Whis­per­ing our Saudi out­rage

Ottawa Citizen - - NEWS - SHAN­NON GORM­LEY Shan­non Gorm­ley is an Ot­tawa Cit­i­zen global af­fairs colum­nist and free­lance jour­nal­ist.

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.

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