This letter features reporting from "How Saudi Arabia's Reforms Mask Political Oppression" by Sarah Aziza
Dear Danny Davis,
Last week, news broke that Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate, a crime for which evidence has increasingly implicated the Saudi Arabian government. However, this is not the first incident of Saudi Arabia’s silencing of dissidents, and the United States should not repeat its efforts to whitewash our allies’ violent repression. “The case of Jamal Khashoggi, unfortunately, is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Rami Khouri, a senior public policy fellow and professor of journalism at the American University of Beirut. “It would only be the most dramatic example of a trend that has been ongoing for at least 30 to 40 years, but which has escalated under Mohammad Bin Salman” (Aziza 2018). Recently, the Saudi government targeted feminists demanding the right to drive, imprisoning several prominent activists just weeks before the ban was lifted (Aziza 2018). This evidences the trend of hollow “political reform” in Saudi Arabia, designed to satisfy the demands of the global community while continuing to escalate human rights abuses behind the scenes.
This issue is important to me because freedom of speech and press are not only essential human rights but responsibilities. In the United States, they are among the most prized foundations of our democracy. When any government, ally or enemy, infringes on this process it silences the voices of those that should be heard. In the words of Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” King identifies an “inescapable network of mutuality” especially visible in this case. In defending Saudi Arabia’s violent repression, the United States establishes itself as an enemy of free speech abroad and at home. I know I would never want to live in the fear of expression many Saudi Arabians currently do. From the smallest community of public school students to the world stage, precedents set by those in power stick. The United States should not set a precedent of support for abusive governments, no matter how mutual our economic interests.
The United States government should hold Saudi Arabia responsible for its brutal repression of dissidents. The bar for accountability has been set depressingly low, in the case of Khashoggi especially. Congress should push for investigation into suspicious deaths of dissidents on Saudi soil, such as Naser al-Sa’id, and more recently, Loujain al-Hathloul. If necessary, sanctions should be considered. More feasibly, the United States should accommodate those seeking asylum from Saudi government persecution, numbers of which have risen to top all other countries with 280 Saudi asylee applications in 2017 (WorldData 2017). While the issue is delicate and involves further consideration of American counter terrorism and trade interests, it will do the United States greater harm to remain complicit in these obvious abuses of human rights. If the goal of appeasing Saudi Arabia is to maintain an American foothold in the Middle East, then America should consider the real value of influence exerted through hypocrisy and corruption.
Chloe Williams is a 12th grader at Walter Payton College Preparatory in Chicago, Illinois. She is a member of the policy debate team, where she enjoys researching and discussing current affairs.
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