When the internal matters of one nation become internationalised through a series of events, one must always be cautious in how one approaches such a matter. Late last year, Turkey became a model of how to handle such matters when Ankara presented the world with a frank assessment of its ongoing investigations into the murder of Saudi born journalist Jamal Khashoggi. By frankly and unflinchingly sharing with the world, the details of the horrific murder of Khashoggi, Ankara assured that a vital issue that might have otherwise been swept under the rug, was instead at the forefront of the wider international consciousness. As a result of Turkey’s firm but diplomatic approach to the Khashoggi murder, Riyadh eventually admitted its role in the affair, thus vindicating early sentiments conveyed from Ankara.
But while Turkey’s handling of the Khashoggi murder demonstrated the utmost diplomatic professionalism, the same cannot be said in respect of Canada’s handling of a matter surrounding a Saudi born woman who calls herself Rahaf Mohammed. Rahaf ‘s fifteen minutes of international fame began just over a fortnight ago when she barricaded herself in a hotel room in Thailand. Her stay in Thailand was apparently due to the fact that she had originally intended to travel to Australia in order to seek asylum.
Whilst in Thailand, she opened a Twitter account which reportedly attracted 45,000 followers in one day. On her Twitter she issued statements against her family and her birth nation of Saudi Arabia, whilst begging countries including Canada, Australia and other nations with similar political systems, to grant her asylum. While it is not theoretically impossible for a non-celebrity’s new Twitter account to attract 45,000 followers in a twenty-four hour period, it is highly unusual. Furthermore, the rapidity with which support for Rahaf spread across social media appears more indicative of a well organised public relations campaign than something that would indicate a genuine phenomenon of a social media issue “going viral”. That being said, the Twitter activities surrounding Rahaf may be fully genuine, but until this is independently confirmed, it remains highly suspect.
Making matters all the more odd, whilst gaining asylum is typically a lengthy, gruelling and often unsuccessful process, none of this seemed to apply to Rahaf, even though far from originating from an unstable conflict zone, she is from one of with wealthiest nations on earth. While it is true that women in Saudi Arabia live existences which are somewhat different from those in liberal European style societies, if this was sufficient justification for asylum in a country with a different political system and culture, it would mean that in theory, all of Saudi Arabia’s female population who desired a change of culture could be granted asylum in Canada or nations with similar political and social environments. Clearly, this is not the case.
Adding even more awkwardness to an already bizarre situation was the fact that after Canada instantly granted Rahaf asylum, she was met at a Toronto airport by the country’s Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland. From there she was given instant celebrity status even though there is as of yet, no publicly available evidence of any substance indicating that her life was in danger whilst living with her Saudi family. Speaking at a press conference, Rahaf said the following,
“I was not treated respectfully by my family and I was not allowed to be myself and who I want to be”.
At face value, this statement sounds little more than the ranting of a spoilt child who has engaged in commonplace adolescent rebellion against her parents. Again, being a rebellious child in a wealthy country is about as far from needing actual international protection as one can get. But from there, the strange situation continued to grow stranger. Once in Canada, Rahaf began sharing photos of bacon as examples of enjoying what she considered to be freedom in Canada. Again this makes little sense. Genuine refugees are often those who are starved of food and clean water, not those from a wealthy country who happen not to like the local cuisine.
Again, there may be more to the story than what meets the eye, but the truth is that what has met the eye so far looks more like a far-right Tommy Robinson style campaign to slander Islamic societies, than anything remotely resembling a genuine refugee case.
With all that said, even if Canada wanted to grant Rahaf what normally takes refugees from poor countries and war zones months if not years to accomplish, the fact that the Canadian authorities have gone out of their way to promote Rahaf’s narrative remains highly undiplomatic. Assuming Rahaf actually is a refugee, her welfare would just as easily have been served without the pomp and circumstance that Canada has afforded her.
Because of this, it seems that Canada has yet again brought its diplomatic credentials into disrepute after a year of blunders. In 2018, Canada’s Foreign Ministry managed to publicly insult nations ranging from Saudi Arabia, to China, India and the United States. Now, by adopting Rahaf as the new mascot for Canada’s ultra-liberal/ultra-feminist government, Canada risks further alienating not only Saudi Arabia but even nations engaged in disputes with Saudi Arabia, but whose populations nevertheless will certainly feel that Rahaf’s public displays have crossed the line between personal expression and insulting the feelings of Muslims throughout the world.
Taken as a whole, Canada has damaged its credibility by publicly inflating an issue that could have and should have been handled in a private and diplomatic manner. Instead, the entire episode appears to be a stage managed display of ideology that spits in the face not only of diplomacy but of common sense.