What You Need to Know About the Khashoggi Case

Mainstream media coverage and social media discussion regarding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi have asserted two things about him: that he was a prominent Saudi journalist who wrote for the Washington Post and that he critiqued the Saudi regime for which he was brutally dismembered. It is important to understand that Khashoggi had a questionable journey away from Islamism and towards liberal critique of the regime — which remained foreign policy centered and rarely ever about the human rights abuses within the country. However, that is not to say that his killing on October 2nd in Istanbul’s Saudi consulate was not horrendous but unfortunately also part of a longstanding Islamist-totalitarian practice of silencing dissidents and journalists. Muhammed Bin Salman, the crown prince, called Jared Kushner after the killing and showcased surprise at the international outrage for Khashoggi. It is safe to say that even the Saudi regime knows this is a pattern of violence used time and time again as a silencing tool to which its western allies have turned a blind eye. So really, “Why the outrage?”— to borrow MB Salman’s own words. The international outrage can be explained as a reactionary phenomenon that develops periodically when the Saudi regime fails at completely covering up their inhumane ways, but it is also a phenomenon experienced socially and within structures of governments from individuals, which means it is short lived. Saudi’s petro-dollars run so deep that its allies in the west and in the Muslim world do not budge.

Another reason is that Khashoggi was an internationally known journalist and especially because of the platform the Washington Post had provided him. The reason for Khashoggi’s fame outside of Saudi is partly due to his role as advisor to the Saudi ambassador to London in 2005, but more important was his work with and around Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda. He traveled extensively around Afghanistan with them and wrote one of the first profiles on Osama bin Laden for a Saudi magazine in 1988. Peter Bergen, an Al-Qaeda expert, noted that Khashoggi had a soft spot for the Islamist militants and believed that there was reason to be made with the “moderate Islamists." There seemed to be conceptual and political problems with Khashoggi’s understanding of Islamism and that manifested in his critique of the Sauds. He did not speak of sectarian violence perpetuated by the Saudi regime as effectively as he did with Iran. However, Bergen also noted Khashoggi’s shift throughout his life towards secularism and liberalism. With this shift, his criticism also became more open, his self-exile might have had something to do with that as well.

It is important to note Khashoggi for his work and critique, but it is also important to know his full truth in terms of moments and topics of non-critique especially relating to minority sects within Islam. Saying that is not an attempt at minimizing his murder, his efforts in the right direction or the implications of his death on Saudi society, but it is to say that violent death does not equal absolution from complicit behavior. Accountability is key, whether in the works of a journalist, the works of international allies that do not wish to reprimand Saudi Arabia, and most importantly, the Saudi regime itself.