Scientists Sell Souls to Saudis

In today’s news we learn that Saudi Arabia is on the one hand buying Western academic prestige and on the other beheading a woman accused of practicing “sorcery and witchcraft.”

The state-run Saudi news agency announced that a woman named Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassar was publicly beheaded because she claimed to be a healer who could cure ailments for a fee of $800. The religious police arrested her for practicing “witchcraft,” which in this case sounds like a euphemism for faith healing outside of Wahabbist orthodoxy. In Saudi Arabia it is perfectly acceptable to pray to Allah for healing but it is a death sentence to appeal to any other kinds of spirits or forces for healing.

In an interview with Bikya Masr, a Saudi activist complained: “It is wrong and disgusting to kill anyone in this way. Doing this just gets people thinking we live in the Dark Ages.” It apparently would be better if the unorthodox faith healer had been executed in some other less disgusting way. Saudis are living in a high-tech version of the Dark Ages, even if executions remain low-tech.

At the same time Science reports the Saudis are pumping billions of dollars into flagship universities “to help the country move from an oil-based to a knowledge economy.” It goes without saying that only certain kinds of narrow scientific and technological knowledge are acceptable.

This, however, hasn’t deterred at least 60 scientists from accepting yearly stipends of $72,000 for doing little more than naming Saudi universities as affiliate institutions on all their academic publications. Such listings result in higher rankings for Saudi universities.

Scientists can rationalize this however they want and when money is being offered, they will. Neil Robertson, a mathematics professor at Ohio State, commented:

It’s just capitalism. They have the capital and they want to build something out of it. Yes, visibility is very important to them, but they also want to start a Ph.D. program in mathematics. I’m thinking this might be a breath of fresh air in a closed society.

Robertson is “hopeful that outside influence” will help accelerate social reforms in the Kingdom. Unless Robertson can devise equations which prove that beheading a woman for unorthodox beliefs is wrong, I can’t see it happening. Scientists and other academics should think hard about selling their souls to the Saudis.

Did you like this? Share it:

9 thoughts on “Scientists Sell Souls to Saudis

  1. Sabio Lantz

    Hmmmm, hard to tell if isolating from an evil corrupt government is the best way to change it. If what you want is only for the Saudis to change (which I fully agree), then isolation may slow that down no matter how dirty it feels to associate with such bastards. I hate real choices!

  2. Cris Post author

    I guess I’m one of those who thinks that a closed, totalitarian, and barbaric system of government is better off being isolated than having its interests being served by outside scientists and technocrats. I think there is a better chance for change there if pressure comes from outside, and I don’t see how any mathematician or engineer or scientist can exert any pressure from the carefully and totally isolated “inside.” You can rest assured that any outside academics or scientists who take a university position there will be kicked out the moment he or she says anything about the theological monarchy.

    Though it is a less than perfect analogy, South Africa comes to mind. Isolation by the international community played a huge role in the eventual dismantling of apartheid and triumph of democracy.

  3. Cris Post author

    It was a woman who was beheaded because she practiced “faith healing” that supposedly contradicts Islam and constitutes heresy. I can’t see much difference between praying to Allah for healing and praying to other spirits for healing, can you?

    Step outside your faith for a brief moment and ask if that makes any sense. It doesn’t. Faith healing is faith healing, whether it is approved by formal religion or not.

    This aside, it is well known that capital punishment does not serve as a deterrent to crime or murder. It’s simply an act of vengeance.

  4. John

    Beheading is a merciful way of death sentence. It kills before the body realizes any pain by breaking the nerve system.

    On the other hand, family of the victim attends the sentence, if only one member or the victim’s family give forgiveness, the killer is sent free.

  5. Ahmad

    When Americans match Saudi’s crime rates, come talk to me about how this isn’t deterring criminals.

  6. Cris Post author

    So you are claiming that beheading a woman for practicing “witchcraft” (i.e., she is a traditional faith healer) somehow deters crime in Saudi Arabia? Right.

    A country’s crime rate is the result of many different factors, but I’m pretty sure that crime rates are in no way affected by unorthodox faith healers.

Leave a Reply