What do Scheherazade and the Saudi government have in common? Both are really good at telling tales to keep the listener on the edge of his seat thus prolonging the narrator’s life be it physical or political. Scheherazade, according to the title of her stories’ collection, One Thousand And One Nights, came up with 1,001 tales. The Saudis have not concocted that number of tales yet about the current Khashoggi drama, but the ones they have disseminated have been pretty entertaining.
In case you have been living under a rock, or perhaps a magic lamp, the media is abuzz about “Where’s Jamal?” Apparently no one cares about poor Waldo anymore. Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist who went missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd to obtained needed documentation for his upcoming (fourth) marriage. His fiancée awaited her beloved’s return in a car outside the consulate, but he never came back.
The first story which emerged from the Saudis was that Jamal was alive and well–somewhere. They didn’t know where he was because, conveniently, security cameras had filmed him leaving the building. OK, so Jamal gets the paperwork for his marriage and then leaves the building blowing off his betrothed waiting outside for him. I’m not buying that story. Bingo! The man caught on camera was impersonating Khashoggi.
Come on Saudis! Use some imagination. If I were going to explain Jamal’s disappearance in this manner, I might suggest that one of Jamal’s three ex-wives, upset that he was marrying yet again, accosted him outside the consulate and swept him off to “discuss” the situation. Yeah, that sounds good–or not.
The fiancée wasn’t buying any story about Jamal having emerged from the building. He hadn’t gone out, so the Turks decided to go in. Why? Somehow the Turkish government had allegedly gained possession of a recording indicating that Jamal had been tortured and murdered inside the consulate. The torture was rumored to have involved fingers and a head being severed. OUCH! In the Saudis’ defense, they could still truthfully say that Jamal left the building. They just didn’t tell the whole story. If the torture scenario was true, his lifeless body parts were removed from the building.
We interrupt these Saudi stories to bring you an explanation. What did Jamal do that warranted his death? Although Jamal was a Saudi, he was living in exile as a U.S. resident. In fact, he had been working in this country as a columnist for the Washington Post since September 2017. And what did he write about? To no one’s surprise, he was an outspoken critic of the Saudi government in general and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, age 33, in particular. Dead men tell no tales, so killing Khashoggi would shut him up for good.
Except that this strategy failed miserably. Khashoggi’s story became high profile with his disappearance, and with it the criticism he had leveled. In addition it gave a pretty good indication that the regime he was criticizing was ruthless.
The next tale which was spun was that Khashoggi died during a brawl inside the consulate. The Saudis explained that what really happened was that Jamal had been immediately seized inside the consulate by 15 (as in 10 + 5) Saudi intelligence operatives who had flown in on two jets (not magic carpets) just hours before to “confront” him. It takes FIFTEEN operatives to confront ONE journalist? Wow! The pen must really be mightier than the sword after all. But, when the fifteen ganged up on the one, the one died. OOPS! That wasn’t the intent (or so the Saudis said). Just a quick aside. I’m selling swampland in Florida if anyone is interested in a great deal.
But wait! That’s not really what happened. What really, really happened, the Saudis now say, is that Khashoggi died as the result of a chokehold. That crack team of special operatives doesn’t seem so special after all. Don’t they read the American papers and know that bad things happened when cops used chokeholds on people? Guess not.
So far these three explanations have been floated by the Saudis, but they all appear to be sinking in the sea of validity. Hey, but at least they are keeping us entertained and giving One Thousand And One Nights a run for its money. Instead of Sinbad The Sailor, we have Jamal The Journalist. Jamal’s wonderful lamp is not rubbed to produce a genie; he sheds light on the shortcomings of his country’s government and gets rubbed out. Ali Baba may have had forty thieves but the Crown Prince has fifteen rogue operatives to steal Khashoggi’s life..
Knowing more about Khashoggi, the main character in these stories, lends even more intrigue to the setting. Khashoggi is not just any Khashoggi; he is a member of THE Khashoggi family which includes Adnan Khashoggi, a high profile Saudi arms dealer who was involved in the Iran-Contra affair. Uh, oh. Is it such a good idea to take out the relative of an arms dealers? Moreover, Khashoggi is a cousin of Dodi Fayed, the man Diana, Princess of Wales was seeing when they were both killed in a car crash in Paris.
While we may not reach 1,001 tales from the Saudis about what happened to Khashoggi, the situation is a cliffhanger which holds our attention. Just like Scheherazade’s king, we want more–info, stories, details. A genie can’t be put back in the magic lamp, and Khashoggi can’t be brought back to life. But Khashoggi’s death has catapulted the journalist into being the main character for 1,001 news stories. Perhaps recounting what we do know to be the truth, i.e., he met his demise for speaking his mind, will remind us to cherish the freedom of speech which we Americans enjoy.
JUST WONDER-ing: Have you been paying attention to this story in the news? Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a country where expressing your opinion about the government might be a death sentence? Is freedom of expression important to you?