Several of you have asked if I still plan on going to Saudi Arabia in light of recent events, so I figured I should provide an update on that.
Why I was planning on going to Saudi Arabia
I think there’s value in seeing just about anywhere in the world firsthand if possible. You learn a lot about people/places by seeing a country firsthand, meeting locals, etc.
Saudi Arabia is one of those countries that I doubt I’ll love, but that I’d nonetheless like to see. The country was supposed to start issuing tourist visas as of April 1, 2018, in an attempt to boost their non-religious tourism. The crown prince has said that he wants to “modernize Islam” in the country (though it’s questionable if his actions so far have reflected that).
Unfortunately they haven’t stuck to that timeline, though an interesting opportunity to get a visa presented itself recently. In December there will be a Formula E race in Riyadh, and Saudi Arabia is issuing e-visas for the purposes of attending this event. Beyond attending the Formula E race you’re encouraged to explore the country, and can travel around freely (well, except for some sites that are off limits for non-Muslims).
So I was thinking of going so that I can see the country for myself.
In light of recent events…
It goes without saying that recent events disgust me. While there are credible theories, we don’t yet know exactly what happened and who is behind it.
What I do know is that it makes me feel extremely uncomfortable. Not because I’m worried my safety would be at risk if I visited Saudi Arabia, but my gut is just very uneasy about all of this, and my interest in visiting has waned a bit.
Let me be clear — this doesn’t reflect the people of Saudi Arabia, so I hate “punishing” a country based on the actions of a leader. I’ve met a lot of lovely Saudi people over the years.
At the same time, we have to follow our guts, and in this case it just doesn’t feel right.
The “slippery slope” argument
A lot of people might say “well wait a second, you’re fine going to a country that has laws that could punish gays with death, but this is where you draw the line?”
The truth is that I think all of this is a very slippery slope. Very. Here’s a Wikipedia page showing LGBT rights in countries across the globe. If I were to only visit countries with truly progressive policies, I’d be going very few places.
It’s true that on one hand it seems a bit weird to say a journalist being killed is what makes me feel odd, rather than the other laws the country has. But we have to follow our guts, and in this case it’s one of those issues where I’m drawing a line, at least for now.
Why I travel to countries with policies I strongly disagree with
Why do I travel to countries that have policies I strongly disagree with?
The first reason is that it allows me to form my own opinion. My one takeaway from traveling places is that we’re all a lot more similar than we think. Really I think that’s the biggest lesson we can take away from travel. It seems like most of the problems in the world arise from perceived differences, when really those differences should be overshadowed by our similarities.
We live in a world where fear often arises from unfamiliarity. Over the years there have been a countless number of stories of someone being kicked off a plane in the US because they “looked” Muslim and were having a phone call in Arabic.
I don’t think that’s because the person who was “scared” had bad intentions. I do think they were genuinely scared. The problem is that this fear arises from unfamiliarity and ignorance. It doesn’t matter what it is in life, if we’re unfamiliar with something we’re often scared of it.
I remember my first ever trip to the Middle East about a decade ago. I was apprehensive before going, because I feared everything would be so different. It was eye-opening for me.
In many ways I even relate this to being gay. Why have we seen a shift in LGBT rights in the US and elsewhere? Because people just come out, and when you know gay people, it seems a lot less scary.
People fear differences, and they stereotype based on the little knowledge they have. This can apply whether we’re talking about Muslims in the US or gays in the Middle East. We’re all the same, deep down.
As far as I’m concerned a huge reason for the change we’ve seen in LGBT rights is simply people coming out to friends and family, and over time that changes public opinion.
I wasn’t meaning to make this political, though I guess naturally that’s how it evolved in trying to explain myself.
The current situation in Saudi Arabia just doesn’t sit right in my gut, and I want to see how this unfolds. That’s why I’m not going to Saudi Arabia for now.
That being said, in the future I do hope to visit. As humans we have so much in common, and our differences are all fairly minor.
While I respect those who say “I refuse to visit a country with XYZ laws,” I do tend to think that’s a slippery slope. My personal philosophy is that I’ll go anywhere that I consider to be relatively safe, because I think there’s more to be gained by interacting with people and showing similarities, and it’s also always eye-opening for me.