Home Campus OPINION: Ohio U’s plan to train Saudi educators is a chance to encourage liberal values overseas

OPINION: Ohio U’s plan to train Saudi educators is a chance to encourage liberal values overseas

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A Muslim worshiper claps at the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Picture by Ali Mansuri

Opinion writer Tim Zelina argues that the best way to achieve reform in Saudi Arabia is to open its citizens’ minds to American values.

Forty-two educators from Saudi Arabia will be traveling to Athens this semester as part of a year-long training with the staff at Ohio University. The program, known as “khbrat” (which means ‘experience’ in Arabic), intends to train the Saudi educators in the teaching style of their American counterparts.

As Saudi Arabia seeks to modernize and keep pace with a 21st century world, they’ve begun reaching out to their allies overseas for assistance.

Some have expressed concern with this program, the largest point of contention being in the national background of these educators. Saudi Arabia is an anti-democratic Islamic monarchy, which operates on a radical interpretation of Sharia Law known as Wahhabism. The nation is infamous for its stonings and harsh imprisonement of dissidents, feminists, LGBTQ people and non-Muslims. Even worse, there has been evidence of links between Saudi princes and the terrorists who committed the atrocities of 9/11.

Because of the tyrannical nature of the country these educators hail from, some worry that by engaging in this program, Ohio U is tacitly endorsing — or at the very least turning a blind eye to — the crimes and controversies of the Saudi state.

Simply put, this is misguided. Yes, Saudi Arabia’s government is one worthy of condemnation and distrust; the values of Athens, and of America as a whole, are in direct contradiction to the values of the Saudi state.

But consider who is visiting the university. These are not Saudi royals coming to strengthen the authority of their state. It is educators, the people who plant the roots of knowledge in the minds of the young and ambitious.

What better an opportunity to encourage the modernization of Saudi Arabia than to grant the educators a chance to experience a socially liberal, politically democratic city like Athens, Ohio?

Change in Saudi Arabia won’t come from external pressure or ostracization of Saudi citizens. It will come from within the country itself, when its citizens begin to reject the backwards, autocratic nature of their government and demand something freer. But this can only occur when they realize alternative governance is superior to their current administration.

History is full of influential figures who traveled overseas, experienced the better life of a foreign culture, and returned to achieve that style of living in their home country. Ohio U should welcome these Saudi educators as a chance to spread the influence of liberal democratic values. Who knows, the future great Saudi reformer could be amongst these educators.

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