Proportion

The editors of the Washington Post laud the Canadian government for picking a fight with the Saudis over women’s rights:

SAUDI ARABIA has offered a telling response to Canada’s complaint about the arrest of two prominent female activists, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah. The Saudi Foreign Ministry protested that Canada was engaging in “blatant interference in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs” and an “unacceptable affront to the Kingdom’s laws and judicial process.” The call by Canada to release the women was “reprehensible,” the ministry said. In other words, Saudi Arabia would like the rest of the world to look the other way.

Fortunately, Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, refused. On Aug. 2, she wrote on Twitter that Canada was “very alarmed” about the detention of the two women. Ms. Badawi is the sister of Raif Badawi, a blogger serving a 10-year jail sentence for running a website that was critical of Saudi’s strict religious authorities. Saudi Arabia’s young ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been intolerant of dissent and jailed dozens of critics, including intellectuals, journalists and advocates of women’s right to drive . Most have been thrown in jail for long periods without any semblance of due process. When Ms. Freeland called for the Badawis to be freed, the crown prince answered by expelling Canada’s ambassador and severing trade, travel and student exchange links. The intended message: Other countries should mind their own business, or else.

What Ms. Freeland and Canada correctly understand is that human rights and basic liberty are universal values, not the property of kings and dictators to arbitrarily grant and remove on a whim. Saudi Arabia’s long-standing practice of denying basic rights to citizens, especially women — and its particularly cruel treatment of some dissidents, such as the public lashes meted out to Mr. Badawi — are matters of legitimate concern to all democracies and free societies. The crown prince has been impressively active in seeking to modernize the kingdom economically, pushing to diversify away from oil and to satisfy a burgeoning youthful population’s thirst for Western culture and entertainment. Doesn’t he see how this futuristic vision is undermined when he throws critics into dungeons and behaves like a police-state despot?

There is another way of looking at it, of course, that the values the Canadians want to impose on the Saudis are not universal ones but Western values. I find it gratifying that at least some in the West are coming to the overdue realization that Mohammed bin Salman is no liberal as they had breathlessly proclaimed he was.

Meanwhile, if you’re standing up for universal human rights, doesn’t simple proportion cause it to make sense to direct your fire at the world’s greatest abuser and violator of human rights, China? The Saudis are small potatoes by comparison. Or maybe the Canadians just don’t think they need the Saudis any more.

4 comments… add one
  • Guarneri

    Realpolitik.

    Lot of that going around these days. “You know, I’m anti-unfair trade. Yessiree. Sure am. Well, but not in THAT good with THOSE guys………”.

  • I think I should point out that this post ties in nicely with my last post, “Different Cultures Are…Different” and my next post, “The Vision Thing”. What is our relationship to be with other countries, particularly countries that do not share our views on personal liberty and sexual morality?

  • TarsTarkas

    From the overreaction to Canada’s criticism, I suspect there was something much bigger going on in the KSA than the imprisonment of human rights activists. I strongly suspect these ‘activists’ might have wittingly or unwittingly got themselves involved in an attempted coup of bin Salman. If so, not good. I suspect we will hear more details (and spin) in the next week or so.

  • Sure. MBS can’t tolerate challenges to his power.

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