Jamal Khashoggi understood power. That’s why he’s dead

Updated October 27, 2018

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Slaim journalist Jamal Khashoggi. — Photo/File
Slaim journalist Jamal Khashoggi. — Photo/File

I knew just what Jamal Khash­o­g­gi’s murder really meant in the context of the Middle East last week when I realised just who I’d have to call to explain it to me. Whom would I telephone to learn what was going on? Why, of course, I’d call Jamal Khashoggi. And that’s why his murder is so important. Because he was, as he knew, a lone and important Arab journalist who did not listen — not any more — to His Master’s Voice. And that, of course, was his problem.

Read: What Khashoggi and Snowden have in common

This disgusting, dangerous, frightening, dirty murder — and don’t tell me a man of 60 who dies in a “fistfight” with 15 men isn’t murder — shows not just the Saudi government up for what it is, but it shows us up for what we are, too. How come we keep falling in love with Arab states — Israel does this, too — and then cry out with shock when they turn out to be extremely unpleasant and very violent?

Khashoggi: From Saudi royal insider to open critic

To answer this question, there are already several clues. Trump’s initial reaction that the Saudi story was “credible” — when it clearly was not — was a start.

Then the murder became “the worst cover-up in history”. It was the quality of the murder that was troubling him, you see. These chaps didn’t know how to cover their tracks.

Take a look: Jamal Khashoggi case

He had already blurted out that he didn’t want to give up US arms sales to Saudi Arabia. We had our own beloved prime minister referring to Jamal’s gruesome murder as a “killing”, rather than a murder.

Then — and this was indicative because it was not contradicted — we had Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, referring to the murder as a “huge and grave mistake”. “MISTAKE”. Let me repeat that. MISTAKE!

Al-Jubier, the former Saudi ambassador in Washington who was once reported to have himself been the intended victim of a would-be murderer in the US, was lecturing the press a year ago on how in its war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia “abides by international humanitarian law”. But not, it seems, by international diplomatic law.

But hold on a minute. Al-Jubier — and I used to know him quite well many years ago — is a very eloquent and well-educated man. His English is flawless. When he used the word “mistake”, it was not a mistake. What he meant — what I think he meant — was that Jamal Khashoggi should not have been killed.

Jamal should not have become involved in that famous “fistfight”. Something went wrong. Perhaps the killers misunderstood their task. Rendition wasn’t supposed to end in murder. Perhaps a friendly chat got out of hand. They didn’t know their own strength.

Before they knew it, Jamal, well, he walked into their fist. Or the fist of one of them. They made a “mistake”. And for that reason, we can forget about the 15 man hit team, not to mention Jamal’s lookalike who strides out the back of the consulate — apparently in Jamal’s own clothes, for heaven’s sakes — and then later apparently tosses the same shirt, trousers and jacket into the garbage. And forget about the forensic scientist and the mysterious black van. And the initial two-week denial — which was self-evidently a bald and total lie from the first day. And this is a MISTAKE?

We shouldn’t, of course, have been surprised. The “mistake” was this week downgraded to a regrettable “incident” by a Saudi minister at the international business conference in Riyadh where the large number of western companies have downgraded their representation from CEOs to smaller CEOs.

Mohammed bin Salman — did you see him beaming at his guests and joshing with King Abdullah of Jordan? — is squeaky clean, we have to believe. Untouchable. Innocent. As pure as the driven snow etc.

But after his vile war in Yemen, his arrest of the most important princes and lucrative nabobs in Riyadh, his kidnapping of the Lebanese prime minister and his assault on Qatar — demanding the closure of Al-Jazeera (which, of course, is much enjoying the current farrago) — should we be surprised if Mohammed bin Salman has got himself mixed up in, well, something that got out of hand, even if we’re told he didn’t at the time know anything had got out of hand or that anything had happened?

A mistake, for example. If the Yemen war can get out of hand — can even turn out to be a mistake — well, what can you expect will happen when a bunch of thugs are flown into Istanbul in Saudi jets?

I did, by the way, love the touch that they flew in to separate Istanbul airports. That really put the Turks off the scent, didn’t it? Not perhaps the worst cover-up in history. Certainly a mistake

And you’d have to note, wouldn’t you, the repulsive and hypocritical outpouring of anger by our brave and moral western leaders at Jamal’s murder. They’ve been tut-tutting for two years about the Yemen war, making excuses for it, selling arms for it and avoiding personal responsibility for it, and it’s quite obvious that they care far, far more about Jamal’s death than about the 5,000 civilians who have been killed in the Yemeni conflict. What is a child’s death worth or the killing of guests at a wedding party compared to Jamal’s murder?

I guess that we can always find excuses for Yemeni casualties — “collateral damage”, “human shields”, “full investigation”, etc — but Jamal’s murder was just too obvious, too packed with lies, too thug-like. We — rather like the Crown Prince, May His Name Be Praised — ran out of excuses. Heavens above, what would we do if we discovered that the infamous knife — always supposing there was a knife and that Jamal was dismembered — was made in Sheffield?

Naturally, we all hope Jamal was not dismembered. If Adel al-Jubier doesn’t know and if the cupboard-opening Saudi consul doesn’t know — and since he’s safely back in Riyadh, we aren’t going to find out — and if Mohammed bin Salman doesn’t know — which he can’t know, can he, because he knows nothing about this atrocity — then we can all hope that Jamal was given a solemn and dignified Muslim burial with all the correct prayers said for his soul and his body buried — secretly, of course — shrouded and on its right side and in the direction of Makkah, the Holy city of which Mohammed bin Salman’s father, the King, is officially the Protector.

By arrangement with The Independent

Published in Dawn, October 27th , 2018

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