Freedom of Expression – Jamal Khashoggi

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  First Amendment, 1789. 

Wow our first amendment is a blockbuster as in one sentence.  It  provides religious freedoms, free speech and freedom to assembly, all in one short sentence.

I consider free speech and the right to  assembly (protest in masses) to be at the core of our democracy.    From these rights, hopefully come an informed populace, who can  vote in the leaders they want, and get rid of those they don’t want.

The apparent murder of  Jamal Khashoggi shows just how far Saudi Arabia will go to silence journalists.    Jamal Khashoggi could have stayed in Saudi Arabia, and reported on how wonderful the  decisions made by the new crown prince,  Mohammed bin Salman.  But, Khashoggi couldn’t do that.  Of course, Salman lost, as other journalists will fill the void.

The Crown Prince was concentrating power.  Saudi Arabia was becoming more autocratic under Salman.  Khashoggi wrote commentary for the Washington Post. shortly before he was murdered entitled,  “What the Arab world needs most is free expression.”

A note from Karen Attiah, Global Opinions editor.  Washington Post. 

I received this column from Jamal Khashoggi’s translator and assistant the day after Jamal was reported missing in Istanbul. The Post held off publishing it because we hoped Jamal would come back to us so that he and I could edit it together. Now I have to accept: That is not going to happen. This is the last piece of his I will edit for The Post. This column perfectly captures his commitment and passion for freedom in the Arab world. A freedom he apparently gave his life for. I will be forever grateful he chose The Post as his final journalistic home one year ago and gave us the chance to work together.

What the Arab world needs most is free expression,  Jamal Khashoggi, October 17, 2018

I was recently online looking at the 2018 “Freedom in the World” report published by Freedom House and came to a grave realization. There is only one country in the Arab world that has been classified as “free.” That nation is Tunisia. Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait come second, with a classification of “partly free.” The rest of the countries in the Arab world are classified as “not free.”

As a result, Arabs living in these countries are either uninformed or misinformed. They are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives. A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative. Sadly, this situation is unlikely to change.

The Arab world was ripe with hope during the spring of 2011. Journalists, academics and the general population were brimming with expectations of a bright and free Arab society within their respective countries. They expected to be emancipated from the hegemony of their governments and the consistent interventions and censorship of information. These expectations were quickly shattered; these societies either fell back to the old status quo or faced even harsher conditions than before.

My dear friend, the prominent Saudi writer Saleh al-Shehi, wrote one of the most famous columns ever published in the Saudi press. He unfortunately is now serving an unwarranted five-year prison sentence for supposed comments contrary to the Saudi establishment. The Egyptian government’s seizure of the entire print run of a newspaper, al-Masry al Youm, did not enrage or provoke a reaction from colleagues. These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence.

As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate. There was a time when journalists believed the Internet would liberate information from the censorship and control associated with print media. But these governments, whose very existence relies on the control of information, have aggressively blocked the Internet. They have also arrested local reporters and pressured advertisers to harm the revenue of specific publications.

There are a few oases that continue to embody the spirit of the Arab Spring. Qatar’s government continues to support international news coverage, in contrast to its neighbors’ efforts to uphold the control of information to support the “old Arab order.” Even in Tunisia and Kuwait, where the press is considered at least “partly free,” the media focuses on domestic issues but not issues faced by the greater Arab world. They are hesitant to provide a platform for journalists from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemen. Even Lebanon, the Arab world’s crown jewel when it comes to press freedom, has fallen victim to the polarization and influence of pro-Iran Hezbollah.

The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power. During the Cold War, Radio Free Europe, which grew over the years into a critical institution, played an important role in fostering and sustaining the hope of freedom. Arabs need something similar. In 1967, the New York Times and The Post took joint ownership of the International Herald Tribune newspaper, which went on to become a platform for voices from around the world.

My publication, The Post, has taken the initiative to translate many of my pieces and publish them in Arabic. For that, I am grateful. Arabs need to read in their own language so they can understand and discuss the various aspects and complications of democracy in the United States and the West. If an Egyptian reads an article exposing the actual cost of a construction project in Washington, then he or she would be able to better understand the implications of similar projects in his or her community.

The Arab world needs a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be informed about global events. More important, we need to provide a platform for Arab voices. We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education. Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face.

I think the media is obsessed with the details of Khashoggi’s death and the ramifications with US-Saudi Arabia relationship.  It would be much better to pay some attention to why the Crown Prince wanted Khashoggi dead.   Basic civil liberties, free expression and assembly becomes the enemy to autocratic leaders. Khashoggi was exposing nearly the entire Arab world to the suppression of news.   Salman joined with  UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, demanding Qatar  shut down Al Jazeera  broadcast network,  because of its open editorial policy.

The Trump administration is unfortunately not helping the situation.   In fact, Trump’s offhand comments on the “disappearance” of Khashoggi,  were horrible –  values are good, but cash counts, and the Saudi’s have a lot of cash to buy military equipment, around 110 billion dollars in contracts.  This was a reference to Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, with the signing of Memorandum of Understanding,  not real purchase agreements.  In the world of Trump, we should be mindful of the consequences if we “defriend”  Salman, by way of sanctions.    But our values should never be for sale.

The First Amendment is what gave Jamal Khashoggi, CNN,  Washington Post, and yes Fox News the absolute right to say what they believe.

I would suggest reading the 2018 Freedom of the World Report under the links.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

2018 Freedom of the World Report

Wikipedia:  Al Jazeera    (I really hope one day Al Jazeera America returns, as their news reporting was excellent)

My prior blogs commented on the blockade of Qatar by neighboring Arab countries and the demand to shut down Al Jazeera. Trump seemed to support this, on the basis that Qatar was supporting terrorism, and had a friendly relation with Iran.

Wikipedia:  Jamal Khashoggi 

 

 

 

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