The Narrative Murder of Jamal Khashoggi

Jamal Khashoggi: Writer, journalist, author.

The latest report from Turkey says the Jamal Khashoggi’s fingers were cut off his hands while he was still alive. That is monstrous in any light, but I’d like you to consider it through the lens of a storyteller. The removal of his fingers is a narrative choice that says one thing: This murder was intensely personal for Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman al Saud.

See it in the negative space of what might have been. Were Khashoggi killed unintentionally, then why were his fingers removed? If Khashoggi were the victim of rogue killers, then why were his fingers removed? To say this with graphic clarity, if inflicting pain and terror on a man was the point, if demonstrating the cruelty and barbarity of the perpetrators was at issue, they why not his cut off genitals while he was still alive? Why not his ears? Why not the nose between his eyes, or even the eyes themselves?

Why, specifically, did they remove his fingers?

The answer, to a storyteller, is clear: The assassins were under strict orders to dismember him in this manner. They were told to murder him, yes. But first, they were ordered to cut off his fingers because Jamal Khashoggi was a writer. A critic. He told stories with his hands. And so you can be certain that not only were his fingers chopped off with intention, but his murderers told him why.

He was not a source. He had no information to share, no secrets to spill as the Prince’s henchmen walked him slowly into the blades that would end his existence. This wasn’t to extract any confession or provide any meaningful intelligence to further the Realpolitik goals of the Kingdom. It was personal. The method screams that truth.

Jamal Khashoggi’s fingers told stories about the Mad Prince, and so the Mad Prince ordered that his fingers had to go.

I will not be surprised in the least to learn in the coming days that while he was still alive, they also removed his tongue so that he would die choking on his own voice. This, too, would be the simple work of storytelling and this, above all, was a narrative murder. I’d even be willing to bet that, when it was ordered, it was ordered with the specific, arch horror of Prince Mohammed bin Sultan brandishing a sword and crying “Bring me his head.”

Which, no doubt, the murderers did.

Now, as our own soulless, dark and monstrous President scrambles to protect his Saudi benefactor in whatever petty scheme they’ve concocted to personally enrich that putrid man, we — as readers — get to determine if there will be an epilogue to this whole barbaric tale.

Will Jamal Khashoggi’s voice disappear, or will it ring out and destroy the Prince’s bloody hold on power?

That depends almost entirely on us refusing to let this macabre account of depravity disappear into the sandstorm of lies, pornographic cruelty, and vulgarity that is 2018. Perhaps one way to refuse that ending is also the most proper way to offer a prayer for Jamal Khashoggi’s soul:

Spend a few minutes reading the words he crafted, keystroke after keystroke, finger-tap after finger-tap, as he dared to challenge one of the world’s most graphically awful of men.