Tuesday, October 16, 2018


By Dominique Paul Noth

“Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

King Henry II’s palace complaint in 12th century England has returned with remarkable force to modern Saudi royalty, though the contrast between medieval outrage over murder  and modern Western caution exposes colossal moral weakness from President Trump.

Murder victims united over centuries:
Thomas Becket and Jamal Khashoggi.
The story embraced in history and literature describes how King Henry II and Thomas Becket were once good friends and colleagues until Becket became Archbishop of Canterbury and put religious purity ahead of devotion to the royal purse.  In vain the king tried to exile him.
 And when Becket excommunicated clergy supporting the king, the angry monarch proclaimed his anger at a royal dinner  (who will rid me of  this priest, he asked) and four knights promptly left him to accost Becket in his home and then to murder him.

Henry tried to argue that the knights exceeded his direction – “rogue killers” as Trump now suggests about the Saudi role --  but the vast Christian world would have none of that and the powerful Catholic church of the era forced Henry to do public penance for the murder to keep his crown.  He was whipped by order of the Pope.  Two centuries before the printing press, there was no question of Henry’s guilt. Today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is sheepishly sent to exchange grins and dinner with the crown prince and the Saudi king.

Now meet Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist of mammoth reputation dating back to the days of Osama bin Laden and editorship of major Middle East publications and once a good friend and colleague of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has clearly inherited the reins of the Saudi kingdom from his father.

Once informal spokesman for the Saudi royal family, Khashoggi wrote with elegant anger how Mohammed bin Salman, given the reins of Saudi Arabia power to modernize the kingdom, was still engaged in autocratic excess and repression of human rights. “We Saudis deserve better,” he concluded.

Khashoggi was banished from the country – like Henry tried to do to Becket – but rather than silence his enemy the move again gave a greater platform. Khashoggi became a permanent US resident and regular columnist for the Washington Post when on Oct. 2 in Istanbul he entered the Saudi consulate to receive some papers so he could get married.

He was never seen alive again.

Turkish intelligence says they have video and audio evidence that a squad of “knights” arrived in Istanbul to take care of him.  This reportedly included torture, dismemberment of his body and disposal in pieces of the remains, after which the assassins flew back to Saudi Arabia on a private jet.

“If a decision was taken to silence a perceived traitor, it likely would have been his,” the New York Times said of the crown prince. In medieval times, there was a powerful Roman empire to influence money and alliances for King Henry II and he had to heed their outrage.  There is no central authority for Islam and unless leaders of other countries join together in outrage, the Saudis can just skip along as is.

The diplomatic outrage in much of the West and the Mideast may have been  immediate -- except for Trump. The U.S.  Congress is anxious to step in and force the White House to act, but foreign affairs remain an executive priority.

Trump’s first remarks emphasized that it all had happened in another county and that Khashoggi was not a US citizen. When informed that he was a permanent US resident, he flipped position and assured the world he would look into it, but then immediately  cited the billions of dollars the US makes in arms deals with the Saudis and how he couldn’t give all those jobs over to the likes of China and Russia.  His looking into it so far has meant accepting the royal denial, though even the medieval world knew Henry was just stalling.

The Saudis are so deep into American military hardware that neither China nor Russia is a good option.  Trump, the expert deal maker, does not even realize how good a hand he holds against the Saudis and their oil.  His acceptance of the crown prince’s statements ahead of the evidence even from his allies has certainly shocked the diplomatic community and violated the tenets under which diplomatic corps serve in foreign lands.

But it was telegraphed in an earlier White House visit by the crown prince, who sat there smirking as Trump held in front of him a chart of how much money Saudi had committed to US arms sales.

The butchered body of Becket brought mountains of pain to Henry II before he could keep his throne.  The butchered body of Khashoggi is unlikely to nick a fingernail of Mohammed bin Salman if the world expects fawns like Trump to express outrage.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.  

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