The world had been shocked by his assassination. The victim, a distinguished journalist who had been an adviser to the Saudi royal family, had decided to take a different direction in his life. If he had been a soft critic of the royal family’s injustices against the citizenry, now he would become a harsh one.
The gradual transition from insider to outsider had been driven by the journalist’s conviction that he had an obligation, as a man and as an intellectual, to stand up for himself and for his fellow countrymen who did not have the gifts and resources he had.
The journalist had weighed the pros and cons carefully. He knew there would be risks, but never did he imagine that the end would be so brutal.
A team of Saudi Arabian hitmen had been lying in wait at theSaudi consulate in Istanbul when the journalist entered. He wanted to get married a second time and needed some paperwork done. He didn’t have a chance. Audio tapes provided by Turkish intelligence revealed that a chain saw had been used to cut him into pieces before disposing of the body.
The world reacted.
There was nearly universal condemnation of the action as calls for justice rang loud.
American intelligence agencies reviewed the facts, listened to the audio tapes the Turkish government had provided and concluded that the assassination could not have happened without the reigning Saudi prince knowing about it.
But our president demurred. He said there was no clear proof. And anyway, our nation needed the oil and money the Saudis had.
Many were critical of the president while others supported him, saying that the world was a rough place and that, in the interest of realpolitik, we all have to swallow some hard facts. In other words, if you have the power, then you get away with it.
The journalist, in his idealism, had thought that standing for principle would give a special meaning to his life. As a man of conscience, he knew he could not turn a blind eye to the suffering of his fellow Saudi Arabians. He had worked as a foreign correspondent and travelled widely. He knew his country stood as an anachronism, out of synch with the rest of the emerging nations. And it pained him.
Saudi Arabia had the good fortune of being one of the leading oil producers, but the wealth was mainly kept by the royal family. Still that was not enough. The Saudi royals also enforced a rigid code that dictated what women could and could not do. And if you objected you were put in jail and kept there.
While in the rest of the world women rose to become heads of state, leading scientists and politicians, prominent artists, intellectuals and creators, in Saudi Arabia the royal family had a code to enforce. Keep the women down.
All of us that pumped gas, paid for the oil that kept the royal family in power while they oppressed more than half of their population.
A distinguished journalist and man of conscience had been savagely killed and our president, a businessman and father of an independent business woman, didn’t have any pangs of conscience with his decision to ignore the atrocity. If he did, he kept it to himself.
Saudi Arabia is an ally after all, his reasoning went. In addition to the oil, they are a player in the Middle East to help check Iran and they also buy their weapons from us. How can we lose?
Realpolitik they call it.
By now the journalist’s fate is gradually fading from the headlines. Soon he will be forgotten. Fellow journalists who are sympathetic to his cause will remember him but the public at large will forget.
Our president will meet with the prince and salute him and support him, and we’ll see it on TV, both men smiling.
But did it have to be that way?
Our president could have raised his voice and endorsed the findings of his intelligence services. He could have said, “a prominent journalist who chose to stand for more freedom in his country was murdered by the leadership.” He could have added that America would not stop investigating the crime. But our man did not do that.
Here was an opportunity for a world leader to influence the course of the history of a nation and instead he settled for oil and a contract to buy weapons. Never mind that we have become the top oil producer in the world.
There’s something wrong with that stance, isn’t there?
Yes. Something deeply wrong.
The president’s supporters should pay careful attention.
The man may call his decision an instance of realpolitik and that he is doing it for you. I call it an instance of being amoral and predict it will come back to hurt us.
But it’s not the first time, is it?
No. In fact, it’s happening here at home too, in full view, and we’re looking the other way.