The Khashoggi affair is yet another reason for the world to abandon the assumption that the kingdom represents Islam.
The recent disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has the world’s fingers pointed in the direction of the Saudi government, specifically at its de-facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen living in exile in the United States because of his criticism of the Saudi regime, earned the esteem of audiences that read his political commentary in both Arabic and English. He was last seen alive entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, when he visited to procure documents he needed to wed his Turkish fiancee.
Speculation about bin Salman ordering his kidnapping, or state-sponsored murder, rose to the fore, dominating mainstream and social media discussions about the missing journalist’s likely fate. On October 19, Saudi authorities finally admitted Khashoggi was killed inside the country’s Istanbul consulate. This admission merely confirmed a conclusion most had already drawn given the regime’s dismal human rights record and fierce intolerance to any criticism: The Saudi government was directly responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance and death.
And where Saudi Arabia is the subject of wrongdoing, Islam stands alongside it. Collaterally implicated and indicted as the source of the vile actions taken by a government that, since its inception as a sovereign state, has been popularly anointed as the living embodiment of the religion.
This, again, was the case with the Khashoggi affair. The unknown whereabouts of the journalist, widely regarded to be among the most courageous indigenous critics of the Saudi regime, implicated Islam in the minds of many. The “redeployment of Orientalist tropes,” as articulated by law scholar Leti Volpp, surged to the surface and steered the popular discourse, driving immediate conclusions that Islam itself is “intolerant to criticism,” “resistant to independent media voices,” and “suppressive of dissidence.”