Analysis & Opinions - Agence Global

Jamal Khashoggi and the Arab dark hole where foreign outrage refuses to tread

| Oct. 11, 2018

BOSTON — I have followed closely in the United States the unusually sharp reactions to the apparent abduction and possible murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This is as heartening as it is unusual. It may also miss the point about the deeper meaning of Jamal Khashoggi’s life and work.

We have never seen such an outpouring of public and political anger in the United States that now demands answers from the Saudi Arabian government about what happened to him. Yet I fear this also encapsulates a deep, dark, black hole of selective, occasional, and personalized moral and political outrage that ignores — and perhaps perpetuates — the true crimes and pressures that plague all journalists and ordinary citizens across the Arab world.

The Khashoggi case is only the latest and most severe of tens of thousands of cases of Arab men and women who have been detained, imprisoned, tortured, and in some cases killed by their own governments or domestic political movements — usually for the “crime” or “security threat” of speaking their mind independently, offering views that differ from the state’s positions, or simply refusing to parrot the government’s propaganda.

The ghastly kidnapping and/or killing of Khashoggi — especially if it has been ordered by the Saudi leadership, which remains an unconfirmed accusation — absolutely deserves the international attention it is getting. Yet this attention will remain transient, deeply flawed, and lacking credibility if it does not translate into a more serious effort to join hands with brave Arab men and women across our region who continue to struggle for the freedoms, rights, and basic dignities that are denied to us by those very governments that the U.S. and other world powers support almost absolutely.

This is a pivotal moment because of both the nature of the crime and the nature of the victim. The single most important basic human right that has been denied the Arab citizen, in my view, has been the right of freedom of expression. It is telling that many reforms across the Arab region in administrative, commercial, judicial, educational, gender, and, even occasionally, security sectors have not touched the home-based Arab mass media, which remains under the licensing and legal thumbs of governments and security agencies.

Consequently, the Arab security state’s insistence on treating its nationals like robots and parrots may well have been the single greatest detriment to the normal, stable, equitable national development of our Arab countries since the 1950s — when army officers seized power and gradually steered the region towards its current fate of tensions, violence, disparities and mass emigration of tens of thousands of our brightest young people, who refuse to acquiesce in their own dehumanization and mass mind control experiments.

Khashoggi would not quietly accept life in an Arab region of 400 million people who are not allowed by their governments to use their entire brain for cultural, political, intellectual, scientific, discovery, or just entertainment purposes. He understood that Arabs who could speak their minds and debate their common public conditions would eventually play the major role in ending the multiple economic and political miseries that plague us today.

Societies wither and states fragment and collapse when their human element shrivels because it is not allowed to use its brain to express opinions, engage in public discussions, and offer suggestions for how to resolve the few problems we faced before we entered the era of the security state some half a century ago. Freedom of expression does not mean political opposition plots, security threats, or sinister foreign conspiracies, as most Arab governments frame the accusations they make against those citizens whom they torment, deter, detain, expel, imprison, indict, and, in some cases, torture and kill.

The added dilemma is that Arab governments that prevent their citizens from thinking and speaking freely do so by following their own laws, which allow them to abuse citizens in the ways that prevail today. Jamal Khashoggi understood this and sought in vain to find a way to achieve normalcy, dignity, integrity, and fraternity in our Arab societies, working within the established state system. For years he worked within the limits of what his Saudi government deemed permissible, cooperating closely with government officials and organizations to try to achieve a more equitable society that treated all its citizens decently. He fled abroad when he realized he could not achieve his goals, and felt his life was in danger.

I am sure that if Jamal Khashoggi could speak today, he would ask those individuals and institutions in the world that genuinely care about his fate and legacy to do this: Turn your faces towards those masses of ordinary Arab men and women who are suspended in the impenetrable zones of their own dehumanization, at the hands of those state powers that are vehemently supported by the American, British, Israeli, Iranian, Turkish, Russian and many other foreign governments.

I suspect he would remind those who now clamor for information about him that this case is not mainly about him. He is just the most visible and tragic — but heroic — tip of the iceberg of hundreds of millions of Arab citizens who are denied their voice, and therefore their humanity, but who persist in their struggle to regain that humanity. They languish in Arab jails in their tens of thousands in most Arab countries, and in their tens of millions they wander across Arab lands like mindless robots, comprising that deep, dark hole where the selective, occasional moral and political outrage we hear today from the U.S. and other lands refuses to tread.

Rami G. Khouri is senior public policy fellow, adjunct professor of journalism, and Journalist in Residence at the American University of Beirut, and a non-resident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative. He can be followed @ramikhouri

Copyright ©2018 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global

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For Academic Citation: Khouri, Rami.“Jamal Khashoggi and the Arab dark hole where foreign outrage refuses to tread.” Agence Global, October 11, 2018.