Opinion: The tragedy of Jamal Khashoggi

Posted on Oct 18 2018 - 5:50am by Sue Patton-Bey

Two weeks ago, Saudi Arabian author and journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, entered the country’s consulate in Istanbul never to be heard from again. His disappearance immediately launched international concern, as well as confusion, considering Saudis were insisting the 60-year-old had left the consulate unscathed, while Turkish officials claimed “that this person, who is a Saudi citizen, is still at the Istanbul consulate of Saudi Arabia.”

Khashoggi’s fiancee and close friends had initially feared that he had been kidnapped by Saudi authorities to take him back to the Kingdom. As days went by, it became quite clear that something more sinister had befallen the prominent journalist. As the evidence of his torture and killing began to pile up, Saudi officials’ explanation for Khashoggi’s disappearance evolved from straight up denial to claims of a botched interrogation.

On Wednesday, Turkish officials told the Wall Street Journal that Khashoggi was killed within minutes of entering the consulate, according to video and audio recordings obtained by Turkish intelligence.

Fifteen Saudi agents, some with close ties to the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, were waiting for the journalist. After being led into the office of Saudi consul Mohammad al-Otaibi, Khashoggi was seized before being drugged, tortured, killed and dismembered, as the recordings reveal.

As if this couldn’t get any worse, Saudi officials are still denying any involvement, with President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo supporting their version of events. The president now provides a scenario that this operation had occurred without the knowledge of the Crown Prince or his inner circle.

However, allow us to see the bigger picture, the political games and the cruel irony. First, we cannot pretend that Trump’s support for the Saudis has nothing to do with the billion-dollar arms deal he has with them. But we must also remember that this was a Washington Post reporter who was murdered, and this president has repeatedly expressed his disdain for the free press.

We also cannot ignore the fact that the audio and video leaks by the Turkish media and newspapers couldn’t have been done without the approval of the government. Turkish outlets are either government-owned or privately owned by AKP loyalists. Turkey and Saudi Arabia have had an uneasy relationship, past and present, often finding each other on opposite sides regarding regional issues. So, it is likely that the leaks were done for political purposes.

Also, let’s say we were to buy the Saudi and Trump narrative — are we supposed to believe that the Crown Prince’s henchmen just randomly selected a Saudi journalist, who is critical of their boss?

Speaking of His Highness, let’s take a look at his track record — the war in Yemen, detaining the Lebanese Prime Minister, rising number of executions, detainment of women’s rights activists and purging of political enemies. The most annoying part is how Salman has successfully convinced the world that he is a modern man, who wants to “reform” his country.

But allow me to let the departed speak, as I think his words are more powerful now than ever. In an interview on the Dean Obeidallah show, Khashoggi blatantly described the dichotomy of Salman to journalist, Rula Jebreal.

Mohammed bin Salman wants to enjoy the fruit of the first-world, and at the same time, he also wants to rule like his grandfather ruled,” he said.

That was who Khashoggi was, as a journalist should always be: a person speaking truth to power. It is a cruel irony that his murder is going to be either brushed over or manipulated by men who have no love nor respect for the press.   

Sue Patton-Bey is a senior journalism and Arabic major from Oxford.