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?