Saturday, September 16, 2006

Those Saudi Students

Victor Davis Hanson wrote a great article, explaining why we should not be so keen to accept the 15,000 Saudi students we will be accepting this year into our univerities. I have to say that he makes compelling arguments, and it is hard to dispute it!

For a variety of reasons, allowing 15,000 young (mostly male?) Saudi students into the United States is a bad idea — and these reasons have nothing to do with the hysterical and irrational fear present in the reaction to the Dubai port deal, when an internationalized company from a much more open society sought to oversee American ship facilities.

First, the verdict is out on whether experience with, and even long residence in, the United States (or for that matter, in Europe either) mitigates or enhances Islamic extremism. Considering the profile of the 9/11 hijackers and the Hamas suicide bombers, the number of Iranian mullahs and Hezbollah who have family members in the United States, and the recent public demonstrations in Michigan on behalf of Hezbollah, it is by no means clear that resentment is not the more common reaction for those who are relatively educated, not poor, and have some exposure to America.

That is, for many traditional Muslims, the openness, candor, and occasional randiness of American society create conflicting passions. Hand-in-glove with a visitor’s curiosity and desire to dress, talk, and read freely seems to arise a commensurate disdain for what is often termed “Western decadence.”

And even more disturbing, such conflicting passions of desire and shame at that desire, when coupled with an apologetic academic culture — steeped in multiculturalism and ready to offer America’s foreign critics ample ammunition for their displeasure — often result in a strange sort of irrational anger.

For some 20 years I taught a number of foreign students from the Middle East in the United States, and sometimes noticed a disturbing tendency. Over their four- or five-year tenure, many exhibited a predictable evolution in their thoughts about their newfound freedoms — especially as the time for graduation and for reckoning with a return home approached.

Initial exuberance at America’s openness often was followed with deep uncertainty whether our rejection of traditional repression was healthy — especially in the permissive campus landscape of risqué female fashion, open homosexuality, easy mixing of the races and religions, atheism, sexual promiscuity, and drug use.

We are not usually talking about the transition from a cosmopolitan Beirut to a somewhat comparable Salt Lake City, but from the most repressive conditions in the Arab world to the most liberal in the West — from the eighth-century code of behavior of Saudi Arabia to the 22nd or 23rd century postmodern world at a Berkeley or a Madison.

Often coupled with such abhorrence at our license is awe at America’s wealth and technology. From that volatile mixture a predictable confusion often emerges: Why is America so much richer and stronger than the Arab world, when it is clearly more decadent and godless?

This questioning is often answered by a variety of conspiratorial exegeses, laced with pop history and mythology that are the products of the media, mosques, and madrassas back home. Surely colonialism, or Israel, or the CIA, or American-backed dictators, or secret agreements, or oil companies best explain the current mess in Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, or Amman, those cities that were once the proud towers of the ancient caliphate.

But there is also a second reason to be concerned about these incoming students, one that likewise involves innate human nature, and especially the American sense of self. During the Cold War, we were not at war with the people of Eastern Europe, but we still did not readily admit into the United States very many students from Albania, Bulgaria, or Poland. It wasn’t just that we worried whether some were informants or worse, but also that, in such an ideological struggle, it was important to remind the masses in those countries of the wages of their repressive governments.

In the current war, such thinking would translate into something like the following: The popularity of bin Laden in the Arab Street, the continual hatred expressed for America and Jews in the state-controlled Middle East media, and the constant bombings and killings of Westerners by Muslims that are as often rationalized as condemned by Arab voices — all this surely must have consequences, if only to show that Americans sometimes are as unpredictably emotional as we are usually coldly rational.

Read the whole thing!


GayConservativeLiberal said...

very interesting; thanks for sharing this. not a fan of the word "godless" as it's been appropriated by one ann coulter, but a good read nonetheless.

Red Tulips said...

Well, Victor Davis Hanson is not saying we are actually godless, but rather that we appear godless. He has a point!

Jason said...

I'd rather we WERE all godless.

I sure as hell am.

Red Tulips said...


I didn't mean to imply that godless was bad! :-p