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April 15, 2006
Why Work For The Saudis At All?

Fawaz Turki had worked for the Saudi-based Arab News for almost a decade as an opinion journalist, but when those opinions clashed with management, he found himself unceremoniously shown the door last month. Turki takes to the pages of the Washington Post to decry the intolerance and rigidity of Arabic dialogue and its reluctance to engage in open, honest debate on the issues confronting Arab society:

I was unceremoniously fired this month by my Saudi newspaper, a leading English-language daily called Arab News.

It didn't matter that I had been the senior columnist on the op-ed page for nine years or that my work was quoted widely in the European and American media, including this paper. What mattered was that I had committed one of the three cardinal sins an Arab journalist must avoid when working for the Arab press: I criticized the government.

The other two? Bringing up Islam as an issue and criticizing, by name, political leaders in the Arab or Islamic world for their brazen excesses, dismal failures and blatant abuses.

Never mind that a newspaper cheapens and debases the idea of the journalistic enterprise when it enjoins its commentators against being critical of the government that it is supposed to be a watchdog over. Never mind the absurdity of preventing your contributors from touching on the issue of Islam, a social ideology whose embrace by jihadists is the top news story in the world today. And never mind that Arab society -- a society that remains broken in body and spirit more than a half-century after independence -- needs very much to engage in serious self-assessment and to promote an open debate in the media among intellectuals, academics, political analysts and others about why Arabs have failed all these years to meet the challenges of modernity.

Turki vents his frustration at the kleptocrats and petty dictators that run the fragmented Arab nation since gaining their independence a half-century ago. Some of his invective gets personal, although Turki doesn't name names in this piece. He describes illiterate imams and intellectually vapid bureaucrats colorfully, and accurately describes the crisis in Arab dialogue. His termination at Arab News does represent the worst of the Arabic impulse to silence internal criticism and focus on external conspiracy theories.

All of which begs the question: why did Turki sign up with Arab News in the first place? If Turki had this much concern over free speech and intelligent, self-reflective criticism, his partnership with one of the most repressive and conservative Arab regimes makes little sense at all. Arab News has long been a mouthpiece for the Saud family and its interests, and anyone who reads it understands that. It's not without value; it gives a temperature of the Arab fever swamps when needed, and occasionally has something interesting and provocative to say. Usually it's just a collection of anti-Semitic ramblings and Islamic triumphalism.

It's difficult to imagine that Turki could have been unaware of this when he took the job. Nor could he reasonably think that he could change the Saud family by toiling away for them at Arab News. The fact that he got fired for not playing by the Saudi rules should not have come as a surprise to Turki. In fact, if he truly cared about the free-speech issues he raises in this article, he would never have gone to work there in the first place.

This sounds like sour grapes to me. Turki apparently thought that he had built a high enough profile to protect him from political attacks like the one that got him fired. If he truly had the courage of the convictions he espouses here, he would have quit long ago and either started his own newspaper or signed onto a dissident publication to provoke the dialogue he argues (correctly) the Arab nation so sorely needs.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 15, 2006 9:12 AM

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