In the past two weeks, internet forums have been flooded with comments on the incident of two Saudi students in American universities who were charged with trespassing after they jumped aboard a school bus instead of using public transport.
A simple mistake like this could happen to anybody even in their own country, however, it seems that mistakes are unacceptable if committed by people of Middle Eastern background. Even their weakness of grasping the English language was a reason to arrest them, for the courts to detain them for longer, and to refuse them bail.
The most regretful aspect of this story is that the sending of Saudi students to the United States based on American political reassurances was introduced only recently; however, one week does not pass without hearing stories about what actually happens to Saudi students in the United States.
Samir, a Saudi student in America relates one of his experiences saying, “Four months ago, a friend and I went to a car showroom as he intended to buy a Hummer to send to Saudi Arabia for his brother. When it was time to actually hand over the car as we were about to leave, police forces took us by surprise as they stormed into the showroom and arrested us. We were taken to the police station and given some bizarre explanations for our arrest. We were told that the owner of the showroom suspected us because we paid for the car in one installment and because we asked the car dealer to complete the transaction as soon as possible. This is a completely normal request. However, we were not released until a day and a half had passed and after our bank accounts and our financial sources were checked. They only released us after they had ensured that the amount of money we used to buy the car was transferred from my friend’s father’s account.”
The opportunity for Saudi exchange students, which was reintroduced in Saudi Arabia, aims at widening the scope of learning and education and making the most of international universities that are available in the United States. Furthermore, such an endeavor helps to bridge the cultural gap between the people of two countries who have suffered from major shifts in relations.
When Saudis took the risk and sent their sons, some as young as 17 years old to study in the United States, they believed that the democratic American system and the legal and cultural development in that country would protect their sons. What seems to have happened however is the complete opposite. Stories of unjustified hassle that Saudi students are subjected to in the United States are told one after another, showing another side to life in the United States.
In a few months, the second stage of enrollment for Saudi exchange students to the United States will begin. However, if the current circumstances prevail, I believe that the United States will no longer be the primary choice of thousands of Saudi students who are in search of better opportunities for their education, career and life experience.
What is remarkable is that one of the newspapers that had carried the story of the arrest of the two Saudi students who were detained for using the wrong bus had included statements by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in its inner pages. Rice asserted that receiving Saudi students who want to study in the United States is a welcomed endeavor and that she hoped that this would present an opportunity for Saudis and Americans to become acquainted with one another and build friendships. I also wish that this would be the case, unfortunately however, there is nothing to suggest that the American authorities are adopting such an understanding position.