Jamal Khashoggi is gone but his words are still with us.
Weeks after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and met what appears to have been a violent and gruesome end, this journalist is still having an impact with his thoughts.
His last column for the Washington Post was printed posthumously and was given a place of honor in the newspaper — a full page for his final paragraphs and an artist’s sketch of his face.
The Post’s global opinions editor – Karen Attiah — was his colleague and his friend. He regularly submitted his manuscripts to her and this one arrived from Khashoggi’s assistant one day after he was reported missing.
She held off publishing it in the hope that he would be found alive and they could, as they had so many times in the past, edit the column together. But with time it became clear this would be his final column for the Post.
And so the paper put it into print and posted it on its website in both English and Arabic. Attiah said it captured “his commitment and passion for freedom in the Arab world… a freedom he apparently gave his life for.”
Jamal Khashoggi may be gone but his words survive — and they speak louder than ever since his passing.
His final column focuses on the lack of free societies in the Arab world and laments the ongoing attacks on freedom of the press.
Khashoggi notes that a recent report on “Freedom in the World” by the human rights group Freedom House determined that only one Arab country is truly free: Tunisia. Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait were classified as “partly free.” The rest were simply — and terrifyingly — rated “not free.”
What is missing in the Arab world, he said, is free expression. Arabs in these countries are either uninformed or misinformed and unable to discuss the problems that face their region. Unfortunately, he said, there is little sign the situation will change.
“As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continuing silencing the media at an increasing rate,” Khashoggi wrote.
How prophetic… these words from a journalist who has been forever silenced.
And this may be why. Read the closing paragraph of his last column and take note of the thoughts sure to anger any despot, especially a Saudi prince who was once considered a bridge to the modern world:
“We need to provide a platform for Arab voices. We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education,” Khashoggi wrote, adding they need better access to the truth about both their countries and the world.
This was his cause and his passion: the importance of free expression. He had to leave his homeland for a life in self-exile in the United States in order to wage his personal campaign.
An editorial in the Washington Post spoke of his “anguish” at the difficult choice he had to make. It also spoke of his courage.
Yes, the Post is taking this tragedy very personally — from the reporters working the story around the world to Editor-in-Chief Marty Baron who has been providing regular updates on his Twitter feed.
Are we mourning Khashoggi so much because his passing was so tragic? Because he was a reporter whose only weapon was the written word? Or because he has become a symbol of all those who have died because they challenged authority or simply got in the way — like the civilians in Yemen who have become pawns in a bloody war.
Why are we so captivated by the story of this one brave man when so many have died?
Perhaps its that face.
The smiling face of a Saudi who became a critic in exile. He humanizes the pain so many feel.
Karen Attiah, his editor at the Post, told CNN that amid all the geopolitical drama surrounding his death ”at the end of the day, this was a man, this was a human being who just wanted to write and gave his life for it.”
His obit in the Washington Post — printed after Saudi Arabia confirmed he had died at the consulate — said that Khashoggi “never sought to be a disrupter” and until his death firmly believed that reform was possible in Saudi Arabia.
“This was Jamal,” his friend, former U.S. diplomat Maggie Mitchell Salem told the Post, “he had a never-ending hope that changes could happen and that Arabs could lead their way.”
She said: “In killing him, it’s like they killed more than a man… they killed a vision of what Arab media and society could be like.”
Or did they?
Could this effort to silence Khashoggi backfire? Could he become in death, quite frankly, larger than life?
He may be gone… the mystery of his death may never be totally solved… but his columns will survive.
Jamal Khashoggi is having the last word.