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Abstract

As a student researching the findings from the QNRF NPRP grant, “Media Use in the Middle East” (NPRP 7-1757-5-261), a seven-nation survey by Northwestern University in Qatar, I am particularly interested in the debate between freedoms of speech and the government's role in protecting society, religion, and minorities. This debate is important not just in the Middle East, but around the world. There is a wide body of literature in Western society regarding this topic. For example, Bollinger (1986) primarily focuses on the difference between extremist speech and hate speech — and the extent to which freedom of speech can affect minority groups. Greenawalt (1989, 119) examines and justifies freedom of speech within the press, as well as within “political and judicial principles.” More recently, Nelson, Clawson, and Oxley (1997) investigate news framing that “defines and constructs a political issue or public controversy.” Yet there is much less literature on this topic outside of the Western world. I am interested in exploring attitudes on this topic from the Middle East specifically because it can help us understand behaviors in certain societies, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and how these behaviors and attitudes influence citizen perception towards the government, their own religion, and minority groups. In my research, I investigate levels of citizen support for freedoms of speech that could be seen as destabilizing or harmful through a comparative look at Qatar and Saudi Arabia. I focus in particular on a set of three questions from the survey, which present several statements and allow the respondents to choose one of two responses: “People should be able to say these things publically” or “Government should be able to prevent people from saying these things.” The three statements are, “Statements that criticize the government's policies,” “Statements that are offensive to your religion or beliefs,” and “Statements that are offensive to minority groups.” Each of these statements probes a different, but important area of freedom of speech. The first concerns the government, specifically whether or not people should be able to comment or criticize the government and how this affects the government. For example, will repeated disapproval with the government pose a threat on its power? Furthermore, how comfortable are people with this type of political criticism and involvement? The second concerns the level of acceptance towards criticism to one's own religious beliefs. These responses could tell us about how open people are towards these types of conversation. The third concerns minority groups and whether people, in general, feel like minority groups should receive some level of protection. The survey does not tell us if the respondents taking the survey identify as part of a minority group, but rather it only gives us the general views on minority groups. This question could also tell us how people perceive minority groups. My preliminary research shows major differences between Qatari citizens and Saudi citizens in terms of their responses to these questions. Overall Saudis showed a 27 percent approval to government criticism, a 23 percent acceptance to criticism towards their own religion, and a 25 percent approval to offend minority groups. On the other hand, Qataris showed a 21 percent approval to government criticism, a 3 percent acceptance to criticism towards their own religion, and a 6 percent approval to criticism towards minority groups. While this initially seems to show that Saudi citizens are more comfortable with vocal criticism than Qatari citizens, I believe there is more to the story. What types of people are more interested in criticism, and what does this context tell us about why they may answer in this way? Most importantly, I have found a significant difference between citizens who identify as culturally conservative and those who identify as culturally progressive. In Saudi culturally conservative citizens were more likely to be open to criticizing the government, where 34 percent agreed, in contrast to culturally progressive citizens, where only 18 percent agreed. Furthermore, culturally conservative citizens were more open to the idea of other people “offending” their own religion, 26 percent agreed, and culturally progressives were not open to the idea, where only nine percent agreed. Lastly, culturally conservatives in Saudi Arabia were with people making public statements offensive to minority groups, where 28 percent agreed, and culturally progressives did not, where only 12 percent agreed. In Qatar, however, the culturally conservatives and culturally progressives’ responses from citizens were opposite to Saudi Arabia. Culturally conservative nationals disagreed with people criticizing the government, only 16 percent agreed, where culturally progressives were more open to the idea, 30 percent agreed. Culturally progressive Qataris were against people making offensive statements to minority groups, only 5 percent agreed, and culturally conservative Qatari were more open to the idea, where 8 percent agreed. After checking other demographics — including education level, age, and gender — I have found that these demographics were not significantly correlated with the results. Rather, the results were based on whether or not respondents, both in Qatar and in Saudi Arabia, identified as culturally conservative or culturally progressive. My next stage of research is focused on looking at the history and culture of the two countries as well as conducting interviews with citizens of both countries to try to understand why we see these survey results. I am in the process of conducting further interviews with Qataris and Saudis, as well as research on the two countries, to understand these trends. My initial research is aims to give us more insight on the different cultural, social and political trends occurring in both in Qatar and in Saudi Arabia. I hope to be able to share my results at the QF ARC 2018. Citations: Bollinger, Lee C. 1986. The Tolerant Society: Freedom of Speech and Extremist Speech. Oxford University Press. Nelson, Thomas E., Clawson, Rosalee A., and Oxley, Zoe M. 1997. “Media Framing of a Civil Liberties Conflict and Its Effect on Tolerance.” American Political Science Review 93(1): 567–583. Greenawalt, Kent. 1989. “Free Speech Justification.” Columbia Law Review 89(1): 130–47.

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/content/papers/10.5339/qfarc.2018.SSAHPD1040
2018-03-15
2019-10-19
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