A wave of uncertainty hits in the wake of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death



In a Saudi National Day celebration at the Natural History Museum in London, Saudi Arabian activist Ghanem al-Dosari protests outside.

On Oct. 2, 2018, Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared after going into the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. It was believed that after an interrogation he was left dismembered, and while Turkish investigators have concluded his death, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud, said in an interview with Bloomberg that he had “nothing to hide.” Khashoggi’ s disappearance has put both the country and the school into a place of uncertainty.

In the weeks following, many Wall Street executives pulled out of a Saudi Arabia investment forum for a multi-billion dollar weapon sale to the kingdom, protests have broken out and the high school has been taking another look at a program hosting visiting teachers from Saudi Arabia.

The program, through a partnership between the Saudi government and Boston University, allows 24 educators from Saudi Arabia to shadow and learn from teachers at the high school and the elementary and middle schools.

The partnership, according to a Superintendent Report, is for both the Saudi educators and the school.

“The visiting teachers will be immersed in our schools, in partnership with Brookline educators, to learn about our educational methods and processes,” the report said. “This is a unique and powerful opportunity to participate in a professional and cultural exchange to the benefit of our host educators, our schools and our students.”

To give her Saudi educator the full picture, physics teacher Stacy Kissel has been walking computer science teacher Khalid Alshammari through the high school.

“I’ve been arranging visits for him to see all different kinds of classes and programs. He’s spent some time in the ACE program, the Global Leadership class, he’s had lunch duty, I’m hoping to have him visit SWS and the journalism class. I just want him to see all the different parts of Brookline,” Kissel said. “The idea is that they will take all of the ideas they have gathered back and then somehow the government will gradually change their educational system.”

When Alshammari first started teaching in Saudi Arabia, he was told not to smile during class. In Saudi Arabia, he said that there is one subject book for the curriculum from the Ministry of Education that a teacher must follow throughout the year.

The observers are taking notes, Alshammari said, for other teachers in Saudi Arabia who are not in the United States with the program. In addition to taking notes, Alshammari also uses Twitter in the hopes of reaching more people.

“I’m lucky to come here to the United States and observe something like Brookline High School. To me, because of that, I try to take a lot of notes for another teacher,” Alshammari said. “That’s the program: we came here to take information and experience, so when I come back to my country I will explain that for another teacher.”

For Saudi educator and biology teacher Abdullah Al Qahtani, the program has been a learning experience, one which he wishes to bring back to Saudi Arabia.

“We need more learning for teachers. Teachers in my country, we need lessons in teaching. In my country, we have none of that,” Al Qahtani said. “We have to take some information, some ideas from this country to my country. I think in the future, our education, we will change.”

The president and first lady at Murabba Palace with King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. PUBLIC DOMAIN

How has Khashoggi’s death affected the high school?

On Oct. 14, English teacher and Head of Faculty Council Rob Primmer wrote a letter to certain faculty about the school’s partnership with the Saudi government, after Khashoggi’s death.

“In light of alleged events in Turkey I think we have an obligation as a school to reconsider this partnership with Saudi Arabia,” it read. “If the allegations are true and Khashoggi has been killed and dismembered by a government hit squad, this breaks all boundaries of the conduct and responsibility a government has towards its citizens and the world.”

The letter went on to say that though the program is for education, the school has to do some thinking given the murder of Khashoggi.

“While education is often a conduit towards progressive practices, it is hard to justify cooperation at the micro level while such significant transgressions occur on the macro,” Primmer wrote. “At the very least we as a school community should discuss this as a group and draft a statement to be given to the Saudi educational delegation.”

Primmer, who does not have a Saudi observer himself, believes that though his perspective may be that of an outsider looking in, he would still like to know what others in the school have to say about the program given recent events.

“The idea is how can this be more transparent? A lot of times we want to make a statement, we want to respond in some way, but we also want to do it in kind of a thoughtful, meaningful way, and it’s hard to challenge a program that is ostensibly about improving education around the world,”  Primmer said. “I’m not in any way against this. We all embrace education. It’s literally our job.”

By writing the letter, Primmer wanted to start a conversation within the school.

“It felt as if people were going to raise issues or concerns that weren’t going to come directly from our political systems,” Primmer said. “We’re filling a vacuum that we shouldn’t necessarily be needing to fill, but because of circumstances being the way that they are, it felt difficult to not investigate that something needed to be understood a little bit clearer.”

To Primmer, the letter was more about the issues within the country.

“I have no malice towards any observer; I view them as fellow teachers. The observer is here with the intention of improving life and education within their own country and that is a valid and worthy goal, but there needs to be some message that is derived in some way,” Primmer said. “There are ways to leverage countries so that we move in progress towards things. The murder and dismemberment of a journalist, living in the United States, who has published critical pieces against the Saudi government—that globally should be held up as a pure symptom of a real problem.”

A protest on Oct. 25, 2018, at the Saudi Consulate General of Saudi Arabia, in Turkey, after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. PUBLIC DOMAIN

The Viewpoints

The news of Khashoggi’s death has started a conversation within the school. It was brought up at both Legislature and Faculty Council, according to Primmer, and has gone beyond the school to the town.

Both Alshammari and Kissel had a thoughtful talk with one another about Khashoggi’s death.

“We have been able to respect each other’s views on it but still have a discussion,” Kissel said. “We were able to see each other’s views. It’s been very interesting to hear his perspective because he’s reading mostly news from Saudi Arabia and I’m reading news from the United States or England. ”

Kissel did not wish to comment on the letter, but does not believe the Saudi teachers should be sent back.

“I have a good relationship with this person as a teacher and I respect him as a teacher,” Kissel said. “It’s hard for me to think that I would want to break that relationship with him because of something that his government did. I separate the government from the actual personal relationship I have with him.”

Dean of Faculty Jenee Uttaro did not wish to comment on the letter because of the partnership the school has with the Saudi government.

Al Qahtani, however, does not believe Khashoggi’s death will cause the program to collapse.

“I think we have a good relationship between my country and America. I think this issue doesn’t affect our relationship. I cannot give you more information or an idea of that because I am only a teacher,” Al Qahtani said.

Some other current events, according to Alshammari, the Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov’s death on live television and the two Saudi Arabian sisters found dead in the Hudson River, were not talked about as much as Khashoggi’s death.

“I didn’t hear about anything in television . Where is that news? No one talked about what happened. Who made the focus just about that picture?” Alshammari said. “The news, they want something to happen for Saudi Arabia. Some countries try to make a bad thing for Saudi Arabia. They can’t. We have a good relationship between my government and the United States government.”

Alshammari believes that the publicity of Khashoggi’s death comes from those against Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud.

“It’s not new for us. It happens all the time because the Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud, he’s working very hard to finish goals,” Alshammari said. “We’re changing everything in Saudi Arabia—for the future, for education.”

Despite the controversy, Uttaro still believes the program is there as a learning experience.

“The hope is that it’s a mutual learning experience on both sides. We’re helping out by hosting, but there’s a wealth of benefit and blessing to those of us here,” Uttaro said. “We as human beings are always enriched when we have a chance to hear about another person’s way of doing things.”