Author: Grant LaFleche
Source: The Welland Tribune, April 22, 2014
On March 20, 2014, Human Right Watch reported that, in January 2014, Saudi Arabia adopted a new terrorism law and a series of related royal decrees creating a legal framework that appears to criminalize virtually all dissident thought or expression as terrorism. The sweeping provisions in the measures threaten to close down altogether Saudi Arabia’s already extremely restricted space for free expression.
These new measures were the starting point of Grant LaFleche’s reflection on the lack of merits for Niagara College to open a new campus in a totalitarian country.
The summary of his article is followed by the full version.
Universities and colleges have been, since the middle ages, forums of social, political, theological and scientific discussion. They have been sources of social change, big and small. In the Saudi context, by participating in a repressive system, Niagara College will be but a shadow of its true self.[…] Article 8 of the [new Saudi terrorism] law says a terrorist is anyone, “seeking to shake the social fabric or national cohesion, or calling, participating, promoting, or inciting sit-ins, protests, meetings, or group statements in any form, or anyone who harms the unity or stability of the kingdom by any means.”
So much for free speech.[…] In my view, Niagara College is better off building an international network in those nations that share our values rather than bowing to those that corrupt them.
Original title: Niagara College should think twice about Saudi Arabia
Apparently, I am a terrorist.
Well, at least that is how the newly enacted terrorism law of Saudi Arabia would classify me as an atheist who isn’t shy about it.
Fun place, Saudi Arabia. If you happen to be a Muslim man. If you are a non-Muslim, or particularly if you are a woman, it’s not so awesome. Saudi women are constrained by a strict adherence to Sharia, or Islamic law. They cannot drive a car. They cannot go to school, open a bank account, get a job or get married or divorced without the permission of a man.
(In 2013, women were finally allowed to ride bicycles, but only in designed areas, only when they are completely covered from head to toe and only when accompanied by a man.)
Women can get a post secondary education but with the notable exception of the co-ed King Abdullah University of Science and Technology — which is an oasis of reason in a desert of theocracy — women and men must, by law, attend segregated schools.
I bring this up because in the coming weeks Niagara College is expected to finalize plans to open its first foreign campus in Saudi Arabia. It will be located in a city near the Muslim holy site of Mecca. It will focus on tourism and hospitality and have 300 students.
It will be a male-only campus.
It is an obvious economic opportunity for the college. According to Sean Kennedy, Niagara College’s VP of student and external relations, the Saudi government is spending billions to expand post secondary institutions.
Why would Niagara College operate in such a country where it will have to conform to a theocratic legal system?
Kennedy said the western press only prints part of the story. Saudi Arabia is changing, he says, and the presence of Niagara College will serve to help encourage that change.
Nothing is accomplished by refusing to engage with Saudi Arabia, he said.
Besides, he said, we have gender segregated private schools in Canada. So having a male-only campus is not that far removed from the Canadian experience.
I’m not convinced.
All girl’s schools exist in Ontario, for example, but they are privately funded. All public schools in Canada cannot discriminate on the basis of gender. In Saudi Arabia, segregation is enforced by law which prescribes severe punishments for violators.
And while I sympathize with Kennedy’s notion of cultural engagement with repressive regimes as a means of combating tyranny, I am not so sure how well it works in reality, particularly when that engagement means tossing aside the very values Canada stands for.
Nor is Saudi Arabia changing that much. Remember that bit about atheists being considered terrorists I mentioned at the start? It’s part of a sweeping new terrorism law designed to entrench the status quo and crush dissent.
Atheists are named specifically, but anyone who calls “into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based,” is also a terrorist.
Article 8 of the law says a terrorist is anyone, “seeking to shake the social fabric or national cohesion, or calling, participating, promoting, or inciting sit-ins, protests, meetings, or group statements in any form, or anyone who harms the unity or stability of the kingdom by any means.”
So much for free speech.
Universities and colleges have been, since the middle ages, forums of social, political, theological and scientific discussion. They have been sources of social change, big and small. In the Saudi context, by participating in a repressive system, Niagara College will be but a shadow of its true self.
There are those, clinging to weak minded ideas of cultural relativism, who disagree. While democracy is good for us, they say, theocracy and tyranny are good for someone else in another country and we have no place to say otherwise.
Nonsense. When we say freedom and democracy are ideals we are willing to fight and die for — and we have been since the Persians invaded Marathon in 490 BCE — we are, by definition, saying they are superior to those cultures which are organized around opposing principles.
Including Saudi Arabia.
I sympathize with Kennedy’s point of view. But I also think it is naive.
In my view, Niagara College is better off building an international network in those nations that share our values rather than bowing to those that corrupt them.
Point de Bascule: File Saudi Arabia
Human Right Watch (March 20, 2014): Saudi Arabia: New terrorism regulations assault rights