Mailroom Buzz

July 19th, 2010

This year, the BAM posted its Commencement stories online only a few days after the festivities, and response was strong. Readers especially liked our portraits of graduating seniors, which you can read in this issue beginning on page 24.

But the most interesting discussion revolved around "The View from Riyadh," by Nathan Deuel '03, who wrote about interviewing two young Saudi women applying to Brown. Daliso Leslie '09, who teaches English at Saudi Arabia's Qassim University in one of that country's most conservative areas, compared his experiences to Deuel's: "Though I have not been able to speak directly with young Saudi women as you have, my discussions with female teachers ... lead me to believe, as you do, in the pride within educated Saudi women and their growing potential to influence their society. Indeed, when comparing their concrete goals and ambitions to those of my rather short-sighted male students, it seems that women will increasingly be the ones upon whom Saudi progress will depend.

"Let us be clear on something, however. While Saudi Arabian and American cultures are not incompatible, it is vital to admit that many Saudi experiences abroad, and indeed, some of the reforms that Western-educated Saudi women would like to pursue upon returning home are contradictory to Saudi Arabian ways of life. The free movement of Saudi women across Providence, mingling and debating with strange male Brown students is as unIslamic (according to the Saudi version) as are the weekend visits by Saudi men to Bahraini bars to drink and pick up prostitutes. The fact that higher-class citizens can meet in Riyadh and clandestinely consume illegal substances and share in illegal company doesn't discredit the widely held view of strict Saudi orthodoxy. It only serves to highlight wealthier citizens' almost universal ability to contradict the laws of their land.

"Opportunities abound for splendid fusions of Saudi and American culture. But in order for these junctures to be positive and successful, I think it necessary for Saudi modernizers to address more honestly those things that are, on the one side, backward traditions, and, on the other, morally incompatible with Saudi culture. I get the sense that the style of living one life in the Kingdom and a different life abroad (or behind closed doors) will grow increasingly problematic. After all, the royal family's most serious conflicts with ultraconservatives have arisen over concerns about this sort of double life."

What do you think?
See what other readers are saying about this article and add your voice. 
Related Issue
July/August 2010