Friday, May 29, 2009
Chaptette 6: ((Pen)(insula)r)
Qatar is a peninsula, and a very insular one, a hitch-hiker's thumb sticking out of Saudia Arabia into the Persian Gulf. Not island enough for you? Not to worry: Doha's building its own island, The Pearl (http://www.thepearlqatar.com/). Craig, David and I visited there this afternoon.
How insular is it here? Craig met David at the Doha airport; David has just been hired to direct the undergraduate program at UMASS-Amherst that Craig attended. David is here for a conference (on the rule of law in arabic culture, or something like that). It's being held at The Ritz (we do like our 5-star hotels here) near The Pearl. We walk into the Ritz, and who do we meet? Michael, here on a Fulbright, who turns out to be the guy I met yesterday at the library and sent to get the security guard after the staffer collapsed. Oh, yes, David knew Michael, as he had also been here on a Fulbright. So, like a pearl, our circles are small.
I'm tempted to attend the conference on the rule of law -- all the regional Major Domos will be there. More importantly, I'm not sure how laws are viewed here. Yesterday in my quant class I showed clips from the fabulous movie "12 Angry Men" -- I won't go into an entire teaching moment here, but essentially it's about hypothesis testing (is the accused innocent or guilty?). The class looked slightly puzzled when I noted that in the US the rule of law means, in part, that an individual is innocent until proven guilty. Well, I'm not sure whether the class was puzzled or merely skeptical: I gather that here the Qataris are generally assumed to be innocent and the immigrant workers guilty. Nothing like that would EVER happen in the US.
It didn't in the (did I mention fabulous?) movie 12 Angry Men. (Go. Rent. It.) As Hollywood shows it, 11 men quickly vote to send a young man to the electric chair for killing his father, until the Man in the White Suite (Henry Fonda, as an architect) gradually convinces all 11 others to acquit through the power of his calm analysis, reason, and argument.
But then I read "An Innocent Man" (John Grisham), his non-fictional account of how several men were sentenced to life (or given a death sentence) on the basis of the most flimsy, fabricated evidence, the wildest stories of jailhouse snitches, and coerced confessions....
Oh. Maybe the US and Qatar have more in common than I thought...For what it's worth, Qatar is one of the safest countries in the world. Ok, maybe the US does not have THAT in common.