Canada and the myth of ‘alternative home’!

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Aren’t Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland acting in a foolish manner when in their keenness to settle scores with Saudi Arabia, they are taking advantage of a Saudi teenager, after she had fled her family during their stay in Kuwait and locked herself in an airport hotel room in Bangkok, seeking asylum?

Isn’t this a rash and unwise act, as it has come at a time when the prudent people of Canada are calling on the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister to find a way to resume relations with Riyadh?

Isn’t it unusual for a state to offer to receive a teenage girl, who has fled her family, when the girl herself had not even approached Canadian authorities?

The Canadian Foreign Minister made haste to issue a decision granting Rahaf “political asylum” without going through the usual procedures and steps, which usually take around 20 months for an asylum seeker to be accepted.

One might wonder. There are so many cases of people fleeing scenes of war and terror and seeking asylum from all over the world, when Rahaf is not suffering from any of these problems. What is even more surprising is that the Canadian Foreign Minister, whose tweet caused the current difficulty in relations between Riyadh and Ottawa, was personally present at the airport to receive the teenager on arrival in Toronto. Not only that, but she presented her to the Canadian and global media as “a new Canadian citizen”.

Such suspicious and childish acts have caused experts in law, immigration and asylum to express on the Canadian government-owned CBC network, their astonishment and concern about a hidden agenda behind the fanfare. In the forefront of these acts is presenting Rahaf as a victim of injustice and violence. Some people resort to such tactics in order to aggrandize their political gains in terms of public opinion.

It is clear that there is such an agenda when Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland passes the issue to missionary groups or those who call themselves Ex-Muslims of North America alleging that the Saudi girl had renounced her religion, had bacon for her first breakfast in Canada and enjoyed a glass of wine!

Newspapers hostile to Saudi Arabia immediately provided ample coverage to Rahaf so as to cause further disparagement for Saudi Arabia and its leadership and people, repeating the claims of the Canadian Foreign Minister and the teenager that Saudi Arabia is a “big prison”.

The sharpest criticisms of the Canadian leadership’s actions in this connection were made by the former Canadian ambassador to Riyadh from 2009 to 2011 David Chatterson and the last Canadian ambassador to Riyadh Dennis Horak.

Chatterson expressed astonishment at expediting procedures for granting the Saudi teen asylum despite the fact that the normal procedure at the start would be to consider her as an applicant seeking asylum. After about two years of investigations, the appropriate decision would be issued on her application.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Horak said that offering asylum to Rahaf would have a negative impact on Canadian-Saudi relations, which are already troubled. He explained to CBC Network that he hates to see Canadian authorities arranging a meeting of the Canadian Prime Minister with the Saudi teenager and officials vying with one another to take pictures with her.

Definitely, the way the Canadian authorities are dealing with this situation harms Canadian policy. It is unfair to use this teenager to make imagined gains in a disagreement with Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, resorting to fanfare and boasting in hosting her will not have any effect on attempts to mend relations with Riyadh. On the contrary, it will further complicate matters and increase tensions.

However, Saudi Arabia is bigger than such retaliatory and childish acts. It is a big country that shoulders great responsibility at the Arab, Islamic and international levels. It views Rahaf’s story as a purely family issue and stresses that there were regulations guaranteeing her protection. She only had to report that she had been subjected to family violence. The Kingdom will receive her at any time she thinks of returning to her family and country.

Those who are tempted to choose the method Rahaf has chosen should bear the consequences of their decision after renouncing their identity, affiliation and past in order to attempt to adapt and become affiliated to a new reality. However, as it is said: “The nation is one’s mother.”

The day will come when she will regret what she has done and the harm she has inflicted on her family and country.

Just to remind the Canadian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, there are over 15,000 Canadian citizens living in the Kingdom. They are enjoying security, safety and respect. Saudi officials will not deviate from their country’s deep-rooted heritage in order to engage in a war of words to reply to slanderous humbug.

The day will come when Rahaf will realize that she has chosen to reject the embrace of her family only to find herself in a refuge that strives to nullify her identity and family. One day she will also discover that the price for continuing to live in her alternative society is the increasing of insults hurled against her nation and kinsfolk. The result will be living in the diaspora away from home and family without gaining anything. Rahaf will grow up and learn the meaning and reality of the Arabic proverb:

“My family, even if stingy, is generous.”

The author is a Saudi writer. Follow him on Twitter: @JameelAlTheyabi


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