As much as many of you hate it, politics and wrestling go hand-in-hand. Especially international politics.
Vince McMahon has never, ever strayed away from an opportunity to make money off of bringing real-world political issues into a fictional universe. Sgt. Slaughter's pro-Iraqi heel turn. Muhammad Hassan. Rusev's original character. If there's an international conflict to lampoon and he can make money off of it, he'll do it.
But this post doesn't have to do with anything fictional. It has everything to do with a troubling non-fictional development: the company's relationship with Saudi Arabia. Moreover, it is almost a microcosm in the sense of how much American firms are willing to let slide for lucrative business opportunities with suspect governments around the world.
Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince who is the de-facto head of government, has been dutifully trying to craft a "modern" image of Saudi Arabia. Since he has taken power, the ultra-conservative kingdom has taken strives to present itself as a 21st-century country, with reforms such as allowing women to drive.
However, most observers—including armchair observers like myself—realize that this image is utter bullshit. Saudi Arabia has waged a proxy war with Iran over in Yemen, which has effectively destroyed the country and has inflicted one of the gravest humanitarian crises that the Arabian peninsula has ever seen. Wealthy Saudis and prominent activist women have been arrested. According to NPR, Mohammed's recent moves have been seen as an attempt to silence opposition at home and strengthen the Saudi's government will over their neighbors; an example of this is the never-ending blockade of oil-rich Qatar.
Yet, the biggest crisis might have unfolded over the past few days, as Saudi journalist (and U.S. resident) Jamal Khashoggi, a noted Saudi government critic, disappeared. He was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Turkish government claimed that Khashoggi was interrogated, tortured, and slain; the Saudi government denied it without providing any evidence to completely contradict the Turkish government's conclusion.
On Thursday, however, the controversy reached a fever pitch as The Washington Post reported that the Turkish government notified American officials that they have audio and video proof that Khashoggi was killed. The government ended up publicly releasing surveillance video. It's important to note that the Turkish government is not formally accusing the Saudis—and Mohammed specifically—of masterminding the plot. It's not like the Turkish government can afford to infuriate the Saudis—even Ergodan knows how valuable Saudi investment money is to his country.
However, US intelligence officials are reportedly aware of an attempt by Mohammed to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia for the purposes of detaining him. This conclusion is thus fueling the suspicion that the Saudi royal family was behind Khashoggi's demise.
As reported on this site, WWE is currently "monitoring the situation". Various media companies, personalities, and executives have started to pull out of the upcoming Future Investment Initiative conference. Sir Richard Branson, former US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and Steve Case were among other business luminaries that opted to suspend its involvement with various initatives and discussions in Saudi Arabia.
WWE needs to do the right thing and cancel the Crown Jewel event.
At some point, the integrity of WWE's brand—a socially progressive brand that preaches anti-bullying and women's empowerment—must be upheld. Beyond that, WWE must show that it is not willing to get in bed with a well-orchestrated sham. Salman is not a benevolent leader; he is like the incumbent president, a total narcissist. But where there are checks and balances in our government that even the incumbent is forced to submit to, there's none of that in Saudi Arabia—after all, it's a royal kingdom.
And while there are many things that have been troubling out of late to emerge from Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi is particularly galvanizing because the allegedly reformist itself government is suspected of murdering a critic on foreign soil.
Now, let's not kid ourselves here. There isn't any government out there that's a saint. The US government has forged plenty of relationships throughout its time as a superpower with brutal dictators and oppressive governments out of a perverse pragmatism that was perceived as necessary.
However, privately-owned or publicly-traded American firms do not have to follow suit. There is absolutely nothing to gain from being part of a farce. However, there is everything to lose—that all of the initiatives and values that WWE purports to stand for will be upheld until an oil-rich government throws money into their face.
Please, WWE—do the right thing.