Khashoggi’s Voice

Photo by Cassi Josh on Unsplash

In the fall of 2013, I ventured overseas to teach writing while writing a book in Saudi Arabia. Six years later, I returned with a much-altered political consciousness. Having lived in the USA for a decade in the ‘90’s, I had wanted to move to the extreme right of center to understand – what does a totalitarian ethos do to one’s consciousness over time? 

 In a totalitarian world, decisive acts by the dictator continuously manipulate and control the public, while at the same time the wider impact of these controlling manipulations, beyond the intended suppressions, usually have far greater implications: on that particular economy, on the function of the society, and on the culture-at-large – in fact, in every aspect of the societal and economic system. Simultaneously, in a totalitarian system – which in the KSA has been accompanied by an entirely destructive welfare system – people do find ways to subvert that absolute authority. However, this subversion often occurs at a definitive cost both to each individual and to the collective positive growth of Saudi culture – or, shall we say, to collective political awareness. In other words, political awareness is always in Saudi hidden. 

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of witnessing Saudi politics up-close is that there is no analysis allowed within that closed system. Rather, a pervasive welfare state mentality prevails, with the Muslim religion utilized as a powerful, and highly effective enforcer of complicity. In parts of the world, where freedom of speech is far more possible and practiced, theoretically anyone can join without penalty in a public forum for cogent debate. In Saudi, this never happens in public life: analysis. Never would I imply that any “Western” political entity is without faults: evidently untrue. That, however, provides no excuse for totalitarianism, and especially one headed by a cold-blooded killer such as Bin Salman. His calling card was accepted by the world on October 2nd of 2018: I will kill whoever, whenever, wherever, and however I choose and you (all) will shut up. You will say nothing. For little was said; no direct condemnation. No lasting outcomes. Leaders across the world mumbled and shuffled their feet, but nothing was really done to sanction MBS or Saudi Arabia for murdering Khashoggi and carving up his body while his body was still warm – like an animal. My own government also shuffled their feet and appear to have forgotten this assassination carried out brazenly in a Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Turkey – in a foreign country. Would they have done the same if this were an American murdered? A Canadian? A British citizen? A Turk? 

This silence is outrageous. What does the word atrocity mean anymore?

Knowing well the enforced silence the Saudis must swallow on a daily basis, no matter what riches they may or more often may not have, this silence on the part of the watching world is even more concerning. For how can you as a Saudi citizen find the strength to fight such calculated psychopathic cruelty oppressing you, when everyone everywhere is complicit in that silencing? Khashoggi had found the strength to speak. I say he will be remembered not as a victim, but as having the courage to speak truth to power, despite the dangers. His truth was merely that his country deserves to speak, those concerned voices, in dialogue and discussion, throwing off hard controls on intelligent, vigorous debate. Now, because of Khashoggi’s brutal murder, there is more than ever to say, and not only about the political atrocities that so afflict the KSA and the totalitarian regimes like them. Humans must continue to examine truth no matter what monsters threaten or what algorithms block our words, terminate conversations, silence analysis. Silence cogent voices. 

Many communicating voices, of both genders, will bring about positive change to Saudi Arabia. My Saudi friends, remember Khashoggi’s courage; remember Khashoggi’s voice, the voice of truth.