Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian Journalist who was a Virginia resident and writer for the Washington Post, was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on Oct. 2.
Khashoggi’s death is of particular importance because of the root cause: he was critical in his writing of the Saudi Arabian government.
“The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is heinous, in the way that it was planned, carried out and covered up. While the murder of any person by his or her own government is abhorrent, Khashoggi’s death throws light on the silencing of journalists, particularly ones with progressive views in countries with less than democratic governments,” said Kate Westphal, a writer for the Almanian.
“Journalism is one of the few outlets today where the public receives unbiased, or nearly unbiased, information about the world around them. By silencing journalists, people receive only the information the governments feel they need to know instead of the information they should know to create their own beliefs,” said Westphal.
Initially, the Saudi Arabian government tried to cover up the incident and denied having any knowledge of Khashoggi’s fate. Soon after, the Saudi Arabian government claimed first that Khashoggi died in an apparent fist fight inside the consulate and then that he died in a “botched” interrogation attempt.
Since then, audio recordings documenting Khashoggi’s final moments inside the Consulate have been released to foreign governments. The recordings verified that he was tortured, dismembered and killed. It is unclear at this point whether he was dismembered before or after he was killed and his body has not been found. There are currently 18 suspects and his case is still being investigated.
Khashoggi’s case represents something greater than an isolated incident; it represents a threat to the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech as we know it.
“The murder of Mr. Khashoggi is an extreme example of the increasing willingness to use murder to silence the press,” said Edward Lorenz, former professor of History and Political Science at Alma College.
“Reporters Without Borders says 54 journalists were killed doing their reporting. Some of these were killed in apparent accidents and some killed by criminals and terrorists. The blatant killing of journalists has apparently increased in the last three decades, but Mr. Khashoggi’s murder is an extreme case, taking place in a peaceful city in a government building – the Saudi consulate,” said Lorenz.
We have seen this time and time again; powerful regimes rule their countries on the premise of fear and silence anyone who dares to dissent. As a result, Khashoggi has joined the list the ever-
growing list of martyrs of free speech not long after 12 journalists were gunned down in the Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2015 in France for the satiracle pieces that they published.
“The fact that Trump seems to be siding with Saudi Arabia despite overwhelming evidence sets a dangerous and threatening precedent for journalists all over the country,” said Atulya Dora-Laskey (’21).
President Trump has yet to release a firm statement on the matter. However, the President did claim that it would be “foolish” to cancel our arms deals with Saudi Arabia because of what happened to Khashoggi. By making this statement, it is clear that our current administration values money over the lives of innocent people, especially if those people happen to be political dissenters.
“For Trump to state that the reporter’s life means nothing in terms of the money the country gets from Saudi Arabia only fuels this fear to be a reporter,” said Emily Cowles, a writer for the Almanian.
Shortly after the murder of Khashoggi became widely circulated information, the Saudi Arabian government sent $100 million to the United States as a potential payoff according to a Washington Post article published on Oct. 17. The U.S. government has denied that there is any connection between the event and the money transfer, but money undoubtedly plays a key role in President Trump’s stance on the matter.
Lorenz described President Trump’s response to Khashoggi’s murder as “amoral.”
“While many have worried about U.S. willingness to be the world’s greatest supplier of deadly weapons, we have had the rhetorical decency to hide our interest in profiting from killing by saying weapons sales were for some shared foreign policy goal. As in so much of the President’s rhetoric, he has now stripped his speech from any pretense of ethical policy,” said Lorenz.
As Thomas Friedman, the New York Times’ Foreign Policy expert wrote on Oct. 23, “[B]y telling us that we must weigh a $110 billion Saudi arms purchase against taking a moral stand on Khashoggi’s murder, is literally telling us the price of our values — about $333.33 for every American. (Your check is in the mail.) But if you think, as I do, that countries that sell out their core values for financial gain suffer in the long run or if you think that such a country is not the America you want us to be, and that the world needs us to be, then you need to vote.”
Trump’s comment may seem insignificant, but this is not a coincidence. Trump has a long track record of being anti-journalist. An example is the “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.” T-shirts implying that journalists should be hanged that were sold during the presidential election.
“President Trump clearly has fit within this dangerous trend by explicitly welcoming assaults on the press,” said Lorenz.
“Shortly after Mr. Khashoggi’s death, in a campaign appearance in Montana, the President expressed his admiration for Greg Gianforte, who when running for Congress last election
assaulted a reporter. At rallies, he also has encouraged crowds to see reporters in attendance as the enemies,” said Lorenz.
As President Trump continues to make attempts to limit free speech and freedom of the press, it is dire that the public understands that this is a major step in the fall of a democracy. Every silenced journalist is a threat to the peace.
“I think that this event shows that journalists are political weapons now, and they will need to use a great deal more caution when reporting in the future,” said Destiny Herbers (’21).
“Trump’s comments are reflective of his dismissive attitude towards media in general. He should be equally concerned for a reporter as he is for any other American citizen,” she said.
If we allow censorship and violence against journalists to increase, then the parameters of our rights will continue to shrink.
“The safety of journalists is imperative to the accessibility of information, and thereby to freedom of speech,” said Herbers.
“If our journalists aren’t able to investigate and report, we will not be receiving honest and comprehensive information,” she said.
“I think [the murder of Jamal khashoggi] is absolutely important and relevant, and more people on our campus and in our community need to know about it. Journalism is about telling the truth and being a voice for those who may feel like they do not have a voice, and the fact that a man was brutally murdered in order to make a point and to silence people is insanely awful. As a writer, it is my job to stand up for others and to be that voice, and this incident is trying to show others to stay silent or you will face consequences. I am here to say that it is downright awful and there needs to be change.
“Journalism is one of the only profession left where you do not have to answer to anyone. You have the freedom of speech and the reliance of the people to tell them what others will not. With the murder of the Saudi Arianism journalist and the shooting at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, it makes me fear what I publish. I want to be the truest to myself and to my readers. My mother has warned me not to get hurt or put myself in danger but I want to say what I want to say and if someone has an issue with that, so be it.”