By: Benjamin Conboy
Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi was getting married. Being a Saudi citizen living in Virigina with a Turkish fiancé, he had to retrieve the necessary documents to get married from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
His fiancé stayed in the car while Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post and a critic of the Saudi government, went inside. He never came out.
Turkish officials proclaimed that the Saudis killed Khashoggi inside the consulate. They said a 15-person Saudi team flew into Istanbul the day he disappeared. CNN reported Thursday that US intelligence intercepts show the Saudis had previously tried to lure Khashoggi back to the kingdom to arrest him.
A senior Turkish official quoted in the New York Times said the team had dismembered Khashoggi inside the consulate, using a bone saw that they had brought for that express purpose.
Turkish officials are incensed and are seeking to search the consulate, which the Saudis are holding up, citing anonymous security concerns. Sen. Lindsey Graham said, “There will be hell to pay” if the Saudis did in fact kill him. Sen. Marco Rubio said that if true, “what’s going to happen on Capitol Hill is a complete revolt against our policies with Saudi Arabia.” President Donald Trump said his administration is “looking at it very, very seriously.”
The intrigue into what happened to Khashoggi has reached the upper echelons of our government and of the international community.
But where was the concern for Raif Badawi, another Saudi journalist who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for “insulting Islam,” who nearly lost his life as a result of the punishment?
Suddenly Turkey, a country which has been no great friend to the free press, is now concerned for a journalist who has been a critic of their geopolitical foe. There wasn’t much concern from the Turks for Ahmet Hakan, a Turkish columnist who had been followed home by four men in a black car and beaten within an inch of his life just weeks after the state denounced his publication as “terrorist propaganda.”
Here in the U.S., with all of our laws and our beloved First Amendment, journalists aren’t dismembered in government buildings or followed home by men in black cars. But since the beginning of the Trump era, the U.S. has backslid into using the same type of rhetoric that authoritarian governments use toward journalists.
One sign we haven’t exactly been the bastion of free speech we used to be is that the United Nations human rights council said Trump’s attacks on the press “increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence.”
That same week, Eric Trump shared a video of Trump supporters at a rally, surrounding the press box like an angry mob screaming expletives at reporters. The son of the president was sharing the video not as a condemnation, but as an abettor.
The president’s rhetoric has not been contained by the United States’ borders. When confronted with a report that his regime had executed 13,000 prisoners of war, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad said it was “fake news.” An official in Myanmar likewise called the well-documented genocide of the Rohingya “fake news.” An op-ed in the leading communist newspaper in China said, “Trump is right, fake news is the enemy, something China has known for years.”
Sen. Jeff Flake acknowledged the co-opting of Trump’s rhetoric on the Senate floor on Thursday. “Oppressors of the world have taken to parroting their favorite lines from the White House,” he said.
Journalists have already started to fight back in America. More than 200 newspapers across the country joined forces and published an editorial denouncing Trump’s “enemy of the people” attacks on Aug. 16.
But while the rhetoric towards journalists in America damages the public’s opinion of them, journalists are not being given 1,000 lashes for doing their job as they are in other parts of the world. It is high time that the journalists of the world stand together in the face of violent rhetoric and violent actions.