Tyranny Now

October 20, 2018

When we speak of the fear, intimidation, and public shaming of intellectuals, journalists, and other thought leaders who dare to speak their minds—and then tell you that we're from the United States—are you surprised?

If you too are an American, then stick a pin on that for just one moment while we talk about a particular journalist.

We don't even want to know everything there is to be known about Jamal Khashoggi's murder. The implications, the possible truths, are too grotesque. It's possible that the truth is not as bad as we are able to imagine. But searching for answers runs the huge risk of finding a truth that is unbearable. And so help us God, these speakers are too cowardly to seek them out.

Our country deserves the truth. But what shame can befall us as a people if none among us have the stomach for such poison? Do we really need this truth in order to recognize the inherent dangers? Is there anything more we can learn that can possibly further underscore the severity of what we are witnessing? Has our society become so diseased that a poison must be our final hope for a cure? We hope and pray these questions can be answered to the negative.

Khashoggi's death is nothing short of a political assassination by the Saudi government. How many assassinations does a common person have to commit before it constitutes terrorism? How wide ranging does the resulting intimidation have to spread? When the deed is executed by a government the threshold need not be any higher before we call it state-sponsored terrorism. How much assistance after the fact need be rendered before an ally is sullied with guilt?

The self-imposed exile of Khashoggi brought him to the United States where he hoped he would be free to think for himself, to speak his own mind, and to do so without fear of reprisal. In this country he could expect that the government would not imprison him simply for voicing dissent, or target him for indirect punishment as retaliation for criticizing that government or any other. In fact, the very form of government in the United States is so drastically different than that of Saudi Arabia that we almost take for granted the very basis on which our government is said to exist—more primitive even than the moral right to govern through consent of the governed. But we must make ourselves aware now, as our society continues to rot further to its core.

While our founders laid for us a foundation of consent of the governed through representation in the legislature, the very essence of a state's sovereignty is an elemental that we have had the luxury of ignoring for a very long time. Even as we have faced encroachments upon that sovereignty in recent times, its validity has never been questioned. That is to say, we never have had to consider that our sovereignty could become altogether void. But now we must face that potential.

Before the constitution, before our war for independence, before the first settling of the continent by our cross Atlantic predecessors, the primordial roots of our sovereignty—and the government in which it is vested—relies on an indispensable barter: the subject owes loyalty to the prince, and in return the prince owes protection to the subject. In terms of a free society, loyalty is the imperative to pay taxes and to not betray the interests of the state to those of another state. The government's duty is to preserve the freedoms and rights of the people, to prosecute the deeds of criminals (even a foreign prince) who would deprive its innocent subjects of life, limb, and property. Only when a government takes care to faithfully (even if imperfectly) fulfill it's obligation of protection can it be a just government instilled with the sovereignty of a people. Abdication of that duty is tyranny.

In every sense, as a legal resident of our country Jamal Khashoggi paid his loyalty to the United States and was owed the protection of the US government. In death, he still deserves for that government to prosecute the atrocity of his murder by a foreign prince. But our head of state shows little interest in fulfilling that duty, and not merely due to incompetence. The President has worked to assist the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to justify and rationalize this assassination, and other forms of violence designed to suppress the rights and freedoms of the people at the risk of life or limb.

For nearly two years our country has debated whether we are locked in a downward slide of tyranny rising. We are already there. Perhaps we were too busy arguing among ourselves to notice that our anticipated future was already history. We can't say we weren't warned. And it is Jamal Khashoggi himself that—tragically—set off one of the most important sirens that wasn't heard.

Barely more than a year ago, Khashoggi opened his first column for the Washington Post with these words:

When I speak of the fear, intimidation, arrests and public shaming of intellectuals and religious leaders who dare to speak their minds, and then I tell you that I’m from Saudi Arabia, are you surprised?

But perhaps you think it is unjustified to compare the political circumstances of the United States with the abuses of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. That would be a mistake because we cannot allow ourselves to dismiss the perils of our present based on security that is in the past. Khashoggi's assassination is the latest instance of political violence by a Saudi government with a long history of the most severe kinds of oppression. Our President collaborating with the Saudis after the fact is our government's first instance of participating in this most severe kind of oppression. This is tyranny now.