The killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi may have hoped his 2018 assassination would quickly fade from memory, but that hasn’t been the case. In fact, his journalistic legacy gets renewed attention in the Showtime documentary Kingdom of Silence.
“The scope of his life was just epic,” director Rick Rowley says during the film’s panel at Deadline’s Contenders Documentary awards-season event. “He was more than just a journalistic witness. He lived his life at the center of a whirlwind and was a participant in events that shaped history.”
Khashoggi cut his teeth reporting on Osama bin Laden. Later, he became a quasi-government spokesman, defending Saudi Arabia abroad. But the kingdom’s role squashing the Arab Spring, and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to crush dissent, disillusioned him.
“He allowed these moments to wound him,” Rowley says, “and he was changed by them.”
Changed so much that he went into self-exile in the U.S., writing pieces for the Washington Post that criticized Saudi Arabia’s leadership and pushed for freedom of expression. Bin Salman allegedly ordered Khashoggi’s murder, but the precise motives for the killing remain a matter of speculation.
“The potential for [Jamal] to unite the Arab diaspora, the folks in exile, around the cause of freedom I think posed the biggest threat to Gulf monarchies and authoritarian regimes in the region,” says his friend, human rights activist Mohamed Soltan, who appears in the film. “I think that’s one of the main reasons he was killed.”
Both Soltan and Rowley insist the U.S. bears some responsibility for Khashoggi’s death, as “Saudi Arabia’s security guarantor.”
“There is no Saudi government thriving or surviving without unbelievable U.S. support,” Soltan remarked. “We created this monster.”