Why Haven’t We Heard About This?

Back in March, the British newspaper The Spectator ran a troubling story implicating free speech, feminism, Islam…all subjects that typically command a lot of attention in the U.S. 

Margot Wallström, the Swedish foreign minister, denounced the subjugation of women in Saudi Arabia. As the theocratic kingdom prevents women from travelling, conducting official business or marrying without the permission of male guardians, and as girls can be forced into child marriages where they are effectively raped by old men, she was telling no more than the truth.

Wallström went on to condemn the Saudi courts for ordering that Raif Badawi receive ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website that championed secularism and free speech. These were ‘mediaeval methods’, she said, and a ‘cruel attempt to silence modern forms of expression’.

She also opined that Swedish cooperation with the Saudi military was unethical.

Following her remarks, Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador to Sweden. It also stopped issuing visas to Swedish businessmen. The United Arab Emirates joined it. The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, which represents 56 Muslim-majority states, issued a statement accusing Sweden of failing to respect the world’s ‘rich and varied ethical standards,’ and the Gulf Co-operation Council condemned her ‘unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.’

And how did Sweden–a country most of us think of as a bastion of democracy and a defender of free speech–react?

Thirty chief executives signed a letter saying that breaking the arms trade agreement ‘would jeopardise Sweden’s reputation as a trade and co-operation partner’. No less a figure than His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf himself hauled Wallström in at the weekend to tell her that he wanted a compromise. Saudi Arabia has successfully turned criticism of its brutal version of Islam into an attack on all Muslims, regardless of whether they are Wahhabis or not, and Wallström and her colleagues are clearly unnerved by accusations of Islamophobia. The signs are that she will fold under the pressure, particularly when the rest of liberal Europe shows no interest in supporting her.

My question is: why has the American media failed to cover this? Why has social media been silent?

Have I missed an outcry? A public debate over the relative importance of free speech and diplomacy? Or could it be that this effort to silence Wallstrom is different because she’s a woman, complaining about the treatment of women?


  1. I do not think this is about women. It is about trade/money. The backlash would have been the same if it originated with some Swedish male. No, it’s the money, or rather the potential loss of money that drove this controversy. Ah, greed, the true religion of the western world.

  2. Sheila; your final paragraph and last question…answers your question. It is another result (hidden from the public) of the Republican anti-women crusade in this country.

    In an amazing display of democracy and free speech; there is a lengthy front page article in the Indianapolis Star today (Saturday, October 10, 2015) reporting the status of Indiana in the nation regarding Planned Parenthood, Medicaid and women’s health services in general. The article is written by Maureen Groppe of the Star Washington Bureau, Gannett Corporation. Indiana is at or near the bottom of the list of available medical clinics providing health care (primarily contraceptive services) for women and is facing a larger risk from further cuts of federal funds.

    The American media and social media are being silenced by the Republican anti-women combined with anti-Islam foundation of their privately owned Congress. Boehner, while his resignation has long been a goal of many Americans, has deliberately chosen a time-frame to cause the most confusion within the party and Congress and is backing the lead anti-women, anti-Islam, anti-voting rights, et al, candidate to replace him. Sadly; our own Joe Donnelly voted with the Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood. Remember the old wise and true adage; “A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link.” That weak link in Indiana is Joe Donnelly…running on the Democratic ticket but in actuality a closet Republican.

  3. Hats off to the Swedish foreign minister for calling attention to the problem. All of us reading this blog can share it with news media sources and friends and ask ALL of them to call attention to the issue as well.

    Theresa is right – this is likely about trade and money spelled o-i-l. Much of that oil is owned and/or processed by major companies in the U.S. and among our allies. If the women of the world make a conscious effort to use fewer petroleum products including things like plastics and styrofoam cups as well as gasoline, the Saudi royals will finally get the message.

  4. “My question is: why has the American media failed to cover this? Why has social media been silent?”

    Above is Sheila’s question regarding America…not Sweden. Sweden’s reasoning is probably based in money/oil but little anti-women basis for their actions except as an excuse to attack Wallstrom personally. I’m sure there is money/oil buried somewhere in the hidden agenda in this country; but the media is too involved in sex and money connected to our own political parties to worry about Sweden or Saudi Arabia and their views on freedom of speech, women and their rights or the lack thereof…including Wallstrom.

  5. I also believe that it has to do with money. There may bery well have been reporters in our country that wrote stories about this or tried to get it on tv. I would not be surprised to find out that the few people that control all of our news outlets were paid off by oil or threatened in some way by our government.

  6. The British still have journalists. We do not. Some Swedes still have principles, others do not. Some Ahrabs live in modern times, some in ancient.

    Of course this particular problem is easy to solve. Get off oil. It’s unaffordable anyway. Do what we need to do regardless of what Matthew McConaughey tells us on TV.

    There is still much to fix.

  7. The short answer is that the US media really doesn’t care about free speech, human rights, or the behavior of foreign governments unless it will get them clicks, and therefore ad revenue. Any news outlets that actually write about injustice and/or hypocrisy have been thoroughly marginalized. This is partly due to corporate consolidation and its attendant ‘soft power’, and partly due to the self-censorship of people who want to hold on to their six-figure salaries. Corporations and the rich, consciously or unconsciously, have been playing a long game since the late ’70s – it’s their world, and we’re just living in it.

  8. If this was Jeopardy question it would be found under the category – Corruption. Corruption of the mind and spirit. It goes back to Ike’s famous quote,” In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” What Ike may not have seen is the complete coagulation into the Wall Street-
    Security-Military-Industrial- Media Complex.

    Saudi Arabia has public executions, beheading and Crucifixion of the beheaded body. There are articles on how the Saudi Royal Family remains in power by allowing Religious Extremists to maintain control over the Saudi people in exchange the Royal Family is allowed to remain power.

    The USA among others supplies the Saudis with weapons (big Dollar types) which profits the War Machine here in the USA. The fact is the Saudi Arabia and Gulf States are dictatorships, they do not have free and open elections that could change the government leadership. The USA foreign policy turns a blind eye to this as does the McMega-Media here in the USA. There has always been a cognitive dissonance and compartmentalization of Good Dictators vs Bad Dictators in our foreign policy and this is expressed in our McMega-Media.

  9. Joann gets the spin of the year award for turning the lack of protection for Swedish free speech into an assault on Republicans and support for that vile organization, Planned Parenthood.

  10. Minimal, but an NYT op-ed piece posited that Saudi Arabia is more dangerous in the Middle East than Iran.

  11. Paul K. Ogden; I consider any award from any Republican for anything I say or do to be an honor. Thank you!

    If Wallstrom was a man this denounciation of the subjugation of women anywhere would be world news…and would be heeded as an issue to be dealt with.

  12. I think the reason may be simpler than political agendas. U.S. media have increasingly turned inward in the last few decades. The share of foreign news has shrunk, and news media have closed foreign bureaus. It always amazes me when I listen to the BBC News service how much goes on in the world that you never hear or read about in U.S. News outlets.

    As to this case, the Swedish government had–somewhat naively–thought that its recognition of the Palestine state (in defiance of EU policy) would translate into a platform for bringing up women’s issues in the Arab world. It didn’t. The Saudis blocked her from speaking at an Arab League meeting in Cairo following this incident, and not even the Palestinians spoke up in her favor. And as a small country heavily dependent on exports, Sweden in the end let money talk.

  13. Reporting news is essential for democracy but not very lucrative. What brings in the bucks is shouting opinions which gets you a vociferous enthusiastic audience of those you make happy and those you make angry. It really doesn’t matter what the opinion is, it doesn’t even have to be true or accurate, it’s the emotional reaction that it illicits that sells.

    Corporations have no blank on their balance sheet for enhancing democracy. It’s an externality. It loses every time to enhancing revenue.

  14. My husband got better news on what was going on in America when he was on a businesses trip to England and spent most of his time watching the BBC. He said he got better world news when watching the BBC.

    I am not surprised at all that our media did not report on this story. Saudi’s oil is more important than women.

  15. BBC news is really good on world news and so is Euronews which can be selected by language.
    American news is “if it bleeds it leads.” Don’t believe me? Just watch your local news for a week and ask yourself, how many news reports start with a crime report? It’s no wonder everyone is scared out of their skin and buying guns.

  16. In Indianapolis we have our morning overnight shooting report; following by the Colts report with more Colts news during the sports report.

  17. Just like not hearing a peep in the US press/media about the huge protest in Berlin this past weekend over the TTIP trade deal, we will never see world news unless we really dig for it–or it somehow will affect the small group controlling the news. Our media is ineffective with real news. Its become the playground of special interests, and if that news doesn’t benefit that special interest, it’s killed or ignored. I watch national/local news for fluff. I…read…for the real news.
    Thanks for the great, daily blogs. Always a thoughtful discourse, and much appreciated.

  18. Always keeping my eyes open for advertised international positions for dental faculty positions with only a one-year appointment, I ran across an active search for dental faculty positions in a rather unusual place, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Seems that Saudi Arabia opened the world’s largest female public university, Princess Nora bint Abdulrahman University, in 2011. It’s a totally self-contained community, a small city of women; however, the university IS hiring male faculty members who are fluent in English.

    My immediate take on this massive, extremely well-appointed facility, was that with enough oil money King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud now can boast to the world of educating the women while maintaining his ancient beliefs. Separate but equal?

    Attached is the job advertisement handled by a headhunter search group.


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