By MICHAEL DROHAN
On October 2, 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian citizen and also a permanent resident of the US, walked into the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul and has never been seen or heard of again. However, there are reliable reports that his screams as he was tortured and murdered, and the dissection of his body in the Embassy, were recorded. Reportedly he wore an iwatch synced with his iphone, which was in possession of his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting outside the embassy. There appears to be no alternative narrative to the one that says Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi Embassy by 15 agents of the Saudi government, who flew in to Istanbul the day of his alleged assassination.
Jamal Khashoggi’s alleged fate stands as an inconceivable act of savagery and violence beyond words, prosecuted by the Saudi government. But in another sense, what allegedly happened is of a piece with normal life within the Saudi Kingdom, namely ruthless repression and barbarity towards anyone who would dare criticize the atrocities committed by the Saudi monarchy.
Executions by beheading are practiced in Saudi Arabia to this day, making it unique among the countries of the world. In 2015, there were 158 beheading executions in Saudi Arabia, over 70 of them involving foreign nationals. 2016 began with the mass execution of 47 prisoners in public on January 2. One of them was a prominent Shia cleric named Nimr al-Nimr, a vociferous critic of discrimination against the Shia minority. In a word, one of the best kept secrets, in the US especially, is that life in Saudi Arabia is hell for anyone who would dare criticize the Kingdom. It is a throwback to medieval monarchical autocracies in its savagery and brutality, with no parallels in any other country in the world. This is a reality that our media, by and large, scarcely ever delves into.
From what we know of Jamal Khashoggi, he was an ardent supporter of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman, and the reforms he introduced to the Kingdom. However, this did not prevent him from criticizing the Saudi state, especially on two fronts. One was the brutal execution of war on the poor country of the Yemen, with repeated bombings of school buses and innocent civilians. The other was the denial of civil rights and free expression within the Kingdom. Jamal worked as a columnist for the Washington Post and was a frequent spokesperson on affairs in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia. But above all, he loved his homeland and saw himself as a loyal citizen who wanted some day to return to his beloved native land.
Almost as shocking as the fate of Jamal Khashoggi is the reaction from Washington to his disappearance. In particular, the reaction of President Trump almost defies belief, coming from a leader of a supposed democracy and the “free world.” When questioned about the possibility of pulling back on the arms sale of $100 billion worth of lethal weaponry and armaments to the Saudis, Trump rejected the idea. If the US, he argued, cancelled the deal then Russia or the European Union would step in to supply them. What logic and moral obtuseness! And in addition, the deal’s cancellation would have a negative effect on Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics and their like, Trump stated; it would be negative for jobs.
So crass a response to the murder of an innocent man is sadly illustrative. Were this a case of Iran, Venezuela, or some of the other bogeymen in Trump’s ravings, there would be sanctions at the least, if not threats of an outright invasion. Clearly, the Khashoggi case takes back the veil on the US’s and Trump’s concern for human rights anywhere in the world.
The first country that President Trump visited in early 2017, after being installed as President, was Saudi Arabia. He lavished praise on this medieval, autocratic brute-ocracy. I think it would be fair to say that he had not schooled himself in any of the social and political realities of the Kingdom. He practices cultivated ignorance when it is convenient. All he could see then and now in regard to Saudi Arabia is dollar signs and oil. When questioned on the Khashoggi case, he lavished praise on the Saudis and on how much he has gained himself from his deals with the Saudis. He maintained that they would pay any price for his apartments and condos. In a word, he has reduced the Presidency to shilling for the arms industry and to functioning as an instrument to line his own pockets.
For justice for Jamal Khashoggi, his fiancée Hatice Cengiz and his family, we have to rely on civil society and people’s movements. This atrocity cannot stand. The Saudis have to be exposed for what they are and what they represent.
Michael Drohan is a member of the Editorial Collective and the Board of the Merton Center.
(TMC newspaper VOL. 48 No. 9 November 2018. All rights reserved)