Categories
Comment

The Khashoggi report: an appalling non-response by the West

Recent events have exposed the twisted logic behind arms deals to Saudi Arabia. A principle isn’t a principle unless it costs you something

Some events in this article may be entirely fictitious.

On 2 October 2018, journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he was murdered, then dismembered. A US intelligence report, recently declassified, found that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the killing. Khashoggi was a prominent Saudi journalist and for decades had been close to the Saudi royal family. However, after falling out of favour, he moved to the US in 2017 and wrote a monthly column in the Washington Post criticising the policies of the Crown Prince. A crackdown on dissidence overseen by Mohammed bin Salman is what led to his death.

Khashoggi was a brilliant journalist: holding those in power accountable, shining light on illegitimate practices, revealing hypocrisies. He embodied Finley Peter Dunne’s aphorism ‘the duty of newspapers is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable’. So, what has been the international response to this blatant murder?

My snouts at the Pentagon allege that, although Biden has imposed sanctions on some Saudi officials, he is keen to avoid angering the prince. ‘Why?’ I innocently asked. ‘Well, you see, the US is reliant on Saudi oil. We can’t afford oil prices to go up! Plus, we need to keep selling arms to Saudi Arabia so they can keep waging their war in Yemen.’ I nod, sagely. ‘You mean the war that is a humanitarian catastrophe, with 400,000 toddlers at risk of dying from malnutrition?’ ‘So glad you understand’ purred my snout. I decide to jokingly change the subject: ‘how much do you Pentagon goons talk to the prince then?’ ‘All the time! You wanna chat?’

That is how, after ten minutes of being redirected through various encrypted channels, I ended up on a Zoom call with the Prince. ‘You’re not a journalist, are you? I hate those guys.’ he asks suspiciously, through narrowed eyes. ‘Er, no. I’m a friend.’ I stammer. ‘So, did you order the murder of Khashoggi?’ – I decide to jump the gun. ‘Of course not! That is ludicrous!’ he says, adjusting his position on his sunbed – he’s on his €500 million yacht. ‘We conducted a trial to the highest standards. Behind closed doors, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabi found guilty the perpetrators of this heinous act and brought them to justice. I believe the UN called the trial the “thesis of justice”’. ‘Antithesis’ I point out. ‘Hmm… yes… maybe you’re right. Actually, whose friend are you? How did you get this call? I demand that –.’ Fearing dismemberment, I ended the call there.

‘All citizens should have the right to speak their minds without the fear of imprisonment’ – Khashoggi. We take this as a given, but for Khashoggi this statement carries with it a weighty truth. He endured fear, intimidation, and public shaming in order to speak his mind. His death shows the risks he took to publish, and in this way, we see his bravery. He did not allow himself to be censored by the strongman prince, and instead exposed the corruption and injustices in the policies of Mohammed bin Salman. His murder testifies to the depravity he exposed.

And yet, ultimately, he has been disappointed. The US and the UK have failed to take any meaningful action. Instead, they continue to supply arms to Riyadh – with the UK also cutting aid to Yemen by 50%. We seem to be afflicting the afflicted. It is completely indefensible. To put it in the words of that brave, kind man: ‘we should not need to be reminded of the value of human life’.

Image: a caricature of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman via Wikimedia Commons