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Jamal Khasghoggi: Was Stalin Right or Wrong?
He went in. He didn’t come out. He was killed with malice aforethought.

31 October   |   2018   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

Anyone with the slightest interest in the MENA or Gulf regions cannot have avoided the cascading news over many weeks about the grisly fate that was awaiting the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi as he entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018. He wanted a document to prove he had divorced his wife and was therefore eligible to marry his Turkish fiancée.

This murder did not only scupper the dream for a couple who wanted to found a new life together. It also stirred up a hornets’ nest of doubts, recriminations and dilemmas for Turkey and Saudi Arabia but also for many other parties.

So what more can I bring to the case that has not already been discussed ad nauseam by many analysts? After all, Jamal Khashoggi’s cadaver is still absent. Here are some of my thoughts, blunt and unpolished, about this sordid case.

To start with, let us be serious. It is inconceivable that the Saudi Crown Prince had been kept in the dark about this premeditated plot that led to a murder. He has built the most vertical and insular hierarchy in the kingdom that is exclusive of all other decision-makers, and his ignorance is therefore simply beyond the pale for me.

Conversely, it is conceivable that titanic efforts will have been deployed both by the Saudi machinery and its allies or friends to firewall him. After all, the stakes are high, and the serious political, geo-strategic and economic interests of many countries - not least those of the USA and some European countries such as the UK and France - hinge to a large extent upon his staying power and future kingship.

It is true that Turkey is leading the investigations to disclose the truth inasmuch as possible or permissible, but it is also trying to milk this affair to the last drop in order to gain political advantage. Having been battered with pungent criticisms over many years about President Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies let alone about its own deplorable human rights record, this murder on its territory is an opportunity for him to score points.

The world is quite rightly concerned about Jamal Khashoggi’s gruesome murder. However, let us also not overlook the fact that there are so many other unfortunate men and women who have been gaoled in Saudi Arabia. Not only in gilded cages such as the Ritz Carlton for the Saudi princes, but in desolate cellars that snuff out hope and make people disappear the likes of Marwan Almuraisy or Raïf Badawi.

But let us not be elitist in our judgments! Whilst sinister things happen in the kingdom, other countries in the whole neighbourhood - Egypt, Bahrain, Iran, Syria are merely four examples - also have atrocious records or histories about fundamental freedoms. Our European understanding of human rights and personal freedoms - itself challenged these days by shrill nativist and populist forces - does not concord well with this tough neighbourhood and we are rightly outraged by some of those excesses. After all, the torture and murder of countless activists in Syrian notorious gaols is for me no less reprehensible than the murder of this journalist.

The US Administration is desperately trying to launder the Crown Prince’s involvement in this affair and to bleach his image because they need him for their own policies on Iran, on the Israel-Palestine deal of the century and on regional security or energy issues. The Europeans are hesitant and full of bluster as always, and many Arab countries are sidling toward Saudi Arabia lest they suffer the punitive consequences one day.

The defeat of the Arab uprisings by brutal counter-revolutionary forces, when coupled with a wave of nationalism sweeping many countries from the USA and Europe to Latin America, have together encouraged some regimes to think that all is permissible and nothing is impossible. In my own neighbourhood, the ethics and morality that defined to some extent policy decisions have become vanishingly slim. The value of the human being has withered in the face of personal power and vested interests. This is why the men and women of the region are not citizens: they are subjects.

Let me return to the late Jamal Khashoggi. Amidst all the dust generated by this murder, it is clear that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are also involved in a fierce rivalry over the leadership of Sunni Islam - a competition of sorts between the Muslim Brotherhood of Turkey and the Salafism of Saudi Arabia. But let us pause for thought: does this murder, and the public outcry, validate Stalin’s statement that a single death is a tragedy whereas a million deaths is a statistic?

The image represents Thanatos, the god of death in Greek mythology

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2018   |   31 October


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