This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Enticing Saudi Arabia to Western Values? Beware Pious Sanctimony

"[Algonquin College has] chosen to align ourselves with the government of Canada, and that is to engage rather than isolate."
"I strongly believe that through education we will be doing our part in what we can do to change cultures in different countries."
Cheryl Jensen, president, Algonquin College

"Where exactly are the avenues for advocating change? And if there are none, they are essentially not engaging in any way that will improve human rights."
"This has been well documented and well research [the fallacy that education can improve human rights]. Part of what can prop up an authoritarian regime is economic prosperity. If an authoritarian regime can deliver a good economy, it actually legitimates their authority and can entrench it further."
Duff Conacher, political studies professor, University of Ottawa/Democracy Watch

"Where do you draw the line? We drew it on a case-by-case basis. The primary driver was -- do we see the country is committed to education? Do we see progress? If we see those two things, it gets on the list."
"Change isn't going to happen overnight, but certainly having a male campus and a female campus will help us even further to change the expectations of how education is delivered."
"Listen, we're not in the politics business. We're in the business of education. We get into discussions about critical thinking, but it doesn't necessarily mean we're talking about politics. We are there as educators, and we believe that education is one of the most powerful ways in which you can build a civil society, a prosperous community. That's the work we're doing. Leave the politics to other folks."
Doug Wotherspoon, head, international operations, Algonquin College

"[There may be value inherent to bringing technical education to students in a remote and backward area of Saudi Arabia [But don't play it as a human rights endeavour. It's a commercial endeavour."
"If you're going to say that is spreading human rights like Nelson Mandela, my reaction to that is a rather uncharitable one, which is to sit down to stop from laughing out loud."
Simon Henderson, specialist, Arab Persian Gulf states, The Washington Institute
Algonquin College's campus in Jazan
Algonquin College's campus in Jazan, Saudi Arabia, is pictured in this file photo. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
The fact that Algonquin College and Niagara College operate men-only campuses in a backwater of Saudi Arabia was not widely reported prior to public outrage expressed over Saudi Arabia's most recent state mass execution of convicted terrorists, mostly Sunni, and a handful of Shiite Saudis, accused of terrorism related activities, some 47 in one fell swoop, mostly by firing squad, a few by hanging, others beheaded. This is typical Saudi justice, including the execution of a teen among them.

The Algonquin technical-training campus was opened in Jazan, Saudi Arabia in 2013. Its presence in the repressive, human-rights abusing country is portrayed as one that is strictly education-oriented, a kind of goodwill gesture from Canada to Saudi Arabia, but its purpose based on its function is to make a killing, a multi-million profit. In its first year of operation Algonquin did realize a rather modest profit of $79,000. But it has experienced complications since; Saudi students unprepared to learn in an unfamiliar new environment, and failing classes, resulting in an enrolment rate too low to operate at full capacity. In the second year of operation Algonquin lost $1.48 million.

The union representing Algonquin's faculty is calling for the college to exit Saudi Arabia. Algonquin professor Jack Wilson, a vice-president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union representing Algonquin faculty makes hash of the platitudes inherent in education: "You can't be a tool for change if you don't have a receptive partner for change", he observed. And therein lies the unvarnished truth, that no kind of helpful collaboration could ever induce the Wahhabist Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to deviate from its deep Islamist devotion and execution of Sharia law.

Algonquin had placed a bid for a female college and another for a male and female college. It lost the bid for a female college and has pledged to resume that attempt. Saudi Arabia is extending an effort to improve education in the country and for that purpose has opened 18 female and 19 male colleges in the last several years. There are no equality rights for women in the country, and women attending college wearing burqas or niqabs do not furnish anyone's typical picture of a liberated and egalitarian society.

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