One of our most, ah, energetic commenters accused us here at Riverside Green of “staying silent” on the Jamal Khashoggi “situation”. I am not certain why he thought I should write something on the topic. At least forty-five journalists were killed in 2018, including the four killed by Jarrod Ramos in the United States earlier this year. (As seems to be the usual practice nowadays, Ramos was demoted to white after the fact.) Approximately 150 journalists have been killed since I started this site, and never have I written a word about any of them.
After reading a bit about Mr. Khashoggi and his likely fate, however, I thought that it might be worth a few words to discuss just how oddly, and perfectly, the situation serves as synecdoche for many of the issues currently occupying the national conversation. None of this is meant to be conclusive; please feel free to offer your opinions below, whether you agree or disagree with me.
In no particular order, here’s what strikes me about the Khashoggi case:
What gives President Trump, or any American, the right to take action here? Khashoggi was, in the words of the BBC, “close to the Saudi royal family and also served as an adviser to the government… he fell out of favour and went into self-imposed exile in the US last year. From there, he wrote a monthly column in the Washington Post in which he criticised the policies of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.” Khashoggi was not an American citizen; he was here on a so-called “genius” visa to work for the Post. This Quartz article admits that while immigrants and visa holders are entitled to due process and the protection of the law on American soil, under no circumstances is the United States obliged to act in the interest of immigrants when they are visiting their home countries, as Khashoggi was legally doing when he stepped into the Saudi consulate.
Would the situation have been different had he visited the Saudi embassy in the United States? Almost certainly; this country takes a dim view of bone saw killings that take place near American soil, even if the embassy is legally Saudi. It’s worth noting that we, as a country, have permitted Saudis to beat their servants on American soil without repercussion in the past. Still. Khashoggi would have been smart to do his paperwork in the United States.
Turn the situation around for a moment. The United States, unlike Saudi Arabia, does not enforce the death penalty for criticizing top government officials. But it does enforce the death penalty for other offenses, including deliberate train derailment and “hate crimes”. Imagine, if you will, that an American citizen goes overseas to Saudi Arabia to work for Al-Jazeera. While he is there, he contrives to derail a train. He then willingly enters the American consulate in Turkey, at which point he is black-bagged and put on a Learjet back home. Once he is home, an American jury sentences him to death by lethal injection. What, exactly, is Saudi Arabia going to do about it? Tell us that we can’t enforce our laws? Of course not. So what makes us think we can do it to them? Also, Saudi Arabia is not a democracy — it is a kingdom, one in which insulting the king is a terrorist act punishable by death. The United States has no jurisdiction over Saudi Arabia or its citizens, period.
Our American media elite believes itself to be above the law. Peel the onion back far enough and you will find out that most of the outrage regarding Khashoggi comes from the fact that he was a
scab O-visa employee of the Post, and therefore a supercitizen. The precedent for this was set by Post columnist Carl Rowan. Thirty years ago, Rowan, an African-American writer who was a staunch advocate of gun control, lost his temper with a white teenager and shot him using an illegal handgun. The NRA made him an honorary member. displaying a finely-calculated sense of trolling well before the World Wide Web came into being, but a DC jury decided, quite sensibly, that under no circumstances should a journalist have to go to jail for breaking the laws he so strongly supported prior to breaking them. The resulting mistrial resulted, amazingly, in the prosecution dropping the case, presumably because it would just be too much effort to see it all the way through. That’s right: for once in history, a mistrial actually meant that the defendant went free. (In the real world, for people who don’t work at the Post, it means your defense attorney’s bill just doubled.)
In an Obama presidency, this would be water under the bridge. We live in Abilio “Jim” Acosta’s world now, where the media has decided that taking Trump down is 95% of their job. The Khashoggi thing has the potential to make Trump look bad, so it’s being given legs that it would not have had four years ago. Under Mr. Obama’s administration, American citizens, and their teenaged children, were deliberately killed by drones. It didn’t cause much media drama at the time. By contrast, Mr. Trump is being flogged not for the deliberate extrajudicial killing of an American citizen but for being insufficiently angry about the Saudi decision to execute a royal subject. Can any of my more left-leaning readers construct a rationale for why this is not a double standard?
Alright, that’s all I have to say about it for now.
This week, I argued against the bonesaw execution of American luxury sedans.