In Mohammed Bin Salman’s 60 Minutes interview with Norah O’Donnell, the Prince evaded questions about the Kingdom’s commitment to human rights principles by reminding O’Donnell that: “Saudi standards are not the same as American standards” (CBS News, 2018). In this moment, the Prince inadvertently creates the divide between his promise for a more “moderate Islamic path” – the path that Thomas Friedman wants us to so desperately embrace for the sake of U.S. foreign interests – and the consequences of his reign on the integrity of national authority and justice.
When Salman is allegedly tied to the murder of a journalist, leaders from the political echelons of Macron and Trudeau have to pick their battles wisely. If Saudi Arabia’s response to Canada’s Foreign Affair minister’s tweet about Saudi Arabia’s incarceration of activists is any indication about the consequences of reprimanding the “Saudi standards” that the Prince speaks of, then the battle lines drawn start to blur. No matter which side international leaders choose to take, they inevitably fall alongside him. Nobody gets to leave the table without embarrassing themselves.
I have not checked my phone in the last month without CBS or Al-Jazeera updating me about the investigation into the timeline of Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance, the perpetrators, and how leaders have responded to the Kingdom’s alleged role in the journalist’s assassination. I haven’t scrolled through Twitter without The New York Times or The Guardian spitting out opinion and foreign policy pieces about how the Khashoggi ordeal might be the turning point for Wester diplomatic relations with Salman, or the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Kingdom’s citizens. I’ve even seen some writers invoke Stalin when addressing the crisis in Yemen and how often times the death of one outweighs the death of many. Nobody seems to be talking about how the Prince’s behavior is detrimental to how we continue to talk about the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia has the worst kind of Small Dick Energy: the kind that is adamant about having Big Dick Energy, contrary to what can actually be seen. Its petroleum hold on countries like the United States has begun to slip, especially with Salman announced the hopes to diversify the Kingdom’s oil-based economy by 2030 and C. When it comes to those of its own kind (Muslims, Arabic speakers, men who still believing in sacrificing virgins), the Kingdom, ironically, extends its tentacles into the potholes of every country within its vicinity and wraps itself around tightly enough to squeeze out whatever degree of dominance it can. Meanwhile, those that are most vulnerable to the Prince’s harm have to carry on answering questions about what it’s like to live in a Middle Eastern country as a woman, a homosexual, or most threatening of all: an American.
Salman’s attempt at painting his reign as a promising and ‘modernizing’ time for the region only magnifies his actions under the scope of the Western press, thus allowing the Kingdom to become the poster-boy for an entire region that can hardly unite over the Palestinian question, one of its greatest regional conflicts. With Khashoggi’s assassination, the invitations for further cheap commentary about the strangeness of the Middle East and its inability to elect progressive leaders have been sent out to every New York Times contributor; the matter has gone beyond Salman’s ties to the investigations and has entered Friedman’s favourite domain: creating sound bites and reaffirming the very suspicions and assumptions that enabled the world to comprehend the region through Salman’s lens.