Netflix recently blocked an episode of a Hasan Minhaj’s “Patriot Act” in Saudi Arabia because it was critical of the Saudi government and Mohammed bin Salman’s possible role in the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi was killed while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and many American lawmakers are convinced that the effort was orchestrated by the Crown Prince himself.
The comedy talk show criticized the Crown Prince openly, saying he was complicit in the murder of Khashoggi, according to CNN. While Mohammed bin Salman is often looked upon as the modernizer of the Arab world, “the only thing he’s modernizing” Minhaj claims, “is Saudi dictatorship.”
Saudi Arabia has worked with the United States historically-they maintained a strict anti-communist policy during the Cold War and the Saudi royal family remained friendly with former Presidents Bush and Obama. The New York Times emphasizes this long-standing relationship as part of Minhaj’s criticisms.
However, the Saudis’ reputation as a force for modernization in the Middle East is in danger, particularly because of this issue. Although, MBS himself has been under global journalistic criticism for quite some time now.
The official stance of the Saudi government is that the killing was orchestrated by a rogue operation within itself. The Crown Prince has accepted no blame.
According to CNN, Netflix took down the episode entitled “Saudi Arabia” after the Saudis threatened legal action on the basis of Saudi law, which states “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers” is a crime.
Many have criticized Netflix for succumbing to the demands of a religious monarchy with apparently strict free speech laws. One such individual is Karen Attiah, the editor for the Washington Post’s Global Opinions.
Quite outrageous that @netflix has pulled one of his episodes critical of Saudi Arabia.
— Karen Attiah (@KarenAttiah) January 1, 2019
As Attiah points out, Minhaj responded to Netflix blocking the episode by urging people to donate to humanitarian efforts in Yemen, which is suffering from a civil war in which Saudi Arabia is heavily involved.
Comedian Hasan Minhaj is calling for donations for Yemen after Netflix pulled an episode of the “Patriot Act” at Saudi Arabia’s request. pic.twitter.com/LqIMN2hRVG
— AJ+ (@ajplus) January 3, 2019
Netflix’s decision to block the episode in accordance with Saudi law sparks a larger debate about free speech and the role different media outlets have in protecting it.
The United States will likely have difficulty dealing not only with piecing together who committed the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but how to interact with its long-term ally in the face of a giant battle over the all-American concept of free speech.
The episode of Patriot Act has ironically blown up on Youtube, which has not yet blocked this content in Saudi Arabia, according to Vox.