Following the death of US resident and Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia has been in the news extensively. All the criticism Saudi Crown Prince has received is merited albeit too little. But throughout the coverage of the Khashoggi saga, the media have separated actions of a spoiled Crown Prince from a long-standing pattern of behavior from Saudi monarchs.
Even before Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman ascended to power, the Saudi royals did not tolerate even the mildest of criticisms. Rebellious Saudi princes who had fled abroad were arrested and lured back to Riyadh. Their fate to this day remains unknown. This pattern of behavior by US-allied Saudi monarchs shows that it’s not just the killing of a dissident that has irked the media.
Yes, Khashoggi was murdered on foreign soil inside a consulate but rebellious Saudi princes were also kidnapped from European soil. So where Khashoggi’s murder was a blatant disregard for the European law, so was the kidnapping of Saudi princes. Yet the media has given a disproportionate amount of coverage to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi than to the kidnapping of Saudi princes.
The reason for that is simple; it’s all about the culprit. The US establishment never really liked Muhammad bin Salman due to his impulsiveness and rash behavior. They wanted the old system of Saudi government where a group of princes made decisions under a sovereign King. It worked sort of like a polyarchy, very much like that of the United States except instead of princes, there are billionaires and corporate executives.
Muhammad bin Salman fundamentally changed the system of government in Saudi Arabia. He wanted power all for himself like a Gaddafi or a Saddam Hussein. Single person rule leads to instability. So when Muhammad bin Salman began taking out his political opponents under the guise of austerity and a fight against corruption, it unnerved the US establishment.
Thus, the Khashoggi murder was a heaven-sent opportunity to drive MBS out of power. The idea that the United States cares about freedom of the press is laughable. US-led NATO bombed Serbian State Television headquarters in Serbia in April 1999 that killed 16 journalists just to undermine the regime of President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia.
To quote a more recent example, just last month the US supported Israel as it took out news networks in Gaza. Then there is US support for state media outlets in South America that sang hymns of US-backed dictators as they slaughtered their own people. The US media followed the state policy and quoted from those state-allied news outlets and shunned reports from independent organizations and even European observers.
It’s not just the foreign land where the United States reprimands journalism. President Obama who is hailed as a messiah prosecuted three times as many journalists as all previous 43 presidents combined. But the media wasn’t vocal about it so he is hailed as a hero while Trump is eternally condemned over harsh language.
So the US media are the agenda setters when it comes to global politics although this privilege is wholly undeserved. MBS has led a brutal campaign against Yemenis where his coalition has used famine as a war weapon. That has not garnered much attention from the US media in part because the US is potentially complicit in the crimes committed against Yemenis. The coverage has focused on Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. It is a news-worthy incident but now there only remain political ramifications.
The media are so driven by politics that they shun legitimate issues that could have positive consequences. Yemen is one of them but the US media will not cover it due to the American complicity while the Muslim media don’t care because the tormentors are Muslims. But there is another issue concerning the freedom of expression that the media have ignored.
There are women’s rights activists in Saudi prisons right now whose only crime was taking the spotlight away from MBS. Human Rights Watch released a report last month that detailed their condition inside Saudi prisons. Their plight went ignored by the media even though coverage of this issue can have a real and positive impact.
The HRW report said that the female detainees are given electric shocks and masked men whip them on the inside of their thighs during interrogations. They are also forcibly hugged and kissed, which has the signs of repeated rape and sexual assaults. After interrogations, the women tremble and signs of torture are apparent on their bodies, faces, and necks, the report said.
Isn’t there suffering real? Jamal Khashoggi was a dissident but he saved his most scathing criticisms for his life as an exile. These women’s rights activists campaigned against a state-mandated longstanding suppression of basic human rights from inside the belly of the beast. Don’t they deserve hymns of bravery and gallantry thus far reserved only for Jamal Khashoggi?
I am not taking anything away from Khashoggi’s suffering or his legacy or the trauma his family and friends went through. But now the issue has taken a political shape.
Erdogan will not let this murder go unless the US agrees to extradite Fethullah Gulen. The US President Donald Trump would butt heads with Senators from his party because of his personal relationship with MBS. Europe will quietly follow the US shamefaced. MBS would resort to even more barbaric practices to subdue opposition. Iran will exploit this free pass by the US for its’ political ends in the region. And life will go on as usual. In the midst of it all, the central issue of freedom of the press and expression are lost while the politics is amplified.
If individual liberty and issues concerning thereof concerned the media, they would give equal amounts of coverage to the detainment of female activists as they did to Khashoggi’s murder. It’s not a rigid standard obviously, they could be forgiven for giving more coverage to the imprisonment of the female activists because we actually have a chance to put an end to their suffering unlike in the Khashoggi case.