excuse. It’s clear not all Muslims practice discrimination in the name of Islam, so why do we accept the version that’s misogynistic? Muslim women demonstrate against the discrimination they’re subjected to in Saudi Arabia regularly. Are they not good Muslims? And if the Kingdom sees fit to change the rules, as with voting, it confirms the oppression of women is an arbitrary action not related to faith at all. What a surprise.

The answer for all American companies, and our government as well, is to stop legitimizing gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia and other Sharia countries by looking away. Until that changes, when addressing issues of racism, sexism, hypocrisy and oppression, liberals need only look in the mirror.

Tammy Bruce is a radio talk show host and a Fox News contributor.

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