Saturday, May 8, 2010

Am I a Christian or a Non-Moslem? Do semantics affect people's acceptance of diversity?

Am I a Christian or a Non-Moslem? Do semantics affect people's acceptance of diversity?


I go to Saudi often. Having compared my recent visa issued in April 2010 with the one issued in Feb 2009, I must say I do not like the new semantics.

The visa has a "religion" part. This, in my opinion, is fine as Saudi Arabia hosts the Islamic holy sites and it needs to identify the religions of people for access –or denial thereof- to holy sites.

But a new change is somewhat unnerving. The February 2009 visa had "Christian" in the religion section. The newer April 2010 one has "Non-Moslem".

Lets start by restating the obvious: There are many religions and sects in the World. In an age where religion-based politics are on the rise, simple words can have a major effect on people's perceptions.

Saudi Arabia hosts many "non-Moslems". Millions of them, in fact, live and work in Saudi. Does it make sense to lump Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, etc. as mere "Non-Moslems"? Does that help in engendering a culture of tolerance and acceptance of diversity amongst Saudi officials and citizens? I do not see how.

Saudi Arabia is of course free to set its rules and regulations. But why change a system that existed before with a new one that carries no discernable advantages?

My two cents.

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