What happened to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi tells us something about what Muslim intellectuals go through. Because Khashoggi, both in his country and abroad, is a well-known intellectual. A mind pondering Muslim communities. He closely follows the issues in the Muslim world. Although he was working with the government on high degree projects, he has always preserved his intellectual stance. A person who thinks, reads, writes and struggles to resolve the problems of the Muslim communities.
Khashoggi is an intellectual who prefers to think independently although he has close ties with bureaucrats. He wants to express his ideas and to write them. He doesn’t define himself as oppositional either: “The writers, economists who are being held in prisons are not even oppositional figures. They are independent minds. I don’t want to call myself as oppositional either. I am just a writer. I want a free environment to express my ideas and write them freely.” However, even this sensitive positioning is not acceptable. Because in the Muslim world the thinking environment and intellectual atmosphere where Muslims can act freely is very fragile. It is their fate to be associated with tribes, sects, cults, state or oppositional groups. Moreover, recently, only two options are given to them: Either you’ll be with the rebels or with the dictators. There is no room for an alternative, and unbiased (though biased in reality) third way. This also happened to Khashoggi. They wanted him to be on the side of dictatorship. The idea “you are either on our side or on the side of rebels” was imposed on him. Otherwise, his existence would become unbearable for them.
This is a 200-year-old tragedy of Muslim intellectuals: You are either friend or foe. This is a sword which kills free thinking. The sword of the powerful. In this geography, the fate of intellectuals is to become “pro-Western.” They become intellectual fugitives. Or they are with the dictators. To put it in the simplest manner, they are forced to live in exile. They emigrate from their homelands. Mehmet Akif also experienced this. Khashoggi did not give up his citizenship to prevent being labeled as pro-Western. He wanted to protect himself from the actions of the dictators and to keep his ties with his country at the same time. He neither wanted to be a miserable man nor a sycophant! He chose the hardest way. Continuing to be a free thinker…This is the most unforgivable way. Because he was leading the Muslim intellectuals who think and want to be free. He was presenting a new model to them.
The Saudi government, together with Muhammad b. Salman, started the “moderate Islam” project. They wanted to represent an Islam without radicalism, political Islam and revolts. They were seeking to present a model for Islam which overcomes the fears of their Westerner friends. They were claiming to be the alternative to Daesh or al-Qaeda. They were showing them that they are following emancipating policies by presenting women as their symbol. In a way, this was a show to become the actor of “democratic Islam” in the Middle East. Khashoggi was exposing that this was just a show in his writings. He was not radical, nor he was a political Islamist. He was not supporting al-Qaeda, nor was he supporting the dictator. He was an intellectual who defended democracy, embraced liberal democratic values and had Islamic sensitiveness. He garnered attention among Western intellectuals with his stance and ideas. But he was exposing the foolish demonstration of the Saudi regime. He was explaining that these emancipating policies have nothing to do with democracy. He was stating that the future of the Muslim communities goes hand in hand with principles like the state of law, free thinking and democracy. These statements have broken the spell. They turned the image of beautiful women driving their red cars fast in exotic deserts upside down. The Arab International Women’s Forum, the rights given to women to drive… All these were populist freedoms given to women! On the other hand, there were scholars and intellectuals, oppositional figures and people who don’t support the regime either being imprisoned or killed.
Khashoggi was writing that these two-faced policies have nothing to do with reforms. He was reveling their true colors. He was giving Muslim intellectuals the courage to think freely without being on the same side with rebels or dictators. He was exposing Mohammad bin Salman’s barbarity to the Western public. This was an unforgivable crime! One of those crimes the Muslim intellectuals commit in the contemporary world… That is why Ghannouchi had to live in exile for decades. That is why a philosopher like Abdolkarim Soroush is still exiled.
An intellectual is a person who knows his time and society well. A person who lives with the truth and enlightens with the truth. A person who risks his life to call out to his people and invite them to resist. A person who can run the risk of thinking freely. A person who teaches with his death, his troubles and expulsions. Khashoggi has also joined this caravan. Those who made him disappear made him unforgettable.