Fronts of distortion in the Khashoggi affair

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On 2 October, Saudi operatives, supposedly number around 15, were waiting for Jamal Khashoggi, journalist and occasional critic of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a theocracy that continues to surprise in its brutal exertions of power.

Turkish forensic police work in a room inside the Saudi Arabian consulate general residence as investigations continue into the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)Khashoggi's arrival at 1.15pm in the Saudi consul's residence in Istanbul for the banal reason of securing a document for his nuptials was brief and violent. Within a matter of minutes, according to leaked recordings, a noted critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was dead, decapitated, dismembered, his fingers removed. The entire operation took two hours; the dismembering a mere seven minutes.

The shock here is not merely at the disappearance and claimed murder of a journalist, but the habitual insensitivity shown by all the relevant powers towards his disappearance. While Turkish sources, notably the Daily Yeni Safak, have been bubbling with clues, the political caution in venturing condemnation is unmistakable. Despite being a sworn enemy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Turkey persists in adopting a gingerly cautious pose.

Unofficially, the record is gruesome, featuring a murder on the premises of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The participants were disproportionately many for such a task: Saudi intelligence officers and members of the Royal Guards, including a forensics specialist by the name of Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, were supposedly charged with the task of disposing of the body.

US President Donald Trump, for his part, has made it clear that Saudi Arabia should be given a generous hearing, though he insists he is not giving the Kingdom a dispensing 'cover'. While acknowledging that there might be evidence pointing towards Saudi involvement in the demise of Khashoggi, he seems most reluctant to accept it. 'I'm not sure yet that it exists, probably does, probably does.' (He has since admitted that 'it's bad, bad stuff' and consequences will 'have to be very severe'.)

In justifying such caution, he analogously sees accusations directed at the House of Saud as akin to those of sexual assault against now confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. 'Here we go again with, you know, you're guilty until proven innocent. I don't like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I'm concerned.'

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also revealed an allergic tendency to discussing concrete details regarding the disappearance of Khashoggi, telling the press that he intends to avoid any discussion about factual details on the case.

 

"As for matters of free expression, Trump remains coldly indifferent. There is money to be made with the strongest Shiite state on the planet, and the possible murder of dissident scribblers should not be a bar to business."

 

Khashoggi has suffered a double ignominy: condemned or shunned by powers which have decided to make use of the spectacle of his demise, and moralised by critics who never quite understood him. Far from being a conventional, street protesting advocate of 'freedom', Khashoggi was a gentle observer, close to his government contacts within the court.

Many in the vocation of journalism would have regarded these as compromisingly close. As Toronto-based journalist Shenaz Kermalli reflected, 'How many journalists after all — no matter how high they are — can honestly say they have sources to both international terrorists and elusive members of the Saudi royal family?' His more than casual association with former spy chief and ambassador to the US and UK Faisal bin Turki did not go unnoticed.

In debates, he never strayed into a line that could be regarded as vehemently anti-Saudi, let alone bomb-throwing. 'His reservations on Saudi policies,' noted Madawi Al-Rasheed, a visiting professor to the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics, 'have always been subtle and tolerated.' His disappearance and seeming murder, she concluded, suggested the 'elimination of a defector, a critic from within the dark corridors of the royal court'.

His world was that of explication and considered logic. While he did argue for the importance of free expression ('The Arab world,' he surmised, 'is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external factors but through domestic forces vying for power') he did so from a nuanced perspective.

As for matters of free expression, Trump remains coldly indifferent. There is money to be made with the strongest Shiite state on the planet, and the possible murder of dissident scribblers should not be a bar to business. 'You've got $100 billion worth of arms sales ... we cannot alienate our biggest player in the Middle East.' Various Trump supporters have also chipped in, with the televangelist Pat Robertson adding his unquestioned support. 'For those who are screaming blood for the Saudis — look, these people are our allies.'

Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United States have all made contributions in distorting and disfiguring the Khashoggi affair. The Trump administration finds facts distasteful and prefers to avoid engaging them; the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia finds them in need of censorship, possibly of the most extreme type; and Turkey, with one of the world's most sullied records in treating journalists, retains a reserve discordant with its own findings.

 

 

Binoy KampmarkDr Binoy Kampmark is a former Commonwealth Scholar who lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

 

 

Main image: Turkish forensic police work in a room inside the Saudi Arabian consulate general residence as investigations continue into the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Binoy Kampmark, Khashoggi, Donald Trump

 

 

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Is "There is money to be made with the strongest Shiite state on the planet, and the possible murder of dissident scribblers should not be a bar to business" a reference to Saudi Arabia? I thought the Saudis were Sunni.
Peter Albion | 19 October 2018


I read this with interest. But forgive the minor correction. Saudi is the Sunni state, Iran is the dominant Shiite state in the region.
Peter Rochford | 22 October 2018


'You've got $100 billion worth of arms sales ... we cannot alienate our biggest player in the Middle East.' Seems that business trumps ethics by a country mile!
Joanna Elliott | 22 October 2018


I think it is more appropriate to recognise the teachings of Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab (1703-92) as the form of Islam favoured by the Sa'ud royal family. Wahhabism (?) is the official ideology of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia also controls Islam's holy places & the hajj. Its power derives from oil which gives it great economic clout, prestige (reluctant admiration) for its neo-fundamentalist Islamism. The only thing lacking is military might. It will never be big enough to form huge armed services, so while it possesses the economic power of oil it will use it to buy the strongest possible defence machinery in the world. It will swing the two-edged sword of Mohamed against all infidels, including pesky jouralists, who threaten the hegemony of the family of Saud. It is hard for some of us to understand this mind set of leaders of a nation in the 21st century but 20th century history is replete with examples of dictators & demagogues using ethnic cleansing, mass murder, cruelty & torture in defence of the state.
Uncle Pat | 22 October 2018


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