Jamal Khashoggi’s page is blank. The Washington Post did not fill the space of his column. He has gone missing. He was last seen entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2. Saudi authorities claim he left the consulate, but the Turkish government says he did not.
On that day, consulate officials had given all their Turkish employees a day off, a holiday, with not much explanation.
On that day, also, fifteen officials from Saudi Arabia arrived at the Ataturk Airport in two private jets. They had booked themselves for four nights at a hotel close to the consulate. But they left Istanbul just a few hours after Khashoggi went missing.
Mystery surrounds the whole affair. He has not been seen since, but it seems his Apple watch that was never removed by his captors recorded his own torture, death and body location. Khashoggi was a fierce critic of the Saudi regime. He was a Divergent.
THE CRIME OF DIVERGENCE
Divergent was a 2014 Hollywood science fiction action film directed by Neil Burger and based on a novel by Veronica Roth. In the film, society is divided into five factions: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent).
Initiation takes place at 16. It is an aptitude test that indicates the faction into which each young man or woman would best fit and informs their choice at the “Choosing Ceremony”. If the test indicates that you belong to more than one faction, then you are a dangerous person, a threat to the existing social order…you are a Divergent.
Divergents are independent-minded, non-conformists, free-thinkers. They can be annoying like those pebbles or sand that get into your shoes while you are walking or running on rough surfaces. They are almost invisible but they can wear you out and frustrate you.
Every experienced runner finds a way to move these annoying pebbles around the shoe into a place where damage is minimised. They may remain between some toes or under the foot-arch, but never under the metatarsal or under the heel bone.
When the discomfort cannot be neutralised by repositioning them, the runner has no choice but to stop and get them out, eliminate them. That’s fine for pebbles but not for people.
Divergents are people, not pebbles. Their violent removal usually means the beginning of the end for a government…for a system, for constant repression is unsustainable.
The past two weeks have sent chills down the spine of divergents. Apart from Khashoggi’s brutal murder, two other prominent divergents have been dealt with, killed or neutralised: Fernando Alban in Venezuela, Meng Hungfao in China.
Alban was a popular and well regarded opposition counsellor. He was arrested a week ago at Simon Bolivar International Airport upon arrival from a trip to New York.
After Alban was taken for interrogation, the country’s chief prosecutor said that he committed suicide by jumping from the 10th floor of the political police headquarters, where he was being held.
Hell broke loose when an insider told a different story and then left the country in haste. He said Alban was over-tortured and died. This is how the ‘suicide’ story came up and only government forensics were present at the post-mortem.
Hungfao was president of Interpol. He left France for Beijing, where he arrived on September 25. Nobody knew his whereabouts until October 8, when the
Chinese Central Commission for Discipline Inspection announced that he was being investigated by the National Supervisory Commission “for illegal conduct” and taking bribes. Incidentally, Hungfao had left the Communist Party of China in April 2018.
Perhaps Hungfao is guilty and he had done something wrong. Whatever the case, it seems strange for such a high-profile person to have been held incommunicado for two weeks and then resign from his job before being declared guilty by any authority and without due process. No doubt, Hungfao was either very bad or radically divergent.
VIOLENCE IS NOT THE WAY
Some years ago, I wrote about Maximilien Robespierre, one of the greatest advocates of the use of violence and blood as the best tool to resolve political and social problems at the start of the French Revolution.
For Robespierre, “slowness of judgments is equal to impunity” and “uncertainty of punishment encourages all the guilty.” He argued that if only 200 people of France’s political elite were killed, all social and political challenges would come to an end. Sadly, Robespierre killed not only 200, but more than 20,000 people until this violence caught up with him. He and his companions were guillotined.
Robespierre had created a monstrous system to attain justice without the law, but only achieved anarchy, a system that devoured him, and a repeat of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: “You are my creator, but I am your master; - obey!”
Violence is not a solution, but the beginning of the fall. We live in an increasingly intolerant world. Conservatives and liberals, right and left, east and west are not talking to each other.
A system that accepts violence against its own detractors is not sustainable. Once the sacredness of life is abused and trampled upon, there is no end to it… more violence, more deaths, until everything just falls apart.
Dr Franceschi is the dean of Strathmore Law School. [email protected]; Twitter: @lgfranceschi