To the Editors:
Our correspondents report that advertisements for faculty positions at the University of Riyad appear in the NYR. Of course, why shouldn’t you run such ads, if they are properly submitted? Why shouldn’t you accept my subscription?
Predicated on the assumption that this is a place like any other, with a university like any other, my questions must seem delusional. I am really writing to ask if my perception that this part of the world receives no serious treatment in current publishing and the literary intellectual press is confirmed by your experience. To put this question another way: Have I only missed them, or are responsible books, articles, letters, and the like about the Islamic kingdoms and shiekdoms simply not being written and discussed?
If my observation is accurate, why is it so? Does the NYR receive no other correspondence relative to this area besides subscriptions and advertisements?
There are 15,000 students from this country currently studying at colleges and universities in the United States. Due to the popularity here (more imagined than real) of English as a second language, and of America as an “ally,” Americans are actively recruited and brought to teach through advertisements like those I’ve mentioned above. Such comfortable and homely “facts” betray a reality so far from normal expectation and practice as to be criminal if it continues to be maintained in silence. Where in fact is the proper forum for open discussion of hiring practices, responsibilities, academic, civil, and human rights in these wealthy developing nations? Or do such considerations simply disappear when “the money is good?”
This is a country that censors all journals and newspapers, that does not grant tourist visas, that confiscates passports of foreign university employees (and does not release them, except at year’s end, without heavy bond), that can arrest, imprison, try, and sentence (conceivably maim or execute) at will. Besides not being apprised of these difficulties in the usually vague but accommodating encounters prior to arrival, the newcomer is further unprepared (if not actually misled) to cope with inadequate housing and transportation arrangements (all contractually promised), unbelievably dangerous traffic conditions, terrible medical facilities and improper emergency medical attention, particularly onerous treatment of women. Not a person here does not assure you he has “stories that will make your hair stand on end.” Quickly one joins the ranks, collecting his own stories.
But what he is most unprepared for is a general attitude of social and moral neglect governing all aspects of a community crippled by disorganization, bureaucracy, medieval rights, privileges, and fear. Here all contracts are struck and maintained as individual bargains. There is no social contract, no society. Life is governed by fate. Everyone is in business for himself. The moral disintegration that results is inevitable. Constantly forced to examine principle in the light of expediency, one finally concludes that the conspiracy of silence is well paid for.
But if we begin by asking, “Why come then?” we have not been reading the advertisements or the literature that does seem to be available.
I am of course writing from a particular point of view: we are academics and are employed by the university (the government); we are aware that private companies and foreign governments take responsibility for their workers here—we are aware of this now, that is, after the fact. But we are not aware that there is any source of such important data for what must be an increasing number of Americans in a depressed academic job market considering the heavily advertised positions here.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
June 28, 1979