Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on 2nd October in what Saudi Arabia deemed a ‘rogue operation’. The Saudi Arabian officials have changed their story about what happened inside the building, first stating that he had walked out alive, then admitting he was murdered. Each new story is complemented by fresh denials of any Saudi involvement in his death – a claim that the international community has trouble believing.
Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia have pledged to investigate the matter, but I don’t have high hopes for a swift conclusion to this attack on the free press. Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince and current ruler of the oil-rich nation, had called Khashoggi a “dangerous Islamist” with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. The phone call in which this accusation was voiced took place before Saudi Arabia had officially confirmed the journalist’s death. Khashoggi’s family has outright denied that he had any connections with the group that both the US and Saudi Arabia deem a terrorist organisation. Even John Bolton appeared to not buy the Muslim Brotherhood tie, according to the Washington Post, despite his known derision for the group.
This connection has been decried as a distraction from the fact that Khashoggi was an outspoken critic of the Saudi Arabian monarchy, who lived away from the country for very obvious reasons of safety. But while his death is a tragedy, it has brought attention to Saudi atrocities to an international audience that, quite endemically, have little or often no knowledge of the events that have shattered the Arabian Peninsula since 2015. I have made comments previously, both here and elsewhere, about the media’s almost total omission of the Yemen situation, but with the death of a Saudi journalist taking centre stage, this trend of calculated ignorance might finally fall.
People may be familiar with the basic facts of the war in Yemen, such as the UN calling it the world’s worst manmade humanitarian disaster, and the outbreak of cholera due to unclean drinking water reaching over a million affected. Millions more face imminent starvation and malnutrition, the aid for which is rarely received due to the Saudi blockade of Yemeni ports, namely Hodeidah. The war is held between the Houthi rebels, with alleged ties to Iran who is said to back them in terrorist activities in the region, and a Saudi led coalition with the UAE. Whether the Houthi rebels are communicating with Iran is more a sideshow when you compare the death tolls on either side – the Saudis are in the lead, and most of the victims are civilians. And they are intentional strikes, including weddings and a bus filled with children. The humanitarian disaster is solely due to the blockades and prevention of aid.
While these atrocities on all sides may have made occasional headlines, it appears to cause little outrage or condemnation outside of human rights and international organisations such as the UN and Human Rights Watch. The reason for this silence in the media is due to the alliance between Saudi Arabia and the US, following the usual pattern of free passes to friendly states and intensified criticism against enemies; often when you compare atrocities in ‘enemy’ and ‘ally’ states, there is little, or perhaps the allies are worse. In this case, Saudi Arabia, the greatest funder of terrorism in the region (aside from the US itself), is much worse. Media censorship can take many forms, and this toxic relationship is simply hidden by omission.
Over the past week, papers such as the Guardian and the New York Times have begun to probe a little deeper into the Yemen question, raising suspicions about the US’ continued relations with the Saudi monarchy. But any digging in the occasional article by them and other ‘mainstream’ outlets, and certainly any alternative source, would have told you that the US was majorly complicit in the Yemen atrocities. The US has openly backed the Saudi led coalition with logistic and tactical support, and (along with the UK, France and others) have carried out billions of dollars’ worth of arms deals. US made weapons have been found in the carnage left in strikes against civilian targets. Not only have they backed this atrocity from behind the scenes, but US soldiers and mercenaries have been on the ground in Yemen since 2015 as well, a fact uncovered recently by – I hate to say it – a Buzzfeed investigation. Who knew that poor excuse for ‘journalism’ could break a story of actual worth?
The world awaits the murky outcome of the Khashoggi incident, with a seemingly clear perpetrator but a slowly progressing investigation. While this is of importance and should be followed closely, the attention it has brought to the crisis in Yemen is invaluable. Tragically a martyr for freedom of the press, Khashoggi may also be responsible for the international spark that might just tear down the US and Saudi regime’s impunity and secrecy in the region. Only time will tell, but the mainstream news outlets cannot let this slide – we must shine a light on Yemen, for the sake of millions of lives.