Dubai: Where morality and modernity coexist

Armstrong Williams | 1/31/2019, 12:50 p.m.
When I arrived in Dubai two week ago as the guest of billionaire business mogul Khalaf Al Habtoor, I expected ...
Armstrong Williams

When I arrived in Dubai two week ago as the guest of billionaire business mogul Khalaf Al Habtoor, I expected to witness the opulence and luxury for which the United Arab Emirates have become renowned. What I did not expect, however, is to find an advanced, modern society with serious ambitions toward global leadership. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

One of the burning questions I had was one that many of my fellow Americans also shared: How could we proceed with our close relationship with our Arab brothers and sisters in the wake of the publicized murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul this past October? Surely America, which has espoused and actively promoted human rights around the world, would have questions about why a journalist was so brazenly and brutally killed in a diplomatic consulate in a foreign country.

As I began to explore the question with colleagues in the Arab media, a much more complicated picture began to emerge. Although the crime against a fellow journalist was widely condemned in the Arab media, many Arabs also felt that the tragedy was being used to embarrass them and paint them as a backward society. It was not fair, they said to me during our frank discussions, that Khashoggi’s killing continued to make front page news in the Western media, when there are hundreds of thousands of other tragedies involving innocents and journalists. They believed that when embarrassing instances involving rogue U.S. soldiers who tortured prisoners at Abu Graib prison in Iraq were revealed to the world, most Arabs understood that these actions were the actions of a few rogue soldiers, not a testament to the character of the American people. They only asked to be treated similarly.

Furthermore, they asked why the Khashoggi affair is being judged in the media in the first place. Saudi Arabia, they said, has a robust legal system and was conducting its own investigation and trials into the matters. They are more than capable of bringing the guilty parties to justice. Although certain facts are known, such as Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and never emerged alive, many facts remain to be discovered. What was the motive for the crime? Did the Turkish authorities have advanced notice that Khashoggi’s life might be in danger? If so, did they have a responsibility to warn him or intervene?

Of particular importance, however, is the fact that relations among the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been mutually beneficial to all involved. The U.S. has benefited economically from having access to the region’s vast energy resources and investment in the U.S. The region has benefited from the security arrangements put in place by the U.S. government that has afforded them peace and prosperity for the better part of a century. The notion that it could all be put in jeopardy because of the tragic crime against one person seemed odd and reckless, given what is at stake for the region and the world.