When one searches “SFS Qatar” on Google, the third search result that pops up is Ari Goldstein’s op-ed in The Hoya from October 2014 stating that the campus is subject to a brutal regime. After spending my fall semester at the School of Foreign Service campus in Qatar, I can confidently say that this portrayal of SFS-Q is highly inaccurate and unfair.
Since, regrettably, a response to the initial article has yet to be published, I will attempt to set the story straight from a firsthand perspective. I’m not going to spend my time deconstructing Goldstein’s argument or even defending the state of Qatar itself. But the argument that SFS-Q should not partner with the Qatar Foundation because it ultimately aids a “brutal dictatorship” is a poor one. I would argue that SFS-Q, which is celebrating its tenth year in Qatar, enhances the prospects for liberalization in the country and is doing the region — and the world — a service by being there.
When I first arrived in Doha in August I could immediately tell I had landed in the country with the highest wealth per capita in the world. From the horseracing academy outside my window to the Bentleys and Bugattis dropping students off at school, I knew I would witness immeasurable levels of wealth, the likes of which I had never seen before. However, wealth in and of itself does not have to be problematic, if money is put toward a good cause such as SFS-Q.
In my opinion, Qatar’s transition from a relatively unknown tribal state to a regional powerhouse has been mostly positive. More than 2 million people currently live in Qatar. Only 250,000 are Qatari; the rest are expatriates and migrant workers. An Islamic state run by Sharia Law, all religions are welcome as long as the Islamic tradition is respected.
With heavy investment from the international community, Qatar has had no choice but to allow for multiculturalism and different points of view. For example, a few years ago the government allowed the construction of a few churches to accommodate Christian expats and migrant workers. With increased globalization, additional liberalization follows.
SFS-Q is part of a wider educational community in Qatar called Education City, an initiative launched by the Qatar Foundation to foster education in the Persian Gulf. Education City is an example of how Qatar’s leaders have recognized the importance of geopolitical and socioeconomic diversity. Now not only do Qataris have access to a renowned education, but so do some of the brightest students in the region. Instead of travelling all the way to Washington, D.C., students from countries like Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan can travel to Doha for a fantastic Jesuit education with some of the best professors and brightest students in the world.
I was already receiving a tremendous Middle East education on the main SFS campus in D.C., but there is no substitute for having students from the actual nations in the regions we’re studying in our classes. For example, my water politics class in Doha was completely transformed when the Israel-Palestine dispute took over our discussion about the Jordan River basin. I had never seen individuals so passionate about an issue before. The class that followed, “Nuclear Proliferation,” heated up when a Pakistani and an Indian student fiercely debated the pros and cons of nuclear deterrence. My classroom experience demonstrated the challenges of international cooperation: when studying policy, it’s easy to forget that real people with real emotions are the ones ultimately making the decisions.
International cooperation will only come if individuals can come together for a common cause and learn about the other side’s perspective. With globalization, each member in the world community brings something different to the table. At the same time, it shows that we all share common values despite our different skill sets and backgrounds.
SFS-Q is the epitome of pluralism, one of the key tenets of a Jesuit education. Seeing women in abayas and men in thobes was a little difficult to get used to at first. But, a couple weeks in, I felt comfortable talking to every member of the Georgetown community, whether they were Qatari nationals, migrant workers from Nepal or students from India. Any stereotype that had previously defined these regions was thrown out the window.
At the same time, the students from other nations can get a glimpse of what a western liberal education stands for. Students at SFS-Q see that Americans at Georgetown can put up an extremely large Christmas tree in Qatar in December, but nevertheless respect Muslim traditions. As I see some women walk into the university, slightly loosen their headscarves, and immediately find friends to talk to in the small, close-knit Georgetown community, I realize that SFS-Q really is a haven in the desert.
As these students grow up to become political leaders in their native countries, I guarantee Georgetown will have played at least a small role in successful policy reforms in some of the most illiberal or violent regions in the world. Georgetown, Qatar and the world are better off with the SFS-Q than without it.
Matt LoPrete is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.
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