There are some comparisons we should never have to make. The brutal killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi provides a prime example of it.
As many around the world remain hooked on the gory details, the intrigue, the complex international connotations and reverberations of the murder, others are raising a few whispered questions, reluctant to be disrespectful, to dismiss this assassination as unimportant, yet somehow hoping that at least as much would be made of the murder of, say, other journalists.
Which is the greater crime?
Indeed, one can wonder why the case of Turki Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Jasser, another Saudi journalist who has apparently also been tortured to death, barely a month after Khashoggi, is not causing global outrage. But then again, Al-Jasser was not as well connected with the Western media, and did not have an "O visa," also known as “the genius visa," which grants three years’ legal residency and work privileges in the US to individuals with extraordinary abilities.
Khashoggi also has three children with US citizenship, and was in the process of obtaining US citizenship himself. In other words, he was quite privileged.
And there are yet other critical questions one could think of. Is Saudi Arabia’s murder of Khashoggi, and Al-Jasser for that matter, a greater crime than its war on Yemen, which has utterly devastated the country, causing the world’s worst famine in half a century, and killing at least 85,000 children under five?
A 2017 Save the Children report estimates that 130 Yemeni children died every day as a result of the Saudi war and blockade. Do these children not "compare" to a critical journalist? Could their death, of hunger, possibly not be horrendously painful?
Why is it that global dignitaries and business executives, from the president of the World Bank to the CEO of Uber and CNN, have decided to boycott a summit in Riyadh following Khashoggi’s murder, when they would otherwise have gone ahead with "business as usual", despite Saudi Arabia's murder of hundreds of thousands of Yemenis?
A monopoly on evil
No country has a monopoly on evil, and Saudi Arabia’s case is not unique. Anyone who is concerned with the plight of the Palestinian people has observed that the mainstream media are consistently guilty of the quasi-erasure of Palestinian deaths, even as they devote time, space, and analysis, to Israeli trauma, pain, and casualties.
What is considered "relative calm" by the BBC is days when there are no Israeli injuries, not days when Palestinians are spared death. We do not have individual reports about the lives and loves, the hopes and ambitions, and the desolation of the families of the Palestinians routinely killed by Israel: an average of one Palestinian killed every day in the Gaza Strip since the Great Return March began earlier this year.
Earlier statistics were of one Palestinian child killed by Israel every three days between 2000 and 2013. In a mainstream media world that insists there are “two sides of the story,” falsely suggesting an equivalence between occupier and occupied, oppressor and oppressed, a powerful military and rock throwing youth, we invariably get disproportionate coverage of any and all harm incurred by Israelis, while the daily Palestinian suffering, and deaths, go undiscussed. We shouldn’t have to compare, or should we?
Anyone who is concerned with the plight of the Palestinian people has observed that the mainstream media are consistently guilty of the quasi-erasure of Palestinian deaths, even as they devote time, space, and analysis, to Israeli trauma, pain, and casualties
And when it comes to boycotts, that non-violent strategy that has secured so many significant victories throughout the world, nowhere is the need to compare felt more keenly than when it comes to the vilification, and official attempts at criminalisation of BDS, the Palestinian call for Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions on Israel, even as boycotts remain the tactic of choice for activists, both progressive and conservative, who want an accessible, grassroots effective means of expressing their discontent with a policy.
For example, conservatives were quick to call for a boycott of Disney, for featuring a same-sex kiss in its remake of Beauty and the Beast, with a petition asking the children’s entertainment giant not to "push the LGBT agenda" on children.
There is a general acceptance of boycotts, which helped end apartheid in South Africa, and secure civil rights for African Americans in the US, indeed, which were an early expression of political dissent and protest by the European settlers in this continent, against the British imperial power, in what remains celebrated to this day as the Boston Tea Party, rejecting taxation without representation.
The value of comparisons
The comparison BDS activists have to constantly make, one we should not have to remind anyone of, is between all these cherished campaigns, and the Palestinian one. But would it not be acceptable to simply point out that Israel is a brutal occupier violating the human rights of the Palestinians, and as such, deserving of isolation, just because there is an intrinsic value to Palestinian life?
And as I write this on Thanksgiving Day in North America, I can only reflect on how the indigenous people of this land are told to "get over it", by the very same people who proudly boast “Never Forget, Never Forgive”, with the phrase’s thinly disguised warning of endless violence in the name of revenge.
And those same "Never Forget, Never Forgive" people also ask African Americans to "get over" four hundred years of slavery, followed by ongoing, and growing, disenfranchisement. Why? All around us are comparisons we shouldn’t have to make, between Saudi Arabia’s murder of Kashoggi, and Israel’s killing of Palestinian journalists, poets, medics.
Between the "bone saw" used on Khashoggi’s body, and the policy of "breaking of bones" of unarmed Palestinian youth ordered by Yitzhak Rabin during the First Intifada.
Between mass shootings in the US by white murderers who are generally taken alive, deemed "troubled", "lone wolves", and offered burgers and fries when they complain that they are hungry, and those, significantly fewer, by people of colour who are immediately labelled "terrorists" and hounded to death.
And as I think of the long list of comparisons we feel compelled to make in order to point out the severity of an oppressive system, I cannot help but notice that each and every one of them seeks to validate the experience of the most disenfranchised, by comparing them to better known cases. As such, there is value in these comparisons.
Yet there are some comparisons we should never have to make. Each heinous crime should be viewed and denounced as such on its own merit, its own evil. And being a true ally means appreciating another person’s experience of oppression, without the need to look for an equivalence in one’s own privileged life.
- Nada Elia is a diaspora Palestinian writer and political commentator, currently working on her second book, Who You Callin’ ‘Demographic Threat?’ Notes from the Global Intifada. A professor of gender and global studies (retired), she is a member of the steering collective of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI).
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Demonstration against Saudi-led war in Yemen (AFP)