Yann LeCun is the Director of AI Research at Facebook. The France-born LeCun is a gifted computer genius and has an enviable academic and professional track record.
A deep learning expert, LeCun is known as the founding father of convulsion nets – a type of neural network which helps in extremely precise image recognition. He joined Facebook as its first Director of AI in December 2013.
Obviously, LeCun is often invited by institutions in various countries around the world for lectures and seminars. King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) did the same.
Based in Thuwal in Saudi Arabia, KAUST is the one of the fastest rising science institutes for research around the world.
But LeCun turned down the invite and wrote a post on Facebook citing the reason in a very polite and politically correct (in the right sense of the phrase) manner:
LeCun is absolutely right about Saudi Arabia’s treatment of anyone who is an atheist. Apostasy and atheism are punishable by death under Saudi laws.
The oil-rich nation is one of the worst offenders of human rights, including those of women, and yet the pseudo-liberal and secular of the West brush the hard reality under the carpet.
The governments of the West, on the other hand, are heavily dependent on the oil and, therefore, turn a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s crimes.
Some commenters on Facebook tried to argue with LeCun over his comment. Some tried to defend Saudi Arabia’s horrific record against atheists, women, Shias, Ahmadiyyas, and genuine seculars & liberals. Others asked why he turned down the invite when it could have actually helped promote scientific thought in that highly conservative country had he attended it.
But LeCun brilliantly placed his points while countering the logic behind those comments:
Now a bot about Saudi Arabia’s law, and whether or not LeCun is right about that “terrorist” part.
In 2014, the Saudi Interior Ministry issued a set of anti-terrorist laws. Article 1 states that anyone is a terrorists if:
“Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”
Article 2 states that anyone who questions the King or the government or supports any group, party, organization other than that of the ruling elite inside or outside the Kingdom is a terrorist.
As recently as in April, Saudi Arabia executed a man named Ahmad Al Shamri for atheism.