Saudi Arabia allows free thinkers to talk to students

Saudi Arabia allows free thinkers to talk to students

Beitragvon geemong » Di Dez 14, 2021 10:26 am

Saudi Arabia allows free thinkers to talk to students


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A major international conference on philosophy has been held in Saudi Arabia aimed at encouraging critical thinking in a country where citizens have been jailed in recent years for expressing what are seen as dissenting views.

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The leading American philosopher Michael Sandel was among a number of highly respected academics who took part in the three-day event in Riyadh.

In a virtual appearance, the Harvard professor - who's been described as having the global profile of a rock star - told the organisers that he didn't want to give a lecture, but instead sought to engage directly with young Saudis, including women.

During a session broadcast live on YouTube from the conference centre at the King Fahad National Library, Mr Sandel delicately broached issues of critical reasoning and moral philosophy with four Saudi students.

In a country where there is little tradition of public questioning of the religious, political and social status quo, this in itself was an unusual and potentially subversive act.

Mr Sandel prompted debate over government responses to the coronavirus pandemic. And he moved the discussion onto moral questions over whether one should protect or hand over a relative who's committed a murder.

One of the students said that no-one was above the law and that even if it were her father - who happened to be in the auditorium - she would turn him in. Some in the large audience of Saudi students and academics applauded.

Mr Sandel then cited an ancient Chinese story of the quandary of a ruler who found that his father was a killer. The resonance of the story was unmistakeable, in a country where the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman remains accused in the court of world opinion - despite official denials - of involvement in the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

As for independent thinking, a Saudi man was arrested last month on accusations of heresy on social media, while a Yemeni journalist was recently sentenced to 15 years in jail for apostasy. Under the de facto rule of the crown prince, a host of Saudi citizens ranging from Islamic preachers to young Saudi women advocating reform - such as Loujain al-Hathloul - have been jailed.
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