The murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the Western hypocrisy

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive to the Murabba Palace, escorted by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, Saturday evening, May 20, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to attend a banquet in their honor. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead, Wikimedia Commons)

Was it Spotify or what? I mean, the music they listened to while cutting off limbs of Jamal Khashoggi’s body while he was still breathing.

At first glance, the question certainly sounds like disrespect for the dead. However, it is a rather serious question considering the fact that Saudi Arabia is a very pragmatic actor in world politics. It would be disastrous for the Saudi administration to send amateurs for a mission into a foreign country. Therefore, I suppose the butcherers were not a bunch of “Pulp Fiction” punks who do not know how to get rid of a body without asking help from “Wolf,” a character played by Harvey Keitel in the Tarantino classic. In Istanbul, the guys with playlists did not leak evidential tapes by accident.

The death of Khashoggi bothers me since I am a journalist by profession. Western leaders have faced criticism due to their recently strengthened ties to Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi’s last column in the Washington Post was a heartbreakingly written plea for free speech in the Arab world. Understandably, virtual candles fill the social media. Isis-style executions cannot be accepted.

Hence, no wonder people might think the Khashoggi affair is quite a meal to digest for President Trump for whom the Saudi connection has been an important one. In addition, since there are reports of secret cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia, one might question Israel’s foreign policy too.

However, Khashoggi’s execution is a matter of Saudi Arabian domestic policy. Countries do not interfere other countries’ business unless their actions cross a red line and pose serious threats to others. In January 2016, Saudi Arabia shocked the world by executing prominent Shia preacher Nimr al-Nimr. On that day, there were 46 other executed victims. The US State Department criticized the executions, but that was all then-President Barack Obama could do. President Trump is guilty for the assassination of Khashoggi as much as President Obama was guilty for al-Nimr’s death.

Despite how much anyone would agree with Mr. Khashoggi’s views, I am afraid it would be too romantic to assume his death was a matter of an innocent reporter bravely revealing the harsh truth about the Saudi kingdom. The real news about the Saudi Arabia or Iran would be if one day they would open a gay club in Riyadh or Teheran. Further, Khashoggi admired Turkey. However, we know too well that Turkey is not an actual beacon of free speech, a right Mr. Khashoggi defended so relentlessly in Washington Post.

Now, there are four things I would like to say.

First, states are not emotional. They are stone-cold actors by definition. This is a necessity. If a state loses its stability and integrity, it will dismantle into a condition of failed state. That is what has happened to Syria. Political leaders kiss each other’s cheeks but even that is not personal as far as the leaders represent states. States are like tectonic plates, and when they are about to touch each other, political leaders’ kisses are mere performance which make sure the tectonic plates get in touch as softly as possible.

A “friend” in international relations is something opposite of what we normally understand when we say that John is a friend of Ringo.

If you consider the axis made of Russia, Syria and Iran too dangerous for your own interests, you surely search for “friends.”

When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini backed his rise to power, the Jimmy Carter administration secretly backed him because it thought the Islamic Republic of Iran was a firewall against Communism. Nowadays, the Persian Gulf states serve as a buffer against Iranian hegemony. Therefore, despite the Saudi kingdom’s bad track record on human rights, the alliance with the US makes a lot of sense.

Third, as for the reasons for the repulsive and nauseating assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, there are reports of him being openly a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate. Four years ago, Saudi Arabia designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. From the Saudi point of view, disloyalty to the crown would mean a treason, and, perhaps in some cases, apostasy.

Hence, the only crucial question is about the murderers’ playlist. By this, I do not mean the music literally, but the calamity, deliberation and determination. Why now? Why in this particularly brutal way? Why go public?

When the Los Pepes group tried tackling Pablo Escobar in the early 1990s, they resorted to the most brutal of methods. In a case like that, you acting out of horrendous fear, or else you are a hundred percent fearless psychopath just eliminating enemies. In both cases, you try sending “messages.” Hence, Abu Deraa, a Shia militant in Iraq, surely sent “messages” while butchering Iraqi Sunnis after Saddam’s defeat. Known as the “Shia Zarqawi”, after the head of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Abu Deraa has a reputation for torturing victims by drilling their skulls and bones through. Later, al-Zarqawi himself gained the same fame.

What was Saudi Arabia’s “message” then, and to whom? Was it a message to Turkey? I think this is the most difficult part here. In 2013, when Abdel Fattah el-Sisi toppled the Muslim Brotherhood, the price of his hardline approach bounced back as a counter-productive element. Since those days, the Muslim Brotherhood has made use of the August 2013 Rabaa massacre in their own propaganda with all possible means. They have been successful, for they became martyrs even in the eyes of the Human Rights Watch.

Thus, if Khashoggi’s affiliation is true, I wonder if the Brotherhood misses its moments to make use of Brother Jamal’s death too. Frankly, I really do not understand why they had to kill Mr. Khashoggi.

Whatever reasons there might pop up, we need to place the Saudi kingdom in its own context. This is a context framed by Iran. Second, this context is colorized by revivalist Sunni Islamist movements, which have emerged during the bloody years of Syrian civil war. Had the Arab Spring never happened, Saudi Arabia certainly would have maintained the fruitful cooperation with the Brotherhood which had a decades long history before the Syrian war. However, nowadays they seem to be competitors.

I find it very problematic that activists do not target EU officials with the same industriousness by which they target the US administration for making friends with Saudi Arabia. There are no marches against Iranian nuclear aspirations. There are no marches against chemical weapons of mass destruction possessed by Hezbollah. There are no marches against assassinations of political dissidents by the Quds Force. There are no marches against the drug racket by which Hezbollah is funded. Finally, there are no marches in support of Iranian women, who risk their lives by protesting the compulsory headscarf.

Finally, you might think that the world of international politics just cannot be this cynical. Surely, the picture given above is one-sided. For example, in the UN General Assembly in 1948, the member states of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

So, one might get confused by the fact that nowadays, in the United Nations Human Rights Council, or UNHRC, there are numerous member states which do not accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such countries have adopted another document, which is called the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights. Originally, members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) adopted it in 1990. Among these members of the UNHRC we find Afghanistan, Iraq, and – Saudi Arabia. None of them has adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I am sure that one would do a great favor for any human rights advocate by addressing the UNHRC about the repulsive murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Actually, addressing the US administration is a bit inaccurate in the sense that one of the current administration’s key figures, Nikki Haley, has done an enormous job in drawing the UN back onto the right track. Haley, who recently announced that she will resign her position, has been one of those bright people who by their very existence remind the rest of us that there is no room for cynicism in our world.

About the Author
Juhani Huttunen is a Finnish journalist who has focused on the Middle East issues. He is of a Lutheran Christian background. Views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect any official position of any agency or media company.
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