“One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.” (Joseph Stalin)
In spite of Stalin's controversial nature, there is an irrefutable relevance in his words, relevance that manifests in the desensitization that many of us have increasingly experienced in regards to how we react to the tragedies that take place in the world we live in. The quote above signifies a growing tendency that we, as humans, experience which is to emotionally distance ourselves from incidents we can not personally identify with. As of recently, the significance of this quote has best been exemplified in our reactions to the death of Jamal Khashoggi.
A high-profile critic of the Saudi monarchy and its ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,
Khashoggi was a journalist who worked for Al Watan, one of the more liberal newspapers within Saudi Arabia. In addition to having been fired two times as a result of speaking against the state, he confided in his family and friends that he was beginning to feel that his safety was at risk living in Saudi. According to the Press Freedom Index, an annual report assessing the degree to which countries in relation to each-other give media outlets the right to free speech, Saudi Arabia ranks 169 out of 180. Not exactly surprising, considering their constitutional background. Saudi Arabia derives its human rights laws from Sharia, which is Islamic law based on the Qur'an. That being said, criminal punishments within Saudi include but are not limited to: public beheadings, hangings, and stoning. The crimes of which these punishments are based off of? Homosexuality, eating either pork or bacon, driving as a woman, and, in retrospect to Khashoggi, free speech.
The fear that he'd become a victim of one of the aforementioned punishments served as incentive for his decision to flee and immigrate to America to work for the Washington Post. On September 2017, two months after his departure from Saudi, he writes his first column, which expanded upon his decision to leave: “I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice. To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison. I can speak when so many cannot. I want you to know that Saudi Arabia has not always been as it is now. We Saudis deserve better.”
In the continuation of his critique towards the Saudi government, Khashoggi reaped the consequences: consequences that, as irrefutably devastating as they were, had also been neither unforeseen nor unheard of within the Saudi regime. On October 2nd, Khashoggi walked inside a Saudi consulate in Turkey to obtain his divorce papers so he could remarry what would have been his second fiancee: Hatice Cengiz. According to Turkish officials, however, video recordings show Khashoggi going inside the consulate and never coming out.
Saudi officials, however, initially denied involvement which was communicated on October 15 by Donald Trump who, on Twitter, wrote: "Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened 'to our Saudi Arabian citizen.'"; however, leaked visual and audio recordings have indicated otherwise. On November 10, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey disclosed that Turkish authorities have stopped the search for Khashoggi's body and have since concluded from the audio that Khashoggi was both dismembered and dissolved in acid. Although it took the horrific nature of Khashoggi's cold-blooded murder for most Americans and much of the Western world to even begin to discuss the corruption of Saudi Arabia, the violation of human rights has been a long and ongoing conflict within the nation.
In spite of Saudi Arabia's culture going against about every ideal America stands for, however, we have nonetheless held a long-standing alliance with them. Holding one of the largest oil reserves in the world, the U.S economically benefits from Saudi as Saudi determines the rules of the international oil market. From this information, we can see a growing dichotomy between the U.S's want for economic stabilization versus their want for making a stance upon moral principles. While it's impossible to definitively say what's right or wrong in a situation with such gray moral area, it's an important conversation to have as right now, we're not only supporting the domestic policies of Saudi-Arabia but making a stance in their affairs with other countries (e.g. the Yemen crisis).