LAKHANPAL: Free Speech Still Only a Whisper in Middle East
CUTTER, KUH-TAWR, QATAR
Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 12:04
Since I started writing for The Hoya, I’ve experienced a good deal of constructive criticism from my readers. Some of the things I write are not exactly favorable to the opinions of my friends in Qatar or in the United States. At the same time, there are people who are strongly supportive of my perspective.
Either way, my column has been a chance to facilitate debate. Qatar may be a monarchic state, but debate here is extensive and powerful, just as it is at Georgetown.
Discussion is stimulated through organizations like Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, a government initiative focused on increasing human capital, discussion and innovation in Qatar. Additionally, university classrooms provide a forum in which reporters, professors, students and global citizens can shape the perspectives of a greater community. Personally, I write for The Hoya and keep a blog. The beauty of the freedom provided by the Qatar Foundation is that as long as my work is directly related to Georgetown, I have the ability to discuss any topic from any stance.
But I also have peers who are shrouded in a cloak of self-censorship. In Georgetown’s classrooms on the Qatar campus, students have the freedom to question religion, governmental actions and migrant labor issues. But when controversial topics come up, professors, staff and students are quick to joke, “I wouldn’t want to get deported!” The university literary magazine, Diwan, which is spearheaded by Qatari students, chose censorship as its 2012 theme.
Nobody is telling students to be silent, but there is a fear of what could happen if a negative view became public. This standard is unacceptable. If we want this generation of Qataris and expatriates to be truly enlightened, we need the ability to honestly express what we feel.
Although the spark of intellectual freedom has been lit, failure to debate, discuss or write from this vantage point is a crime to the intellectual development of the self, the country, the region and the world.
Newspapers in this part of the world need to provide bolder commentary, convincing others to engage in a healthy dialogue. This, in turn, could transform thinkers domestically and abroad. In light of the Arab Spring, a revolution of ideas is necessary for all peoples. If Qatar truly favors human development, then blogging, columns, dialogues and other modes of debate must be embraced.
Debate is the single driving force behind the intellectual revolution in this part of the world. The freedom to have a perspective is shaping the history of this region in ways nobody could have possibly imagined. Egypt, Syria and Tunisia are becoming vastly different states. Whereas students at SFS-Q have been handed free speech, revolutionaries elsewhere have had to fight for this right.
With the advent of the mega-university, a bottomless financial well and an ability to attract some of the best minds and athletes on the planet, Qatar is moving in the right direction. The country is in a position where it can innovate in ways that have never been possible, but it can’t be limited to Qatar Foundation. From classrooms and websites to street corners, a new kind of honest, uncensored discussion can flourish. It can’t just be on the island that is Education City, nor just the peninsula that is the State of Qatar, but throughout this entire region.
The megaphone is there, people just need to start using it — just as we have begun to do at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service campus in Qatar.
Nikhil Lakhanpal is a freshman at the School of Foreign Service-Qatar campus. This is the last appearance of CUTTER, KUH-TAWR, QATAR.