By Javier Sethness, for the Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice
Last Tuesday, October 2, 2018, the Saudi critic and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, 59 years of age, disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. To date, while no definitive evidence of his fate has been presented to public light, it is presumed that Khashoggi was assassinated in the consulate that same afternoon, shortly after arriving. While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is certainly no friend of a free press, given that his State imprisons about one-third of all journalists incarcerated globally, it appears that he may have initially been seeking to play a delicate balancing act in treating Khashoggi’s disappearance as a murder case while simultaneously seeking not to antagonize Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who appears to have ordered the assassination, a move that could jeopardize Turkey’s mutually profitable relations with the Saudi kingdom. The evidence of Khashoggi’s grim fate seems clear, since camera footage shows him entering, but the journalist was never seen to have left the consulate that day.
In fact, a consular source said to have been present that day has reported to have heard sounds of struggle, screams, and subsequent silence that afternoon, consistent with the journalist’s torture and possible murder. The Washington Post investigation triggered by Khashoggi’s disappearance has revealed that two private Saudi planes arrived in Istanbul on October 2, and since then, the Turkish government has published the list of the names of the 15 Saudi operatives reportedly involved in the operation, including an Air Force lieutenant and an autopsy expert. This same team fled the country just hours after their crime, while it is understood that the second Saudi plane included a forensics team to “clean up” the murder site. Though the Saudis officially deny these lurid charges, The Onion’s satirical approach appears to be more honest: “Saudis Insist Missing Journalist Was Already Dismembered Before He Left Consulate.” Turkish sources have indicated they have video recording of Khashoggi’s murder.
If it is true that this journalist was in fact assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the question that logically follows is, “Why?” Mehdi Hasan insists that Khashoggi was not a “dissident,” and that he supported the Saudi monarchy, but that he disagreed with the ascendant 33-year old bin Salman’s highly authoritarian approach. His friend Dr. Daud Abdullah, who dined with him just days before his disappearance, notes how Khashoggi had expressed concern over certain of his compatriots chastising his opposition to the “Saudi-led blockade of Qatar; [the kingdom’s] support for Egypt’s military rulers; and its incarceration of hundreds of religious scholars, university lecturers, journalists and human rights activists.” Indeed, Khashoggi’s last Washington Post column calls on bin Salman to declare an immediate cease-fire in the Yemen war to stop the “loss of innocent life” and express support for the “value of human life,” thus representing restoration of the “ethics [and dignity] of Islam” in its historical birthplace. Khashoggi even compared bin Salman to Bashar al-Assad in this column. While accurate, when considering the vast extent of human suffering in Yemen, and Assad’s targeting of journalists, such a charge, taken together with the implications the journalist makes regarding the Crown Prince’s defilement of Islam and the Ummah, or global Muslim community, must certainly have offended bin Salman’s vanity, and may partly explain the abduction and suspected assassination.
Dr. Amira Abo el-Fetouh hypothesizes that bin Salman retaliated against Khashoggi as a Washington Post journalist after Trump publicly humiliated the Saudi monarchy before the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, accusing its leadership of the Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries (OPEC) of “ripping off the rest of the world,” and then suggesting at a rally in Southaven, Mississippi, on October 2 that the Saudi rulers would not “last two weeks” without the U.S. military. While the crime appears to have been completed by the time Trump had spoken in Southaven on Tuesday, Dr. Abo el-Fetouh may have a point in this sense.
Another aspect to consider in this case is Khashoggi’s support for Palestinian rights and his concomitant opposition to Trump’s absurd fantasies regarding the “deal of the century” in historical Palestine, a deal which would declare the Palestinian capital not as Eastern Jerusalem but rather as Abu Dis, a small village outside of Jerusalem; involve the annexation of Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem rather than their dismantling; and decisively deny Palestinian refugees’ right to return. Bin Salman has reportedly told the Palestinian leadership to accept these fundamentally unjust terms “or shut up,” and has previously presented the (unelected) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with an ultimatum to accept Trump’s demands or resign. To this point, at a seminar in Istanbul in October 2018, Khashoggi warned that bin Salman had been growing closer with Israel, and in his last public comments at a London conference dedicated to retrospectively analyzing the Oslo Agreements 25 years on, the critic rightly pointed out that the accord failed to identify Israel as an occupying power, thus perpetuating its settler-colonial expansionism. Speaking to the BBC a day before his disappearance, the journalist effectively declared the Oslo Accords dead. Khashoggi’s fate becomes especially macabre when the contents of his speech are juxtaposed with Mike Pompeo’s chillingly imperialist declaration that “Israel is everything we want the entire Middle East to look like going forward.”
Yet perhaps the clearest explanation for Khashoggi’s disappearance and presumed assassination is that the Saudi intellectual had founded a new organization, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), in January 2018, dedicated to promoting elections in the Middle East, “monitor[ing] the adherence of regional governments to democratic values[,] and releas[ing] a yearly report on its findings.” In this way, DAWN was apparently meant to defend and advance the legacy of the Arab uprisings that began with Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia in late 2010. An organization with such a mission may well have posed a considerable threat to bin Salman’s autocratic designs, hence the Crown Prince’s suspected ordering of the hit against Khashoggi.
In response to the global outcry regarding the journalist’s disappearance, Trump has resisted calls to consider reviewing the arms deals he has made with the Saudi monarchy, insisting, “I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States,” in reference to the sum total he has supposedly agreed to with bin Salman since taking office. Yet U.S. legislators have begun suggesting that just such a review of U.S. arms sales and logistics training to Saudi Arabia would be in order. In parallel, in the wake of the questions raised regarding Khashoggi’s fate, a number of large capitalists have announced their plans to withdraw from several ventures designed to profit the Saudi rulers and bourgeoisie.
Whether Khashoggi was ‘only’ abducted and ‘rendered’ to Riyadh or outright murdered in the Saudi consulate, his disappearance is consistent with the rising tide of authoritarianism and neo-fascism seen around the globe in recent years, particularly intensifying since Trump’s election. As Sulome Anderson perceptively implies, bin Salman knew he could abduct or kill Khashoggi without any accountability from Trump’s administration, given its consistent expressions of distrust and hostility toward the concept of a free press. On Shane Bauer’s account, the journalist’s disappearance represents “the blood soaked middle finger from the kings and dictators of the world,” declaring victory against the regulative powers of peace, freedom, justice, and dignity.
We hope this is not true: that Khashoggi is still alive, and that the international bourgeoisie has not decisively ‘won.’ We commend Khashoggi’s commitment to human rights, and we demand justice for his disappearance and suspected martyrdom, expressing our endorsement of his support for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, his calls for cease-fire in Yemen, and his insistence on defending Palestinian rights.