Jamal Khashoggi and the modern-day monarchies

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Imagine that you are arrested for making an anti-government comment. It doesn’t matter if it was serious or a joke, or if you meant any harm by it; the feds just show up at your door one day and drag you off to jail.

For those of us born and raised in the United States — a Western democracy founded on the principles of free speech, press, assembly, protest, and practice — this idea seems inconceivable. Today’s media constantly publishes content critical of the President and his administration (much to Trump’s chagrin), adolescents and adults alike crack political jokes and frequently engage in serious discussions, and late night talk shows seem incapable of being apolitical (not that that’s a bad thing).

The story, however, is quite different in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, an oil-rich monarchy whose material wealth often overshadows its moral corruption. There, activism is strictly taboo, with protesters often arrested and held captive by the state. Some are outright killed, and others are locked away forever, never to be seen again. This is all in the name of maintaining power and control at the highest levels of government — there’s no other way for an absolute monarchy to remain viable in the face of increasing globalism and rapidly spreading democratic values than to wipe out dissent wherever it may arise.

Saudi Arabia has long come under fire from the international community for its human rights violations and efforts to hide its misdeeds. However, the kingdom came under increased scrutiny recently, following the recent murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post.

Khashoggi was living in Virginia under self-imposed exile after fleeing Saudi Arabia, fearful of being targeted by the government for siding with progressives. During his time in the U.S., he was approached on multiple occasions by operatives of the Saudi government, all trying to lure him back with promises of wealth and status, as reported by The Atlantic. Khashoggi never returned to Saudi Arabia — despite the tempting offers — but did go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 to finalize divorce papers, officializing his separation from his ex-wife so he could marry his fiancée, as reported by BBC.

He was never seen again.

When news of his disappearance first surfaced, many feared that Khashoggi had been killed by Saudi agents. At first, Saudi Arabia denied these accusations, claiming that Khashoggi exited the consulate through a backdoor entrance. The only problem was that there was no corroborating evidence, and the international community was not satisfied.

What followed was a string of contentious negotiations between the Saudi, Turkish, and U.S. governments; an inconclusive search of the consulate facilities by a Turkish task force; the Saudis rapidly backtracking on their initial narrative, offering instead that Khashoggi was killed by rogue agents and that his death was not affiliated with the crown; and increased uncertainty for the future U.S.-Saudi relationship.

As tragic as Khashoggi’s killing is, the response from the U.S. government was especially troubling. When pressed about the disappearance of Khashoggi on live television, President Trump at first deflected, showing indifference and claiming that the incident was of lesser importance given that Khashoggi was not an actual American citizen, as reported by Time. He then continued onwards, focusing not on the loss of life and the potentially egregious actions of the Saudi government, but rather, how he would have to reconsider U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, framing the issue economically.

The president’s comments are not surprising, with his racist history and denigration of the press, branding it as the “enemy of the people” and frequently encouraging violence against journalists at his many rallies.

But while the president’s words are nothing new, the underlying message remains disturbing: if you are of a certain ethnicity, citizenship status, or political orientation not agreeing with Trump’s vision of a xenophobic, nationalistic, and racist America, then you are less valuable. It is a soulless way to approach the task of governance and undoubtedly springs from Trump’s business background.

In the past, premeditated deaths of Americans abroad have always met with severe consequences, ones befitting of the crime. The America of yesterday seems very different from the America of today, where how much you matter to those in power depends on how much you agree with them.

This is the message that Trump, and his administration, is sending the world, and it’s dangerously emboldening for the dictatorships out there. Rather than the U.S. upholding and defending human rights on a global scale and acting as a refuge for those seeking asylum, Trump has narrowed his scope solely to the nation’s borders, even declaring himself a nationalist at a Houston rally, as reported by The New York Times. And of course, Trump isn’t going to focus on all of America, just the demographics that he cares about.

With the most powerful nation in the world becoming increasingly nationalist, countries like Saudi Arabia see it as an opportunity to do as they like, asserting their totalitarian ideologies over their citizens and crushing their opponents through any means necessary. We already see this in Russia, where enemies of Putin often don’t live to see election day, and also in China, where President Xi Jinping scrapped term limits to make himself “president for life” this March, as reported by BBC.

This sets a very dangerous precedent for progressivism around the world, making it clear that you can no longer escape the grasp of these heinous regimes. While it’s important to consider a nation’s sovereignty, it’s equally important to ensure that people, regardless of nationality and geography, are treated humanely. We as a country and as members of the international community cannot stand idly by as these voices are snuffed out.

As with many of the problems that we face, the issue originates from the top of the political pyramid, and if we hope to change anything, we must first ensure that our leaders are worldly and compassionate, not paranoid and hateful. Only by doing our part as citizens in this social contract can we ensure that the US continues as a place of safety, freedom, and growth, spreading those noble values beyond the confines of our country. After all, as The Washington Post is fond of saying, “Democracy dies in darkness.”