Khashoggi's Fight Against Pseudo Reform

A Saudi journalist’s disappearance uncovers a rising suppression of human rights and the free press

October 12, 2018

On October 2, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist with frequent bylines in the Washington Post, went missing during a trip to the Saudi consulate to obtain the paperwork necessary to marry his fiancee. Since his self-imposed exile from the country prior to the reign of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, Khashoggi has been a fearless critic of policies and directives which have squeezed the Middle East, penning articles critical of Israeli settlement building in occupied Palestinian territories, as well as the Saudi government’s intervention in Yemen, blockade in Qatar, diplomatic dispute with Canada and crackdown on dissent and media. As a reserve of regional knowledge dating back to the 1980’s, Khashoggi will be sorely missed, particularly in these tumultuous times.

Regarding the story of Khashoggi’s disappearance, the chain of events remains contested between the relevant parties, and has therefore garnered no proper response. While surveillance video shows Khashoggi entering the consulate, his departure was never captured. Turkish officials have provided evidence to corroborate their claim that Khashoggi was murdered inside the consulate, and the Washington Post reported that the Saudi government had plotted Khashoggi’s interception at the consulate. The Saudi government maintains that Khashoggi left the consulate, and therefore their jurisdiction, prior to his disappearance, though their lack of proof coupled with reporting on text messages which Khashoggi received at the time of his disappearance fail to corroborate that story. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of evidence points to a calculated capture and murder of Khashoggi at the hands of the Saudi government.

This dispute and its handling by both Saudi Arabia and President Trump, who made mention of the “excellent” relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, is part and parcel with the rise of suppression in the Middle East which threatens dissidents, journalists and human rights activists. Khashoggi’s case is emblematic of a political culture that suppresses freedom of expression, and expression of the sort of criticism that keeps a country morally honest. By eschewing this principle, foundational to any healthy nation-state, Saudi Arabia has guaranteed that Khashoggi — certainly not the first casualty of media suppression — will not be the last journalist to disappear under these pretenses.

It is therefore useful to consider the way in which the Saudi government has normalized their advance of political suppression, particularly during the reign of Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman. In the New York Times, Tom Friedman commended the reformative spirit of the new leader, a spirit which was then critically engaged with at TIME Magazine. These pieces adequately summate the West’s hopeful glee that bin Salman would “transform one of [the] world’s most retrograde autocracies from exporter of oil and terrorist ideology to a force for global progress.”

However, under the guise of anti-corruption and reform, the Saudi government has sent dozens of non-violent clerics and Islamic intellectuals to prison. These practices are best defined as thuggery; as a nation acting in their best interest through an autonomous mafia. But where these actions should be met with condemnation from the U.S. government, the Saudis have found friends in both President Trump and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. They’ve also found political legitimacy and business partnership.

It is yet to be seen whether U.S. policy and stance toward Saudi Arabia will reflect the words of Senators Lindsey Graham and Chuck Schumer, who have called the news, if true, a “game-changer,” and “despicable.” There has already been bipartisan support in the Senate for a more thorough investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance. This cadre of Senators has invoked the Global Magnitsky of 2016, which, relevant to this case, authorizes the President to impose sanctions against any foreign entity found responsible for extrajudicial killings. President Trump has resisted taking advantage of this leniency.

We join the chorus of righteously indignant critics who have departed with this administration in both tone and tenor. We believe that the U.S.’s role is to demand that all governments, especially those of our allies, abide by human rights standards, and to fully support any national or supranational measures which take to task those governments which fail to do so.


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