At the G-20 summit the question «how to greet Muhammad bin Salman?» has become the litmus test for politically correct behaviour. The public judges and rates politicians for how they greet Saudi Arabia’s crown prince. Putin’s «high-five» to Salman was especially despised on social media.
Well, there are a few aspects to consider here.
The fist aspect is that state representatives have to respected. It is rather silly to think that we can solve human rights violations or any other problem by simply spitting another head of state in the face. Showing contempt for a representative that one is meeting is a contradictio in eo ipso. Just don’t meet him or her if you want to express contempt. But refusing to talk will rarely solve things.
In most cases the best option to solve a problem is dialogue. And dialogue can only happen with manners and politeness. Protocol applies.
The war in Yemen
Next, this one murder is just a tiny, almost insignificant detail in the main killing spree of Saudi Arabia. The war in Yemen with probably more than 50’000 dead and children starving daily surpasses this single assassination by orders of magnitudes. Indignation about this killing has an odour of hypocrisy.
Business with Saudi Arabia
But not only Saudi Arabia is guilty of murder, mass murder. All the countries that continued and continue making business with Saudi Arabia in general and selling weapons to Saudi Arabia in particular during the last years are guilty of supporting the massacres in Yemen.
Should a ugly face when greeting the Prince Salman be enough to whitewash all the complicity?
A vicious world
When Trump was asked about who should be held accountable for the killing, he deflected the question and said that «maybe the world should be held accountable, because the world is a vicious place. The world is a very, very vicious place». Meanwhile a vicious world can’t whitewash murder, that the world is a vicious place is correct: the one million killed in the Iraq war since 2003, the war in Afghanistan, the 500’000 children killed by US-imposed sanctions (Iraq 1991-2003), the chaos in Libya after US intervention, the drone strikes, etc. The list of US crimes is long but only a few on the radical left demand that we stop shaking the hands of Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Barack Obama, etc.
20’000 dead children — daily
Every single day about twenty thousand children die from preventable diseases due to lack of basic necessities (clean drinking water, malnutrition, etc.). The cause is mainly the current global world order, i.e. (US-led) neoliberal capitalism. If we feel indignation about the murder of Khashoggi, we must feel indignation for the murder of all these children, too.
The world is indeed a vicious place but most of it is man-made. As long as head of states do not attempt to change neoliberal capitalism, the daily mass murder continues. Most of the guests at the G-20 summit are the guardians of the neoliberal world order. In such meetings – in principle – world order can be changed: military de-escalation, nuclear disarmament, Tobin-tax, carbon-tax, fair trade commitments, poverty alleviation, etc. are possible. It all just depends on political commitment, unlikely at the moment but possible …
Leaving NATO …
The states themselves can do their part, too, even when the current political climate is clouded by Trumpian egoism. European states could leave NATO and say no to an increase of military budgets. The EU could promote fair business with development countries and increase development aid. That would also help reduce some of the causes for migration.
The minimum …
Of course, to stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and to any other state that is involved in illegal wars is the top priority. That means that not just Saudi Arabia has to be banned from receiving weapons but also Israel and the US!
It is obvious that these actions will not happen – not because they are impossible but because our leaders are so deeply entrenched in the global neoliberal world order that they don’t care about the twenty thousand children that die daily nor for the children in Yemen nor about US crimes. They care only for business.
The Khashoggi murder – with its exceptionalism – is therefore a welcomed opportunity to show indignation without having to act and change. Praise to our moral superiority …
1 There is a distinct difference between form and content. Formal politeness does not mean to agree in content. And it is a entirely different case when one personally knows and meets a person in private compared to a meeting between states.
2 Unless we introduce the concept worthy and the unworthy victims (unpeople) and rate a wealthy Washington Post columnist like Khashoggi as worthy in relation to the unworthy Yemeni, continuous mass murder is far worse than a single murder.
5 To be honest, I guess some women have also their share in it …
6 Like ending the flooding African markets with cheap meat and other goods that destroy local production especially agriculture.
7 A long-term demand of NGOS is the raise of development aid to 1% GDP, a “burden” the Western nations could shoulder easily.