Syed Badrul Ahsan, a leading Bangladeshi journalist and associate fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, remembers Jamal Khashoggi the dissident and writer whose murder a year ago in Istanbul is still causing shock waves across the Middle East.
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 has been under attack or under threat in Europe. In the US, 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 Abdel Fatah al-Sisi regime hounds and jails journalists and much the same is the practice in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’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. They are in detention because they are supporters of genocide. That is a reference, untenable and unacceptable, to the 1994 murder of as many as 800,000 Tutsis by the country’s Hutus.
In Russia, the liberty which the media is 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 he 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.
For the prince to now tell the world that he takes responsibility for the killing is a bit disingenuous. 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 the doubt.
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 US, 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 died 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, indeed the unreal, 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.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is a visiting fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS), School of Advanced Study, University of London. He has been a journalist for mor than four decades and is currently editor-in-charge of The Asian Age in Dhaka, Bangladesh.