As much as teaching in Japan challenged me, there were two pretty fundamental areas where me, my students, and Japanese coworkers pretty much agreed about the basics of things: politics and religion. Yes, yes, I know that you’re probably thinking “WTF, Joe?” at such a statement, but I’m talking about the very basics here. We all believed that democracy was pretty good, that having elections and whatnot was a desirable form of governance. On the front of religion, we shared various shades of nonparticipation.
So, it’s been quite different teaching students from Saudi Arabia.
I’ve got to admit that, on paper, I’m not Saudi Arabia’s biggest fan. In fact, I think it is something of a disgrace to the modern world. The fact that we still have a religious monarchy on the face of the earth would be mind-boggling in and of itself, but that coupled with the country’s atrocious human rights record makes Saudi Arabia’s existence truly staggering. This is the future, after all. Why the hell is there still a country where women can’t drive and beer is illegal?
(Okay, I know the answer is some form of the resource curse, but it’s still weird.)
Anyway, I’ve got a bunch of Saudi students in my class now, and it’s been a fairly enlightening experience. This kids (and they are kids- around college age) are extraordinarily bright, and are from fairly well-to-do (and I’m guessing more liberal) families. They’re well-travelled, and a joy to have in class. However, I do find it a little weird that they don’t drink, and are filled with all kinds of effusive praise for King Abdullah.
As much as I like Obama, I still think that, on principle, his words and actions should be highly scrutinized, and I worry about the cult of personality that he seems to have. My skepticism regarding heads of state, though, is not shared by my Saudi students, who have nothing but good things to say about their king. King! A guy who actually got his job as a ruler because of the accident of his birth. They absolutely love the guy, and whenever they talk about him I listen for little rustles of dissent. I haven’t heard any yet. They are, though, in my class because of a scholarship set up by His Majesty, so that might explain part of it.
I’m not waving about the firebrand of demoncracy in my classroom. That’s not my job, and I wouldn’t have the interest or energy to do so, anyway. I find it all to be fascinating, though. My Asian and European students are more than happy to complain about their governments and specific politicians in familiar ways. The current PM of Korea has a grand total of zero fans in my classroom.
So the most-loved world leader that I get to hear about is an absolute monarch who doesn’t allow critics of his country to travel there. They love the guy. I’m not saying that it’s good or bad, just really danged interesting, and hearing about it is a nice occupational perk.