Canada is now in a high-heat contest with Saudi Arabia that was precipitated by two tweets on the plight of the Badawis, brother and sister, and a number of female activists, imprisoned in the latter country.
The most important question is not about the medium of the messages, or even the wording — either that of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland or the one from Global Affairs Canada. Rather, did that twin Twitter volley advance or retard the frightful situation of the people who were its subjects, the Badawis and the female activists?
Did the tweets, which incensed the Saudi government, increase the likelihood of release for all or any, or did they increase and intensify the determination to keep them imprisoned?
Did those who composed the tweets, urging “immediate release,” think that phrasing was a formula that had the slightest power to effect an actual improvement in the prisoners’ plight? Or were they swayed by how “good” it sounded to go on Twitter in such an imperative manner? What’s the cost of this storm for the individuals at its centre? For it is not about trade, or recalled ambassadors: it is about people in a jail.
I expect it will be a while, alas, before we hear about all of this from those imprisoned. Is it not most likely, now that our government has stirred these waters publicly, on the dubious and flippant medium it chose — Twitter — that both the Badawis and the female activists will suffer a longer, harder stay in the dim cloisters of Saudi prison than they would have without that intervention?
This is the problem with this government’s excessive fondness for public virtue-speak, either in foreign diplomacy or at home (say on abortion rights). It has more of a tendency to inflame than seduce.
This affair rather severely probes the talismanic phrase of the prime minister and his cabinet choir – diversity is our strength. Diversity is all well and good when it’s the kind of diversity that has parades and self-congratulation rituals attached to it, the shallow diversity of T-shirts and rock festivals where “concern” comes with its own rubber band and an earache.
The more serious understanding of diversity as espoused by Western liberal democracies is the diversity of embracing and offering full welcome to people from political, religious and cultural backgrounds vastly different from ours, even at friction with traditions of the West. It is emphatically not a two-way-street diversity.
There are no churches in Saudi Arabia. Nor will there be. There are no expat Canadians in the Saudi cabinet, nor will there be, in our time. But then, as has to be the case, in a one-man-led family monarchy, there is no cabinet either — outside that is, of first cousins and the more favoured in-laws.
The West’s ideas on this subject are the best ideas. As are our ideas on freedom and women’s rights. And, personally, I’d state that conclusion as more in the arena of fact than opinion.
But what about the different political systems, religions and …read more