Whispering our Saudi outrage
Our former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dennis Horak, wants Canada to have a dialogue with the country; he may be gratified to learn that he and Saudi Arabia have a lot to talk about. They both agree that Canada should not talk about Saudi Arabia.
More precisely, the former ambassador says Canada should not “yell.” The yelling to which he refers was contained in this written statement released by Foreign Affairs: “Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudis authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists.”
Perhaps in the dialogue that eventually occurs between the former envoy and the kingdom — the logis- tics of which, admittedly, may be difficult to arrange given that Saudi Arabia kicked him out in retaliation for Canada talking about Saudi Arabia — the two parties can clarify where, precisely, the yelling is located in a bland bulletin devoid of either spirit or Allcaps. They may then commiserate over the ousted ambassador’s complaint that the message was released as a tweet, and assure each other that somehow this second complaint does not undercut the first, even though by Twitter standards the Foreign Affairs statement is the pinnacle of restraint and politeness.
Of course, dialogues require give and take. So as a former representative of Canada gives Canada criticism for being too passionate, a current representative of Saudi Arabia will take Canada to task for being too pedantic. “It is outrageous from our perspective that a country will sit there and lecture us,” says Saudi Arabia’s foreign affairs minister.
At this point, it might occur to these conversation partners that undergraduate students the world over implore the gods to grace them with lectures so brief.
They might consider what an actual lecture on Saudi Arabia would include: that its head of government is not elected; its national representatives are not elected; it criminalizes political dissent; it criminalizes political parties; it gives non-citizens no rights; it gives citizens their citizenship only through their married fathers; it has, one must concede, targeted corrupt officials of late, but it has targeted them because they are rivals and has done so by arbitrarily detaining them and seizing assets without due process; it tortures detainees; it controls what is said in the media and what is taught in the classrooms; for taking part in public protests, working for an NGO, or signing up to a trade union, it harasses, imprisons and executes people; it targets hospitals, marketplaces and weddings in Yemen with bombs; it oppresses everyone, but oppresses women, gay people and religious minorities even more than all the rest; and now, if Saudi Arabia can’t injure, maim or kill one of its critics in Saudi Arabia, it finds a way to reach them — kidnapping a Saudi woman from the UAE, apparently torturing and murdering a Saudi Washington Post journalist in Turkey and, of course, imprisoning the brothers of a Saudi activist in Canada.
All of Saudi Arabia’s partners in dialogue — a civilized, but not-so-civilized-to-be-lecture-like dialogue — might even wonder: What would it take for Saudi Arabia to deserve a stronger and longer talk? Perhaps these critics of even muted criticism would simply prefer action over words.
That could be arranged, at least: Countries such as Canada can take action by refusing to sell arms to Saudi Arabia.
So while others talk about what we are not to talk about, the rest of us might discuss instead how to achieve more of our objectives with states that don’t jail, whip, beat and slaughter people for exercising free speech.