In the past decade, at least 324 journalists were murdered worldwide and in 85 % of these cases, no perpetrators were convicted. This is according to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ). This murder stands out as particularly horrific. Its difficult to find the words to describe appropriately what happened. Can it be referred to as brutal, as barbaric, as heartless, as savage? Do all of these words apply equally well?
As events unfolded from the fateful day he walked into his country’s embassy in Istanbul, Turkey, and never re-emerged again, the world was subjected to an extended horror movie. The word images came through thick and fast: he was killed by a group of men in the embassy and his body cut into pieces. His body parts were transported in a black van seen leaving he embassy. His face and other body parts could be buried in the grounds of the embassy. Each set of words painted a more gruesome picture landing like ice picks into the minds of listeners across the world.
And while the killing took place, his fiance was waiting patiently outside the embassy for her soon-to-be husband. The reasons for the murder remain unclear. Jamal Kashoggi was not a militant opponent of the Saudi regime. He was a correspondent for the Washington Post and many of his views were in sync with Saudi Arabia and its ally, the United States. For example on the Syrian matter, he argued for dividing Syria into two, a position that his country and the USA favoured. So why was he murdered and why in such a gruesome way? These questions remain unanswered.
It has prompted a journalist, Yasmine Bager to pen an essay for Time magazine headlined: “I’m a Young Saudi Journalist. Jamal Kashoggi’s disappearance will not silence us.”
Bager is only the second Arab woman to have studied journalism at Columbia University in New York. “When news broke out that Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi reportedly met a tortuous end at the hands of agents of a country I hold so dear, I fell into despair,” she wrote. Her essay is cautious. She makes it clear that she loves her country and says that her country is a complex and sometimes contradictory place. “I also am not ignorant of the very real consequences of angering powers that stealthily hover over us from all different directions,” she said.
She is part of a platform that brings Arab artist to tell their Eastern stories to a Western audience called New York/ Arab World Art and Education Initiative. She explains that under the backdrop of the early days of the last Gulf War in 2003, Kashoggi, then still editor at the Al Watan newspaper in Saudi Arabia, introduced artists to one another. They later formed a collective centred on Arab art globally, called Edge of Arabia. Many of those artists were part of the platform. “With Jamal and his family in our thoughts and prayers, we want to reiterate our commitment to amplifying the voices of artists trying to make the world a better place and getting their voices into the public domain,” she said.
Was it for this idea that Jamal Kashoggi was made to disappear? Or was he involved in an idea that was yet to come to the fore and which the Saudi government was set against?
Jasmine Bager’s response was reminiscent of the caution journalists in apartheid South Africa so often had to exercise to not unduly agitate the powers that be.
If the tone of her article is anything to go by, it suggests that fundamental change in Saudi Arabia will not come soon.
When his father announced that the young Prince Muhammed Bin Sulman would be the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia in 2017, there has been a great deal of speculation that this marked the beginning of a move away from authoritarian governance to a more enlightened and modernist approach. The Kashoggi murder has abruptly ended this hopeful trajectory.
If the allegations are true that the Prince himself sanctioned the killing it means that Saudi Arabia has not moved at all from its historic pattern of keeping a vice-like hold free speech and political opposition.
Despite being the guardian of the holy city of Mecca and Medina that feature centrally in Islamic practice, this government has long moved away from any pretence that the Quran is its key yardstick. South African Islamic law expert, Dr Faaik Gamieldien, said the Quran clearly forbids Muslims to take a life intentionally. “In Surah 4, Verse 93, Allah states:” If someone kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is hell to abide thereon forever; and the wrath and curse of Allah are upon him and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him.”
Former UK MP George Galloway told Russian TV recently that the Kashoggi affair would signal the end to the rule of the Crown Prince and affect the Trump Presidency. ““After Kashoggi himself, Trump is the biggest loser in this affair. I think this story changes the world. It will never be back to business as usual. It is now toxic beyond toxicity. I think its curtains for the Saudi regime,” he said.
South Africans know from experience that brutal murders do not automatically mean change and an end to authoritarian rule. There were many brutal murders over many years and these did not force Western countries to stop their alliances with apartheid South Africa.
What Kashoggi’s death will inevitably do is to lay bare the true nature of governance in that country to more of its people and the world and perhaps move them to object consistently to these anti-Islamic practices and human rights abuses committed in their name.