Saudi Arabia, Human Rights, and Jamal Khashoggi

saudi arabia
Journalist Jamal Khashoggi (Illustration by Alex Fine for The Washington Post)

While officially Saudi Arabia is our “friend”, they are also the number one abuser of basic human rights on the planet. What has happened is neither new nor unique, but instead is a hideous act that has thrown a spotlight upon one of the most repressive and barbaric regimes on the planet. The entrapment and brutal slaughter of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi happened because he dared to criticise and took a stance for freedom and basic human rights.

Trump, the friend of tyrants and enemy of Canada and the EU, will happily collude with the Saudis by accepting any bizarre explanation, because he is not just financially compromised, but is utterly amoral and lacks basic human decency.

The abhorrent and savage slaughter was designed to send a message to any others who might courageously speak up, and yet it was so brutal and so public that it has instead had the unintended consequence of pulling back the curtains and revealing just how truly deep the moral depravity our “Friend” and “Ally” really is.

The Big Picture – Human Rights in Saudi Arabia

This is not one lone isolated act that is at odds with the Saudi regime, but instead is one more data point in a long, very dismal, and truly dire history. The Saudi track record for human rights is utterly appalling in so many different ways. To be specific …

Let us also be very clear about one thing. This is not about Islam or Muslims in general. At the heart of it all rests a very extreme religious belief – Wahhabism. It illustrates the intolerance and oppression that will take place when a specific extreme belief gains sufficient power to dominate.

What has happened in Saudi Arabia is perhaps akin to a group like Westboro Baptist church gaining complete control of the US. About 96% of the world’s Muslim population consider the Wahhabis to be complete nuts, principally because it is so extreme that it rejects traditional Sunni scholars and interpretation as followed by 96% of the world’s Muslim population.

Officially our elected representatives might indeed deem them to be our “Friend” and “Ally”, but we need to also remember that the Saudis are opposed to the very basic principles we aspire to and cherish – The House of Saudi is not our friend, and never has been.

Least you still doubt that and think that a few arms deals help to sweeten the bitter taste, you might also like to remember that they have spent $100 Billion oil dollars promoting their specific very extreme variations of Islamic belief all around the planet since the 1970s and today in many places we are reaping a harvest from all that – a rise in very extreme radical forms of Islam.

Raif Badawi – #FreeRaif

I must also highlight the ongoing plight of Raif Badawi.

His “crime” was to simply write a blog that criticised the Saudi religious police, and for this he was sentenced to 1000 lashes and ten years in prison. Since then there has been a considerable degree of public outrage all around the world directed at Saudi Arabia, and so there have been no floggings since one in January 2015 – highlighting such cases does make a difference.

Yet he still remains imprisoned for no ethical or moral reason.

John Oliver Quite Rightly Discusses it all

It is perhaps very Shakespearian for the court Jester to be the one that tells you the truth.

The following is only available in the US, so if you are not the in the US and you do have a VPN, then point your VPN to a US based host and you will get access.

Jamal Khashoggi: What the Arab world needs most is free expression

Given what has happened, the last word here should be those written by Jamal Khashoggi himself. The following was the last article he ever wrote and appeared in the Washington Post on 17th Oct 2018 after his brutal murder.

It is the normal convention for blogs to post a small section and link you to the original, but due to the circumstances of what has taken place this is different. These are his very last words. It is his wholly appropriate stance for freedom of the press and is his legacy. I have taken the decision to republish it in full as a tribute to a courageous individual whose weapon against an oppressive regime was the one that strikes fear into the hearts of the supposedly divinely appointed demigods – the written word, the one that encourages all the rise up, turn to them and say “No, I will not bow to you, I will not be silenced”.

It is wholly fitting that his stance for a platform that punches through to the vast swathes of people who are kept ignorant should be his last words, and it also explains why he was deemed to be such a potent threat that they felt it necessary to slaughter and silence him.

I was recently online looking at the 2018 “Freedom in the World” report published by Freedom House and came to a grave realization. There is only one country in the Arab world that has been classified as “free.” That nation is Tunisia. Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait come second, with a classification of “partly free.” The rest of the countries in the Arab world are classified as “not free.”

As a result, Arabs living in these countries are either uninformed or misinformed. They are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives. A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative. Sadly, this situation is unlikely to change.

The Arab world was ripe with hope during the spring of 2011. Journalists, academics and the general population were brimming with expectations of a bright and free Arab society within their respective countries. They expected to be emancipated from the hegemony of their governments and the consistent interventions and censorship of information. These expectations were quickly shattered; these societies either fell back to the old status quo or faced even harsher conditions than before.

My dear friend, the prominent Saudi writer Saleh al-Shehi, wrote one of the most famous columns ever published in the Saudi press. He unfortunately is now serving an unwarranted five-year prison sentence for supposed comments contrary to the Saudi establishment. The Egyptian government’s seizure of the entire print run of a newspaper, al-Masry al Youm, did not enrage or provoke a reaction from colleagues. These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence.

As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate. There was a time when journalists believed the Internet would liberate information from the censorship and control associated with print media. But these governments, whose very existence relies on the control of information, have aggressively blocked the Internet. They have also arrested local reporters and pressured advertisers to harm the revenue of specific publications.

There are a few oases that continue to embody the spirit of the Arab Spring. Qatar’s government continues to support international news coverage, in contrast to its neighbors’ efforts to uphold the control of information to support the “old Arab order.” Even in Tunisia and Kuwait, where the press is considered at least “partly free,” the media focuses on domestic issues but not issues faced by the greater Arab world. They are hesitant to provide a platform for journalists from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemen. Even Lebanon, the Arab world’s crown jewel when it comes to press freedom, has fallen victim to the polarization and influence of pro-Iran Hezbollah.

The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power. During the Cold War, Radio Free Europe, which grew over the years into a critical institution, played an important role in fostering and sustaining the hope of freedom. Arabs need something similar. In 1967, the New York Times and The Post took joint ownership of the International Herald Tribune newspaper, which went on to become a platform for voices from around the world.

My publication, The Post, has taken the initiative to translate many of my pieces and publish them in Arabic. For that, I am grateful. Arabs need to read in their own language so they can understand and discuss the various aspects and complications of democracy in the United States and the West. If an Egyptian reads an article exposing the actual cost of a construction project in Washington, then he or she would be able to better understand the implications of similar projects in his or her community.

The Arab world needs a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be informed about global events. More important, we need to provide a platform for Arab voices. We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education. Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face.

Read more:

Read Jamal Khashoggi’s columns for The Washington Post

Hatice Cengiz: Please, President Trump, shed light on my fiance’s disappearance

The Post’s View: Why is the Trump administration cleaning up Saudi Arabia’s mess?

David Ignatius: MBS’s rampaging anger will not silence questions about Jamal Khashoggi

Manal al-Sharif: Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance spreads fear worldwide, but we won’t be silenced

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