Friday, November 18, 2005


Teachers Getting Whipped in Saudi Arabia published an article today about a court case with serious implications for free speech and educational reform in Saudi Arabia. Mohammed Salamah al-Harbi is a high school chemistry teacher in Riyadh and he has recently been sentenced to 40 months in prison and 750 lashes for comments he made during a class. What sort of comments could he have made that would warrant such a harsh and strange sentence? The court found the teacher made comments that were considered blasphemous to Islam. He defended Jews and Christians and openly ridiculed some of the components of Islam.

Although this is just one example, it serves as a necessary reminder so much work still needs to be done at the lowest, tactical levels to combat backward ideologies that are poisoning tomorrow’s citizens in Saudi Arabia. True Mr. Al-Harbi might have been better served sticking to density, test tubes, and chemistry in his classroom. But if Saudi Arabia is really going to counter the radical forces that are eroding the Kingdom from within, then it needs to address the lack of freedom of speech in its society and the lack of reform in its school. Saudi students need to be given academic freedom in order to secure the critical thinking skills necessary to be productive members of their society. Their teachers need to be given the freedom to instruct their students and give them the knowledge required to lead their country through the 21st century. This inability for Saudi society to adapt and reform itself is a problem not only for the Kingdom itself but for the region and the world as well. The lack of education reform and freedom of speech is thwarting the Kingdom from developing innovative thinkers and breaking through the ideologies crippling the country. The country’s entire financial well bring is not rooted in the skills and innovation of its people. It is rooted in crude oil. That will remain the case until Saudi Arabia makes the essential reforms to save itself.

How many more outspoken high school teachers will be whipped before this happens?

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