The 1980s went by, and the years after that brought the Afghan War and historic events in the Soviet Union. In the meantime, the extremists had become very powerful in Saudi Arabia, promoting their ideas and forcing everyone to abide by strict rules.
Leaflets, books, and cassettes calling for jihad in Afghanistan and insisting on ejecting all non-Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula were given out freely. I was one of the youths recruited to distribute them. A 22-year-old man was among those fighting for jihad. His name was Osama bin Laden. Such were the heroes of our time. In the days of sahwa—al-Sahwa al-Islamiyya, or “the Islamic Awakening”—one of the main subjects of debate was women. I was taught that if I left home, I would be fully responsible for any evil that befell me, because men cannot be expected to control their instincts. I am the seductive fruit, they said, and I would seduce men in all my shapes and forms. So I was made to stay home.
For Saudi extremists I was awra. The word awra means a sinful thing, an intimate part of the body you should not show. It is against the law to disclose it. By the time I was ten, I was covering myself fully.
My face was awra, my voice was awra. Even my name was awra. Women cannot be called by name, so they are called “daughter of” a man’s name, “wife of” a husband, or “mother of” one of her sons.