The Dissident (2020)

I watched this silly 2020 documentary: “When Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappears after entering Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, his fiancée and dissidents around the world are left to piece together the clues to a brutal murder and expose a global cover-up perpetrated by the very country he loved.”

It’s a good movie for idiots but I saw nothing in it about why Jamal matters. The guy doesn’t say anything smart or profound or unique or insightful. I’ve never heard a solid argument anywhere about why anyone who didn’t know him should care about him. He apparently adds nothing to our ability to understand the world. I heard so much commotion about his killing, and I was told by the news that he was important, but I was never given any reason to believe he mattered. He was part of Saudi Arabia’s ruling elite for 30 years and then I’m told he decided to become a real journalist at the Washington Post while simultaneously funding an insurrection in Saudi Arabia. Why would anyone outside of this conflict care? If you are not a Muslim, why would you care about these Muslim conflicts? Is there some vast well of untapped Arab or Islamic genius that will bless the world under a particular type of Arab or Islamic government? Where’s the evidence for this?

I don’t have strong opinions about what type of government any Arab or Muslim country should have. I haven’t heard any good reason for why I should care one way or another. Why is one type of Arab or Muslim government better or worse for the West? I’d prefer the type of government that is the least likely to kill me and other Westerners and least likely to suck the West into its dysfunction.

From Middle East Eye:

The Dissident looks, feels and is structured as a thriller. The first character we’re introduced to is Omar Abdulaziz, a young Saudi activist exiled in Montreal. Framed in shadowy compositions set against an ominous, overdramatic score, he is quickly established as the inside man, a whistle-blower hell-bent on exposing the ghastly secrets of the kingdom to the world.

“It’s all about revenge,” he says in the documentary’s introductory moments. “In Saudi Arabia, having an opinion is a crime. But Jamal’s death changed everything.” From the start, such a theatrical tone prioritises atmosphere, emotional engagement, and mundane cinematic flourishes over well-rounded truth.

The non-linear narrative constantly jumps from the present to the past. The formative years of Khashoggi’s career as a loyal, if somewhat critical, supporter of the royal Saudi family are largely brushed over, as Fogel hints that he may have collaborated with previous Saudi regimes out of a conviction that to change the kingdom’s system, a journalist needs to work inside it.

The history of the kingdom’s rulers is fleetingly outlined, summed up as power passed on from one prince to the next. Instead, the bulk of the narrative focuses on Khashoggi’s dissidence (spurred by both the Arab Spring and the ascendance of King Salman in 2015 to the throne), his self-exile to the US and Turkey, and his subsequent murder.

Throughout, Khashoggi is painted in hagiographic fashion as a martyr who gave his own life for freedom and democracy…

All the political issues tackled in The Dissident are dumbed down to fit a western binary of good and evil. The Arab Spring was great for the region but Saudi Arabia demolished it across the Middle East for fear it would encourage its own citizens to revolt. The Saudi monarchs were all wicked, fixated on bolstering and safeguarding their power and wealth.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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