Remembering Jamal Khashoggi five years on!

In an increasingly shrinking space for dissent and dialogue…

When the article hits the stand; it would be five years on, after the gruesome death at the hands of the Saudi Intel sleuths of the renowned Saudi Journalist, Jamal Khashoggi was finally confirmed after days of uncertainty,  as to whether the slain journalist was still inside the Saudi mission to Istanbul or had left the premises.

The unceremonious death of an editor, who was very much a regime insider lately in the Saudi context, was a cause of disagreement between the rival states of Turkey and Saudi Arabia for days to come. Likewise, US public opinion also compelled an otherwise non-committal US government to demonstrate, what can be called an eyewash way of protest. The Trump Administration was firmly behind MBS along with other like-minded states inclusive of Pakistan, which was then led by the hybrid mix, found it odd to protest, while keeping the geopolitical commitments intact in the process.

The killing was in fact a reminder of the fact that the modern nation-states might have grown more online and sophisticated; but its response to dissent with knowledge elicits the same primitive response. No matter the victim might have been a regime insider; an acquaintance in the fifth generation warfare (as happening in Pakistan) or a former radical (reference to murders chain in case of Iran 1997-99).

For many fallen correspondents, editors, forcible removal from the scene can best be called a desperate act. Free flow of information is a strength of a just system. The behaviour to the contrary suggests otherwise. It is high time that states evolve genuine dialogue with the ruled populace, rather than a few songs on the occasion or a few embedded correspondents taking rides in Italian-built AW 139s. Dialogue is the wanting factor; irrespective of the best treatises written by the best of legal minds; as printed scripture cannot undo the status quo; but a dialogue can!

It is said that one can realize the ordeal and understand the pain only when afflicted with the same. For many that murder was an insider affair, better left to the country of origin. Few realized along various political and ideological fault lines that it was only the faint demonstration of how a state can go increasingly intolerant in not just suppressing dissent, but if the need arises, can physically eliminate the source of dissent. The options available for the ‘police states’ around the globe are, either to go for the extreme as the last resort; or try to pressure the dissenting opinion makers of the society to the extent that they are forced to toe the line.

Not to ignore the fact that ever since last year’s anti-Hijab riots in Iran; two female journalists, who at a certain point of time reported the main incident or contributed to the new stream, have been put on trial by a seemingly non-activist Iranian judiciary, meaning that it is very much tuned to follow the line of the established order in that theocratic state. Likewise, a silent purge of the main campuses by the conservative; clerical-establishment-supported Raeesi government seems to confirm that it is discouraging free inquiry and speech. Here it may be mentioned that in countries like Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Egypt; a vibrant academia is as much qualified for interference by the state in question.

A bird’s eye view of these states reveals that while the expressions of people enjoying lives within the limits set by the state do not offend them; these nation-states, or ideological ones, are not comfortable; if the same generation is tuning itself to question the same establishment. Here it is pertinent to mention that while the Saudi state under the effective grip of MBS has opened up in an unprecedented manner; especially in the domain of cultural expression; it has been 360-degree intolerant of dissent.

The late Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was onetime editor of the monarchy mouthpiece organ. Yet being a journalist, he was apparently not sleeping over the underground currents in the society. The very reason he advocated reforms at the expense of finally his life and dismembered body was that, what he thought to be the best course of action for that society.

Likewise, the Iranian conservatives trying PR activities like inviting football ace Ronaldo, copying similar Saudi PR activity a month back, were not comfortable with reporters working independently. They were happy with cheering and ‘enjoying’ crowds, but not willing to allow the media the right to question. They have been equally ruthless with even the grandson of the founder of the republic, Hasan Khomeini, if he does not follow the desired line.

Not to miss the point with reference to the worldwide trends and Pakistan being part of the same world. The evolution of the new settings in Pakistan; sometimes called ‘the new hybrid’; a ‘national security state’ etc. were and are precisely evolving the type of state which is intolerant to dissent , while there is no bar on ‘enjoying life’ provided the person or the family enjoying have ‘enough grains’ to do the needful.

Whether it can be called a political accident gone uncontrollable, the developments since April 2022 and May 2023 indicate ominously towards the silent retreat of the civil state, despite the fact that the 1973 Constitution is very much enforced. Articles of the constitution are threadbare clear on the limits of the organs of the state and likewise remind the state of the rights of the common man with special regards to his or her basic human rights. Similarly, the limits of oaths are also clearly defined. However, in practice, the supremacy of the written script is wanting.

Taking the debate further in a particular context of limitations for the media; traditionally, the reporting cadre sets editorial direction in any ideal setting of print media and electronic media. Analysis needs factual data for taking a position on any issue. In any system, where the deep state or the controllers want to disallow free space for information means reporting space and analysis means the editorial space, the first firing shot is usually directed at the person reporting or collecting facts. The second person on the firing line is the editorial itself or initially the news desk.

Like the late Khashoggi, if people in Pakistan between 2018-2022 have not been killed, they have been disallowed to practice their profession. The period under discussion has drawn different inputs from the cross section of the Pakistani political landscape; a few hailing it as a golden period, while the other few condemning it as a dark period. However, a non-partisan analysis, which is an increasingly rare commodity in the land of pure and truth, suggests that the space that began eroding in 2018 has been completely eroded, by the time 2023 formally closes.

Here, the murder in Kenya of a journalist, highly critical of the post-April 2022 coalition, directly confirms the loss of space. The recent prolonged absence of another journalist formerly aligned with the 2018-2022 hybrid set up and obviously critical of the post-April 2022 situation indicates that raw information and raw editorial comment might be a luxury of the past.

Writing an obituary for a journalist who worked in a foreign land, was part of the system in place; rather his discourse was more of sincere advice than a call for rebellion makes a perfect context when commenting on the trends over all. Journalists in the post WW2 nation states are civil society opinion makers, reflecting to the civilian and military bureaucracy, the pulse of the street. They are doing the feedback work more articulately than the salaried intelligence services sleuths are. The evolving state structure behavior patterns across the region; with incompetent states and organs unwilling to listen to dissent are the red flags for the states themselves.

For many fallen correspondents, editors, forcible removal from the scene can best be called a desperate act. Free flow of information is a strength of a just system. The behaviour to the contrary suggests otherwise. It is high time that states evolve genuine dialogue with the ruled populace, rather than a few songs on the occasion or a few embedded correspondents taking rides in Italian-built AW 139s. Dialogue is the wanting factor; irrespective of the best treatises written by the best of legal minds; as printed scripture cannot undo the status quo; but a dialogue can!

 

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Naqi Akbar
Naqi Akbar
The writer is a freelance columnist

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