On October 2 this year, a Saudi journalist walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and never came out. His Turkish fiancee who was waiting outside for him alerted authorities a little while later.
Almost immediately Saudi Arabia was the subject of fiery condemnation by pundits of the western press. They were immediately joined by political figures in the United States and Europe. Charges of assassination were flowing by the minute in the wee hours of the disappearance. These allegations were picked up by much of the world’s press who reported them in their local media.
Before any facts emerged, the frenzied media had already reported that the journalist was dismembered, his fingers cut off for the ‘poison pen’ articles he wrote against the kingdom, his body was chopped in parts and buried in and around Istanbul. Not content to report on this isolated case, reporters then started attacking Saudi Arabia by dredging up the country’s alleged role in the twin towers bombings of 2001. They also brought up a severe account of the war in Yemen and the rift with Qatar. Thrown in for added impact was the arrest of several women on charges of treason. And to spice the whole thing up, some media personalities called us the ‘breeding ground for global terrorism.’ It seemed that Saudi Arabia was indeed in the line of fire.
Very little was reported on the kingdom’s denial of any sinister act and King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz’s call for an immediate investigation and the setting up of a joint task force to probe into the disappearance of the journalist. The kingdom opened its consulate doors for highly specialised Turkish teams of forensic experts and investigators to search for clues. The crown prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, had stated in an interview that it was to his belief that Khashoggi had left the consulate after finishing his work, while the Saudi ambassador to the US asserted that ‘the reports that suggest that Jamal Khashoggi went missing in the Consulate in Istanbul or that the kingdom’s authorities have detained him or killed him are absolutely false, and baseless.’
And yet the accusations and false ‘truths’ continued to dominate the world’s press before any facts had yet to emerge. A major economic conference set to take place in Riyadh this week saw the cancellation of many high profile international political and business leaders who were invited to attend. Politicians in major western capitals are calling for a review of their government’s relations with Saudi Arabia. Why indeed is Saudi Arabia under attack. The facts have yet to be announced and yet we have been deemed guilty until we prove our innocence. This statement was asserted by the US President Donald Trump who said, “I think we have to find out what happened first. Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that.”
So why indeed did world leaders and media pundits assume guilt before any facts had been released? Is it because many of the countries are dependent on oil and Saudi Arabia is a leading exporter? Do they hate us or fear us or simply don’t like us? The speed and intensity of the scathing attacks on the kingdom in this latest incident suggests a little bit of each.
Saudi Arabia has done much for the free world. It is one of the major contributors of humanitarian aid around the planet. It has assisted countless countries in their economic and social development. It has opened schools and hospitals in many regions around the world. It has brought in foreign patients and treated them at the state’s expense. It welcomes the Muslim world with open arms in the quest to facilitate the visitors’ pilgrimage to the holy sites. And yet we come under attack, and a relentless one at that. Saudis are beginning to wonder: Why do they hate us? We are not a country without faults, but no country is. Like any nation, in the course of development, mistakes are made and mistakes are corrected. But in the case of the missing journalist, the media attack went overboard long before anything was verified.
This is indeed a case of the country being called guilty with the onus of proving our innocence on our backs. Saudi authorities had been consistently maintaining that they were exerting every effort to get to the truth. And the truth was finally revealed. The kingdom released a statement on Saturday stating that ‘the discussions that took place with the citizen Jamal Khashoggi during his presence in the consulate of the kingdom in Istanbul did not go as required and developed in a negative way leading to a fight which led to the death of Jamal Khashoggi.’
Perpetrators of the crime are being identified with two principal players fired from their posts. This disclosure may not satisfy some of those who had been sharpening their knives against the kingdom from day one, but Saudi Arabia did come through. I suspect though that we will continue to remain guilty in the eyes of some for whatever future incidents that may arise irrespective of our innocence.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena