What should we make of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist-activist?
Here are three observations:
The enemy of my enemy is not always my friend.
Turkey is behaving, well, suspiciously, in its actions here. As Hot Air reports, Turkey has asserted repeatedly that it has ironclad evidence that not only did the Saudis kill Khashoggi, but that they did so in a particularly gruesome manner, but at the same time, Turkey refuses to share any of its evidence. They certainly have their own agenda here, and it’s not the furtherance of democracy in the Middle East. They are instead more keenly interested in using this to their political advantage — whether it’s a power play against the Saudis in general or against Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman specifically, and whether there are connections to the overall “cold war” in the Arab world/Mideast, as this Federalist article suggests.
Which means that we should be careful before lapping up Turkey’s narrative, and avoid doing what Turkey wants us to do.
Yes, it’s bad that the Saudis (almost certainly) killed Khashoggi. But we shouldn’t add to the outrage because he was “an American.”
Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist who lived in any number of places during his lifetime. In September 2017, he acquired a U.S. green card through, apparently, some political connections.
Here’s the Washington Post, reporting on events chronologically; after becoming a Post columnist in September 2017,
Friends helped Khashoggi obtain a visa that allowed him to stay in the United States as a permanent resident.
Who were these “friends”? This is not reported as a visa obtained by the Post as his employer. The Conservative Review suggests that this was line-skipping due to connections to Saudi billionaires who were themselves connected to U.S. government officials. A reader at Daily Kos comments that Khashoggi’s fiance was a Turkish resident, with no intention to live anywhere else. Was Khashoggi establishing a residence in Turkey? Continuing to globe-trot? Was the U.S. green card intended to enable him to split to the U.S. without needing to trouble himself with seeking a visa at a later point in time? Was it intended, by himself or his sponsors, as a means of placing him under the individual equivalent of a U.S. “nuclear umbrella”, with those sponsors intending to place the U.S. in a position of being obliged to object to any future imprisonment just as much as a “real” U.S. national? Maybe this is just standard practice; I don’t know
One reads calls for the U.S. to impose some sort of sanctions in this case, or to cancel weapons contracts, or cut off diplomatic relations. But does that really make sense? Is there a specific behavior of the Saudis that we are attempting to change in the future, with some metric by which we’ll know they’ve changed it? That’s what sanctions are intended for — we demand a nation end its nuclear weapons development program, or remove its army from a third country, or stop persecuting an ethnic minority.
Setting aside the relatively small possibility that this was Henry II and Thomas Becket all over again, and that MBS did not really intend to murder JK, let’s consider this:
Justice in Sharia law is very transactional, isn’t it? Murders can compensate the victim’s family rather than being jailed.
Here’s Wikipedia on the matter:
Families of someone unlawfully killed can choose between demanding the death penalty or granting clemency in return for a payment of diyya, or blood money, by the perpetrator. There has been a growing trend of exorbitant blood-money demands, for example a sum of $11 million was reported as being recently demanded. Saudi officials and religious figures have criticized this trend and said that the practise of diyya has become corrupted.
So on the one hand, he has certainly revealed to anyone who thought otherwise, that he has no particular interest in human rights but that, like China, he’s more keen on advancing national interests and we would be as mistaken to see a commitment to women’s rights in their new permission to drive as we would be in seeing a concern about the well-being of the Chinese people eventually extending to human rights, in the Chinese government’s interest in economic prosperity. But at the same time, one presumes that he really viewed his actions as simply within the norm for acceptable behavior for a Saudi monarch. Khashoggi was not just a Saudi citizen, but highly connected with the royal family, and it’s not as if the Saudis haven’t committed extrajudicial killings before, or judicial killings based on unfair trials and for actions which any reasonable outsider would not only deem non-capital offenses, but not even crimes to begin with.
But what if we used the Saudi justice transactionality and used it to tell MBS, “these are our requirements, to compensate for a U.S. green card holder being killed”? What if we demanded that, in response to this sordid affair, they boost their refugee camp funding, release specific political/religious prisoners, etc. If we’re daring, we might call on him to repeal the requirement that all women have male “guardians.”
That’s the only way forward that I really see here.
What about you?