Saturday, November 7, 2009

Explaining KAUST

Is KAUST radical? Women with hijab, women without hijab, men with thobe and shimal and men in jeans and a shirt keeping their culture and religion while learning and researching together at KAUST.

It is easy to slander and to destroy, but building and creating something new takes time, patience, and commitment. God is the great creator, Satan is the great destroyer.

For weeks, KAUST has been criticized for its mixed men and women classes. KAUST’s detractors are mostly anonymous and are using internet tools like YouTube, Facebook, and e-mail to spread images, half-truths, and lies about social life at KAUST. Whether their reasons are political, religious, or personal jealousy, this small minority is trying though any means necessary to illigitimize KAUST. Their attacks are very misleading.

KAUST-ians have come from every continent on the globe and many of us have left family, friends, and other careers to come to KAUST. We have only been guests in the Land of the Two Holy Mosques for three months, and now we are surprised, confused, and a little hurt because of the hostile messages of a few extreme voices. Is this how Islam treats foreigners? Is this how we should view Saudi Arabian hospitality? The voices of an angry minority are given too much credit right now.

When I traveled to Jeddah to buy food on Wednesday, I was asked by a stranger if there were bars at KAUST. KAUST has no bars! The king would never allow something like that at his university!

Our detractors, who are spreading lies, do not understand why we have come to Saudi Arabia. Social change is not KAUST's mission - our primary mission is to promote learning and research in the region for the benefit of the world.

God is the great creator, and science is a profession ordained by God. We, the KAUST-ians have come to KAUST from many countries to learn so that we can create new knowledge and improve on existing technologies. Improving desalination could satisfy the thirsty. Growing food in the desert could feed the hungry. Solar power could provide light in dark places. Red Sea research can lead to new medicines to heal the sick. Engineering research could help us make better use of the resources God has blessed us with. These are only a few of the reasons we have traveled to Saudi Arabia.

I did not come for entertainment (does anyone come to KSA to be entertained?) – KAUST has no bars or dance clubs or even a working movie theatre; I spend most of my time in the library or the laboratory. I did not come for money – I could have had a larger stipend at graduate school in the USA. I came because of KAUST’s potential to promote scientific research and learning in the Middle East.

Right now it is the angry voices which scream the loudest. They are trying to paint KAUST as an immoral institution which is leading righteous Saudi Arabian adults astray, but I have faith that good will and reason of the majority will prevail over slander and deception. Once the citizens of Saudi Arabia have a chance to know us better, I think they cannot help but like us. The problem is: building relationships takes time, but relationships can be damaged by only a few words, or a few pictures.

After all of that talk about our detractors, I have a story about a friend. Abdullah confided in me some weeks ago that he used to hate Americans because of what he saw on TV, and what he heard in the news, but after coming to KAUST and meeting real Americans he has changed his opinion and wishes that others would too. Abdullah's story encourages me because there are some Americans who also think the same way about Saudis. This one of the reasons I believe I am at KAUST - to build bridges and clear up misunderstandings.

Saudi Arabia is a complicated place, but I am still glad to be here. We will do great research at KAUST, and I have faith that truth will prevail. Sometimes it just takes time.


  1. You got my support here Nathan. Don't worry about all the buzz. It's a matter of time..

    Fouad Alfarhan

  2. It's just the Saudi gag-reflex at any change at work. We've seen it before when satellite TV got introduced, and the Internet reared its head. My father has seen it happen when radio, records, and B&W TV were introduced as well. The vocal minority will shout and scream, but sooner or later the tantrum will be over.

  3. It's just voices nothing more, you got the government and the resonable saudis support.

    when the first complete work came out from KAUST the rest of saudis will understand what is the idea of KAUST.

    best wishes for you and your Colleagues.

  4. Nice post, I like it. I think you should continue to dispel myths about KAUST and reach out the locals, its really something good to do.

    Ismail H

  5. By the way, I don't how Colorado pulled off what they did yesterday!

  6. Hi,

    I used to live in Saudi Arabia, in fact I grew up in the country and learned firsthand the complications anyone faces when trying to go against the "social stream". While in school, I opted for a journalism class as an extra-curricular activity. I "scored" an interview over the telephone with a then-popular Egyptian TV presenter working for Channel 2.

    All went well and my naive 13 year old heart felt it created something of a coup in having MY interview printed in the annual school magazine.

    To make a long story short, it got censored, ie. completely ignored on the grounds that my interviewee was a woman!!!

    The fact that I never saw the poor soul nor did I intend to publish her picture did not help persuade the principle.

    I did not even ask her any of the ominous questions every Western journalist asks a woman in the Arab world. You know the kind of "what's it like being a woman in a bla bla bla ??"

    Oh well...

  7. Hang in there and don't give too much thought to those people spreading lies about KAUST - it's sad, but not usual. Just laugh it off and continue to share with us your experience! That's the best way to help tell the truth... although it may take longer to 'get through' to some people :)

  8. Only people with no conception of graduate school and research institutes would believe you do more than go from home to library to lab and have only sufficient social life to keep you going from home to library to lab. Anyone who has the qualifications to study/teach/research at KAUST has other options in major research centres in large Western cities with considerably more "diversions".

  9. PS I have also face weird rumours in the West when having unusual opportunities and jealous people felt compelled to write in to the newspaper who felt compelled to publish rubbish in the interest of sales. eg that a student group I was with, which was one of a handful to ever visit China under Mao had been brainwashed by the commies, after x, y, and z faught their way out a,b,c communist country and paid taxes that funded the trip, blah, blah, blah, and oh, btw I know their sons and daughters applied and weren't chosen.
    Do your work well, and their machinations will be thwarted.

  10. Hi Nathan,
    I read your blog daily because of my interest in KAUST for Masters in computer science, but this article you wrote is really one of the best I've read on your blog, I believe its just a metter of time before everything neutralises, the criticism, and the negative campaigns about the university will all stop insha Allah. KAUST being the first of its kinds in the Kingdom, you will expect different view from different ppl of different background.All shall be fine

  11. Hi Nethan, this was one of the best articles i read about Kaust,, for a simple is honest!...I have been at pain for a while now for all the negative propoganda..for all the all started against Islam and now it continued to kaust... I hate how the western Media always demonstrate Saudi as the land of darkness and ignorance...simply, it is very easy to sit at ur office and start criticizing ppl..but it is very hard to actually understand others.....I hope u can play a part in helping ppl understand the saudi culture...

  12. hi i'm henry, from indonesia
    nice to get info about kaust

    kaust is new university, how about the rank?
    does it have problem with next career, next doctor program or anything else?