Reaching Beyond the “Davidson Bubble”: Who Was Journalist Jamal Khashoggi?

Savanna Vest ’22

Staff writer

The ‘Davidson bubble’ is a familiar term for most students on campus who describe the tight-knit suburban campus community as removed from most national and international grievances. The death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, 59, has fallen into such overlooked discussion this month.

On October 2, 2018, Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, seeking paperwork to marry his fiancée Hatice Cengiz. After initially disputing reports that the journalist had never left the Consulate, Saudi Arabia’s government said three weeks later that Khashoggi had died in a “fistfight” while in the building.

Many on the international stage argue that Khashoggi’s death was not random. Khashoggi was a journalist who identified with Saudi Arabia’s elite class. His journalism was often critical of the Saudi government, yet his views did not necessarily fall into the extreme calls for reform in Saudi Arabia.

Dr. Silvana Toska, a political science professor who has conducted fieldwork in Yemen and researched the Arab uprisings, explained that, due to the combination of his influential and subtly critical work, Khashoggi presented a greater threat to the government.

“If he was a radical outsider, he could maybe be ignored as his message was unlikely to resonate,” Toska said, “But he was one of the elite, and what he wanted to happen in Saudi Arabia was not so radical as to alienate the elite. His articles had an impact because of his position.”

Students familiar with Khashoggi’s case said they were shocked or upset to learn about his death.

I was disappointed at the news,” said Kamran Shahbaz ‘19, who spent six weeks abroad in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, his sophomore year.

“Khashoggi . . . seemed through his work with Al Watan that he genuinely wanted to promote more freedom throughout his country and the Middle East,” Shahbaz said.

The Trump administration’s response has aligned with the positions of presidents past: Saudi Arabia is a U.S. ally, and as such, will not receive any significant criticism from U.S. officials. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. government will revoke visas for those directly connected to Khashoggi’s death and consider economic sanctions, but the government has not provided an explicit plan of long-term ramifications for their relationship with Saudi Arabia. Trump also announced he would not end the 110 billion Saudi arms deal.

The argument that Saudi Arabia is too important—whether that is a correct assessment is a different matter—but it surely is a widely held belief in Washington and many European countries, will ultimately mean that it can, indeed, get away with murder,” said Toska.

In reflection of why and how the Davidson community should engage with international news, students expressed a common theme: fulfilling a responsibility and school-described motto to understand and learn about perspectives other than their own, outside of their own “bubble.”

“I once spent a month without engaging with the news, and I am confident that it did not influence my day-to-day experiences at college,” Shahbaz said. “However, one mustn’t avoid the news solely because one does not think it will affect one’s life—that is not the spirit of the Davidson education our professors, faculty, and curious students adopt.”

Emre Koc ‘21, an international student from Turkey, said that the power of following events abroad expands cultural awareness. “Being exposed to these differences helps you look at the issues in your daily life through different perspectives and also helps you realize the flaws in your thoughts,” said Koc.

Middle East expert Toska warns that to concern ourselves solely with the issues of our immediate environment is to neglect our unique position to affect change.

As members of this community, and as citizens of the US, it is a responsibility to keep our leaders accountable in whatever way that we can or are able to – vote, protest, inform,” Toska said. “Khashoggi’s death is one of those rare moments in politics when a clear ‘bad’ has occurred, and when both the reasoned choice and the moral one is to demand that this be the very last. That can only happen if the general ‘we’, including us at Davidson, pay attention, and care.”

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