By William J. Furney
The alleged murder of a Saudi journalist at a Turkish consulate is, if proven, one of the more shocking events of modern times, and would show just how emboldened the oil-rich Middle Eastern country has become as it prepares to transition from old and infirm ruler to young king-in-the-making.
Jamal Khashoggi, who left his affluent homeland just last year, after he was banned from using Twitter — not by the American microblogging network but his own government — was no fan of the king-in-waiting, Mohammad bin Salman, a 33-year-old who ostensibly has set about modernising the wealthy kingdom and earlier this year allowed women to drive. He is a deeply controversial figure, however, and one who is responsible for the ongoing and brutal offensive in neighbouring Yemen, the rounding up of suspected corruptors and placing them under hotel-arrest, and even arrests of women who dared to drive as the lifting on the ban was in the works.
Khashoggi, also a columnist for the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post, turned up at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, to get documentation for his impending marriage to his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting outside at the time. She, nor anyone else, has seen him since.
According to Turkish media sources, a team of 15 men was dispatched to Istanbul on private jets and one was a bone-cutter. It is suggested that bin Salman, who will take over as king of Saudi Arabia from King Salman, 82, said to be suffering from dementia, ordered the hit-job. Saudi Arabia denies any involvement in the suspected murder.
Few, however, are believing it.
We have video of Khashoggi going into the consulate, but not of him coming out.
President Trump, certainly no fan of journalists, apart from those at fawning Fox News, who can scarcely be called journalists at all and should instead be branded PR merchants, has leapt to the defence of Khashoggi and vowed to “get to the bottom of it”.
“As of this moment, [Saudi Arabia] deny it vehemently. Could it be them? Yes,” the president, who chose the kingdom as his first overseas visit as leader of the US and the “free world”, adding that there would be “severe punishment” if Riyadh were found to have carried out the astonishing crime.
As of now, Saudi Arabia has not taken part in an investigation into what happened to the journalist, and is probably hoping it will all blow over. That’s not going to happen. In the civilised world, no murder — of anyone — can be allowed to go unpunished. Already alarmed global business leaders, news organisations and companies are pulling out of Saudi investments and an upcoming “Davos in the Desert” summit.
Unless this disturbing case is properly dealt with, and sanctions applied to who is responsible, it risks, as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, a “new normal”.
“We need to know exactly what has happened and we need to know exactly who is responsible and, of course, when we see the multiplication of this kind of situation, I think we need to find ways in which accountability is also demanded,” he said.
“Because this kind of incident is multiplying and it’s absolutely essential to make sure that the international community says clearly that this is not something that can happen.”
Writing in The New York Times, fiancée Cengiz said she met Khashoggi (60) at a conference in Istanbul in May this year and that the pair developed a romantic relationship over the ensuing months — him in Washington and “lonely”, she in Turkey. Cengiz said he had been “cheerful” the morning they both went to the consulate to get divorce papers so he could marry her, and that since then “I have been thinking that Jamal and I are no longer in the same world.”
“If the allegations are true,” she wrote, “and Jamal has been murdered by the errand boys of Mohammed bin Salman, he is already a martyr. His loss is not just mine but that of every person with a conscience and moral compass. If we have already lost Jamal, then condemnation is not enough. The people who took him from us, irrespective of their political positions, must be held accountable and punished to the full extent of the law.”
The young Saudi crown prince may have gone too far this time, and his many billions in petrodollars will not save him from a deeply offensive criminal act that has shocked the world.