On a crisp autumn night in central London, hundreds gathered to remember Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist murdered on 2 October at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Journalists, activists and members of the public, as well as friends and family of Jamal, gathered in his honour and to remember the man they knew.
Today’s memorial was opened by MEMO Director Dr Daud Abdullah, a close personal friend of Jamal. Abdullah began by noting how Jamal’s story has captured the world’s attention, paying homage to his work and his determination to speak truth to power.
Another of Jamal’s friends, Wadah Khanfar, former director of Al Jazeera Networks and founder of Al Sharq Forum, followed Abdullah. Wadah began with a message to the family and friends of Jamal, saying:
Your loss is a great one. The agony of following the news daily, of following what happened to Jamal must have been anguish. To follow the news about what the Saudi consulate did to his body is not what any person, any fellow human, wants to hear about someone they cared about.
Khanfar continued with a personal anecdote from the last time he met Jamal, at a MEMO conference here in London exactly one month ago today: “A few days before his murder Jamal spoke to me about his feelings towards his children who were left behind in Saudi Arabia and about his hope of building a new family in Istanbul.”
Wadah remembered fondly: “I laughed with him here in London, and I said to him – ‘it seems to me you are ten years younger than when I last saw you’. He told me that – ‘this is a new love’.”
Perhaps one of the most sombre moments this evening was when this new love, Jamal’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz, addressed the audience. Until recently, Hatice had held her silence in the face of the intense media attention surrounding Jamal’s death. Yet, despite turning down invitations from Washington, Hatice travelled to London to remember her fiancé today, surrounded by his friends and colleagues from around the world.
Visibly nervous and taking a moment to collect herself, Hatice began by saying:
I am humbled to be among the friends of my beloved Jamal and I am honoured to be here. Yet, at the same time, I am in an emotional state which is hard to express in words. The disappearance of Jamal has left a void in my heart and soul.
Hatice explained that, though many in the room knew Jamal, she wanted to share with the world her memories of the man she loved, explaining: “For me he was my other half; the one with whom I felt complete. He became the embodiment of my hopes and dreams.”
Her speech was heartfelt and personal, remembering “a man who was gentle, caring, loving and giving,” one who was “emotional and nostalgic [about his life] in exile, away from his beloved country, his family, his homeland”. Hatice explained that living in exile “was a huge burden for [Jamal] and he was gravely concerned about his friends and family back at home in Saudi Arabia”.
“Some of his friends were already in prison. He felt that he owed it to them to speak out, not only for himself but also on their behalf,” she told the audience.
Others chose to speak directly to Jamal himself. Executive Director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division, Sarah Leah Whitson, gave her speech as a letter to Jamal. She told the packed audience hall:
Jamal, I know you never saw yourself as a revolutionary, but you never stopped surprising us. Your death will have a long life, and your death will have the last word. Regardless of the outcome, your death has fuelled more than I could have thought possible – you have achieved a universality among journalists who have shown themselves capable of seeking the truth.
Sarah also reflected on the times she had spent debating with Jamal, the work they did together and their shared hopes for stronger human rights in the Middle East. She applauded Jamal’s ability to stand up for his values and his beliefs, qualities which Sarah explained have “restored our belief in the power of words, of facts and of truth to move global consciousness”. She concluded by applauding Jamal’s strength and steadfastness, saying:
You took the risk to stand by your principles and your voice by fleeing your homeland to write freely. You would not bow down. Generations will remember you as the Saudi man who would not bow down, who paid for his freedom with his life. You have given your people a hero to believe in.
Yet there was also anger at the death of a close friend, a colleague and a strong voice in the region. David Hearst, editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye, stressed that Jamal’s murder demonstrates “Saudi Arabia has one foot in the 21st century and one in the 10th century”. “Jamal was killed with medieval savagery – his screams recorded by his killers for the seven minutes it took to kill him,” emphasising that in this “a Saudi prince becomes indistinguishable from the Islamic State – the Crown Prince becomes a monster”.
Hearst continued his criticism of the Saudi regime, labelling it as “tyranny with a lip gloss of liberalism,” a tyranny that it has taken too long for the world to criticise. David asked: “Why has it taken the murder of Jamal to stop German arms sales, but not British or American? Why did the bombing of a bus full of school children in Yemen not cause us to ask these questions?” He reflected that Jamal’s murder had “touched a guilty nerve in all of us”, lamenting that “the tragedy is that it took Jamal’s death for the mask to slip”.
One of the overwhelming themes running through tonight’s event was the legacy that Jamal will leave and the impact his death will have on history. Martin Chulov, Middle East editor for the Guardian, said of Jamal that: “You will stand in history as a giant of your country, a giant of the region and a giant of your craft that you so loved: journalism”. Hugh Miles, editor of the Arab Digest, stressed that Jamal’s death should be a turning point. He said that:
It is time to side with the right against the wrong, the oppressed against the oppressor. We need to be on the right side of history. For many years our leaders have propped up despots who deny the Arab people their basic rights and force them to live in modern day slavery. This is an evil of colossal magnitude that cannot go unanswered.
As the event drew to a close, the final speaker Nihad Awad of the Council for American-Islamic Relations explained that he “wanted to give the world some homework”. Awad told the audience: “I want you to be like Jamal – I want you to become a council of one, an army of one. I want you to do something, not just look on.”
Awad continued: “We are petitioning for the roundabout in front of the Saudi embassy in Washington to be named after Jamal Khashoggi. I want you to start a petition, that in every street and every city where there is a Saudi embassy or a Saudi mission, demand that it will be renamed after him.”
“Let’s keep his story alive, let’s honour everything that he stood for and live by his example,” he concluded.