By Syed Badrul Ahsan
Journalists are an endangered species everywhere, not just in Asia or Africa or Latin America. There are a good number of instances where the media have been under attack or under threat in Europe. In the United States, the drumbeat by the Trump administration on fake news has had the extreme rightwing elements of the press pouncing upon expressions of liberal opinion in the media.
In India, rabid pro-establishment journalists out to silence enlightened men and women have been having a field day and diligent, good journalists have in many cases been sidelined. Sedition cases hang over scores of journalists.
In Bangladesh, self-censorship and an absence of active trade unionism in the journalistic arena have been undermining the cause of the profession. Partisan journalism has had an enervating effect on the profession.
In Pakistan, reporters and columnists will write but by leave of the nation’s powerful, interventionist army. In Egypt, the Sisi regime hounds and jails journalists and much the same is the practice in Erdogan’s Turkey.
The Rwandan regime of Paul Kagame glibly informs critics that no journalists are in prison as a result of any clampdown on the media, but they are in detention because they are supporters of genocide. That is a reference, untenable and unacceptable, to the 1994 killings that left as many as 800,000 Tutsis murdered by the country’s Hutus.
In Russia, the liberty which the media are universally expected to enjoy is conspicuous by its absence, for the Putin establishment tolerates no dissent. In China, a state in absolute discipline enforced by the authorities, no mention is made in the media about the brutal treatment of the country’s Uighur Muslims.
That being the image of journalism as we observe it in these depressing times, it makes sense to suggest that nothing will ever be done, now or in the near and far future, to determine the manner of how Jamal Khashoggi’s life was put to an end a year ago, indeed to bring the criminals responsible for the gruesome tragedy inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to justice.
It is not surprising, given the mediocre, insensitive and intolerant political leadership we have lately seen emerging in some of the more powerful nations around the world, that no one talks about Khashoggi anymore. Muhammad bin Salman, the Saudi royal at whom fingers continue to be pointed for the tragedy, has after a year accepted full responsibility for the killing not because he ordered it (he has maintained his innocence all along) but because it happened on his watch.
It is clear that the brash young man is now on a public relations exercise to convince the world that his hands are clean over the Khashoggi affair. Such mea culpa is late in the day and profoundly unconvincing.
The argument does not and will not wash. The men who waited for Khashoggi in the consulate in Istanbul, to murder him, were his men, individuals who had the sanction of the Saudi authorities to travel to Turkey and get rid of the thorn, which Khashoggi was, in bin Salman’s flesh.
For the prince to now tell the world that he takes responsibility for the killing is a bit disingenuous. If he takes responsibility now, it is rather late in the day. Had he come forth with such a statement a year ago, within days of Khashoggi’s murder, the world would have given him, perhaps, the benefit of doubt.
A year ago, he stayed quiet. A year on, despite taking responsibility for the murder — which is a stratagem that has usually been employed by men of murderous intent throughout the centuries once they have committed or presided over the commission of crime — he has not told the world who were the men who sliced Khashoggi into pieces and then made his remains disappear.
Muhammad bin Salman knows full well what happened to Khashoggi and what was done with his remains. He has not let on. He will not acknowledge his complicity in the crime.
Where does all this leave the world’s media?
Even the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyep Erdogan, which for a brief while after the murder vowed to get to the bottom of the ugly story, has gone soft on the issue. In the United States, had there been an administration led by anyone other than Donald Trump, calls for an inquiry and for an identification of Khashoggi’s murderers would have left the medieval Saudi monarchy shaken to the core.
But why must we point to the callousness of the present American leadership alone on this subject? The silence which has gradually descended over Europe in the months since Khashoggi was brutalized to death has been loud. Priorities of state policy, relating as they do to business and defence deals with Saudi Arabia, have taken precedence over morality.
The image is thus one of Muhammad bin Salman being welcomed and feted around the world despite his culpability in the Khashoggi affair. And Jamal Khashoggi, in the manner of men like Morocco’s Mehdi Ben Barka and Bangladesh’s Ilias Ali, is fading fast from human memory.
The death of a journalist is the end of enlightened thinking. The murder of a journalist is the assassination of values.
The indifference of governments to the killing of journalists is a shame.
The silence of journalists to the abduction and murder of journalists and people across the spectrum is a scandal, a sin.
It is a crime as intense and ugly as the highway robberies perpetrated and celebrated by the goons and hooligans and hoodlums walking the streets of the world.