WWE is in the early portion of a 10 year deal with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that will bring hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue into Vince McMahon’s wrestling promotion. It’s not remotely surprising that many fans are turned off by the idea of supporting WWE when the corporation is willing to get in bed with Saudi Arabia, particularly in light of horrific incidents like the brutal murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khasshoggi.
Sami Zayn has never appeared on one of these WWE shows in Saudi Arabia. The Syrian-Canadian wrestler’s background raises some obvious questions about whether or not he we would be allowed to work on these shows even if he wanted to. Appearing on The Blindboy Podcast, Zayn was asked if he is banned from Saudi Arabia. Here’s his response:
“I don’t know. I don’t know the specifics on this. To this day I didn’t really ask ‘cause I wasn’t really keen on going anyway. But WWE signed some sort of deal to put on these shows in Saudi Arabia for 10 years or something like that. And I just wasn’t invited to go. I never really dug into it too much ‘cause I wasn’t keen on going too much anyways to begin with.”
Sami dug deeper into the moral and ethical issues that arise from WWE’s deal with Saudi Arabia, and all of the personal guilt involved with these deeply complicated situations:
“It became very easy to say, ‘Well you shouldn’t go to this country because they do these awful things.’ And I understand it and I agree. And if I was asked to perform in Israel, I wouldn’t, right? But at the same time, I perform in the United States, you know what I mean [laughs]? And I live in the United States. So there’s that sort of dissonance to get your head around a little bit. Right? So I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel about all of that...This is one of the biggest things that I personally deal with and I feel like I have a lot of weird personal guilt. Because I feel like I’m a part of the system that I criticize.”
The host mentioned a story about a man he interviewed who wanted to live a life of compassion. So he went off the grid and tried, for example, to completely avoid all products that come from sweatshops, avoid all food that is not ethically produced, etc., and it’s simply not possible to live without blood on your hands. The man was ultimately arrested because in order to attempt to live that kind of life, it required behavior that broke established laws.
Zayn used this story as a way to express his frustrations with all the people who engage in whataboutism and purity tests:
“Especially in the age of social media, there’s a lot of whataboutism and there’s a lot of purity tests. And, “Well you say this, but you do that.” And it’s like, fuck off man, what do you want from me? You know? I’m trying the best I can. Does that not count for anything? I mean, I’m trying here man. I’m trying. I’m just doing the best I can. And yes, yes, you want to live in a way that is most harmonious with your value system. And yes that means questioning where a lot of this stuff comes from. This is why I stopped eating meat several years ago. ‘Cause I realize, well shit, I can’t just say that I care about animals, or I think animals are grand or whatever, and then be okay with the mass, this industrial level of cruelty. I just can’t do it. And so I’m out, because that’s easy. I can control that. So that’s me doing my best. But...you cannot break free entirely of exploitation.”
“I’m just trying to work within the framework, because unless we abandon the framework altogether and try to go hermit like your man there, unless we do that, you are beholden to these systems. For example, I pay tax to the US government, who then takes my money [and it is ultimately used to bomb Syria]. So what’s the answer? So what’s the answer if I’m really adhering to this purity test? What’s the answer on an individualist level if I’m beholden to this purity test?...Does that mean no longer wrestling ever again in the United States?... Does that mean denouncing America altogether?”
Zayn and Blindboy tackle a really difficult topic here. They settle on the understanding that they are each trying their best to use their platforms to dismantle the system, but it’s going to take deep cultural and systemic changes to fix these problems. Within that scope, it’s okay to call for social justice while continuing to use the infrastructure of these corporations that are destroying the world. That’s the best he can do on an individual level. There is no perfect solution, and those people trying to present arguments grounded in whataboutism and purity tests are missing the point.