The vanishing journalist

Opinion: Columns

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By Fred Natkevi

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A surveillance camera documented journalist Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The journalist was never seen again. The Saudi "magic trick" of making a newspaper man disappear unnerved me. 

Mr. Khashoggi's writings were critical of the Saudi Crown Prince and his royal family. Empathizing with President Trump's compulsion to muzzle news media, Saudi royalty reached for a unique tactic for controlling news, i.e. make the journalist vanish. 

The "disappearance trick" was characteristic of Stalin and Putin and resembles an assassination. It was not well received by today's world. A vision of masked ISIS executioner Jihadi John flashed before me as he beheaded journalist James Foley.

As an initial response, the Saudis denied all knowledge of any incident in their consulate in Turkey. But under pressure, they reported that, indeed, journalist Jamal Khashoggi had died in their consulate in a fist fight with 15 men present. Those men must have been terror stricken as the lone newsman brandished his pen, a weapon mightier than a sword. So they strangled and dismembered him. Turkish officials reported that loud screams were heard in the Saudi consulate. Suspicions are that the journalist was tortured. 

Outrage over the assassination is appropriate, but it's not all that's at stake. Violence is a declaration of bankruptcy of options in conflict resolution. Insidious, sinister motivations of control and oppression are revealed in the Saudis' deed. Their attitude is that the end justifies all means. 

The murder of a journalist flies in the face of two of three rights in our Declaration of Independence: the right to life and the right to liberty. The pursuit of happiness becomes meaningless when the other two rights are suppressed. Mr. Khashoggi's life was terminated by a government in an attempt to curtail his freedom of speech and expression. 

In this country, President Trump has embarked on a quest to subdue and control the media. He brands news professionals "enemies of the people" and accuses them of misinforming and misleading the public. But his own veracity is less than pure. Our president lied more than 3,200 times in his first 450 days in office (Washington Post). He defames and slanders his opposition and engages in character assassination. Perhaps he would have all writers, composers, and poets vanish. 

Hitler and Stalin censored news media and all art forms. Great modern paintings, literature, and music became prohibited. Nazis sent Jewish artists, authors, poets, and composers to death camps. 

Under Stalin, dancers of the Bolshoi Ballet were ordered to portray tractors and farm machinery to glorify the proletariat. Communist propaganda permeated literary works and music exalted collectivism. Noncompliance resulted in deportations to the gulag. 

For Americans, such a disastrous fate must be averted. To make America great, our values and our constitutional rights must endure. Our authors, poets, and journalists must never become an endangered species, in spite of their flaws. They must not disappear, vanish, or dwindle to extinction. The Saudis' means of managing news cannot be allowed to become a trend in America.

Fred Natkevi, a longtime Oak Park resident, grew up in Eastern Europe during Stalin's rule.

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