To the Editor:
Regarding the recent arrest of an academic in the United Arab Emirates ("Lecturer's Arrest in the Emirates Stirs Debate Over Academic Freedom in the Middle East," The Chronicle, April 17), I was surprised to read that the New York University Abu Dhabi spokesman had said that "simply firing off a press release" would do no good. As a professor teaching in the UAE right now, I disagree strongly.
Any type of public statement from NYU and other universities operating in this country would be very welcome. So far, four people—including Nasser bin Ghaith, a Sorbonne University lecturer—have been arrested because they have spoken out against government policies. The local press—which enjoys no traditional protections—has barely reported on these detentions, three of which have not even been officially acknowledged. The result is these arrests have occurred with almost no public reaction internally. In short, everyone's scared to say anything lest they be arrested themselves or deported from the country.
In this environment, public statements from institutions outside the UAE are far more than "symbolic gestures." The governments in this region are quite concerned with their reputation and enjoy being looked at as liberal and progressive. Any statement from prestigious international institutions denouncing these arrests would tarnish the countries' reputations and perhaps make the rulers rethink their actions. Right now, they have no reason to reconsider because the arrest of four citizens has been met by resounding silence by the academic community.
During the fallout of the Libyan revolution, academic institutions had to explain why they accepted money from Muammar el-Qaddafi's regime despite consistent human-rights abuses in his country. I hope that NYU and other institutions operating in the UAE don't suffer the same fate.
Name Withheld By Request