Jamal Khashoggi’s murder- a watershed moment in the history of assassination as a state weapon


Murdering prominent journalists and dissident intellectuals is nothing new in the Middle East.

In fact, the word “assassin” has its root in the 11th century Middle East and is thought to derive from the word “hashishin”, meaning the hashish eaters.

Hashishin, were Persian militant fanatics belonging to Nazari branch of Ismaili Muslims who, in the absence of headphones to listen to music (as was used in Kashoggi’s murder) took hashish to help them carry out their gruesome killings.

Other historical records suggest that the word “assassin” relates to the word “asāsīyūn”, the name the Nazaris’ grand master, Hassan-i Sabbah, gave to his disciples.

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Whatever the correct etymology, it remains a fact that the assassination of prominent political dissidents has had a long history in the Middle East and, at times, produced monumental consequences.  

In Iran, the assassination of a prominent political dissident, Mirza Reza Kermani, sparked the 1905-1908 Constitutional Revolution- the first democratic movement of its kind in the modern Middle East.

It was in this modern era of revolt and uprising in Iran that the trend in assassination as a state weapon, began to take hold.

The Qajar and Pahlavi dynasties both silenced their opponents by using severe torture and murder.

The victorious Islamic Republic that overthrew the former Shah of Iran wasted no time by murdering members of opposition groups both inside and outside of Iran.

But the bloodiest years of assassinations, in 150 years of Iran’s political history, came in the period between 1980 and 1998.  

Towards the end of this period, at least 6, but likely many more, prominent and influential dissident intellectuals were murdered in a short space of time.

The murders became known as “chain murders”. Later the Iranian intelligence services admitted its involvement and some high-ranking officials were tried and sentenced to long jail sentences but as usually is the case, efforts were made to keep the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei away from any link to the murders just as efforts are being made now to protect the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Other Middle Eastern countries, notably Iraq under Saddam Hussein, have an even darker history of repression.

A fan of Stalin, the Iraqi dictator was reported to have adopted one of Stalin’s mottos: “If there is a person, there is problem, if is there is no person, there is no problem”.

As the murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi indicated in one of his last interviews, the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, might come across as a young leader with modern ideals, but his way of ruling seems to be in the worst tradition of despotic Middle Eastern rulers that have come before him.

In fact, it is the crown prince’s appetite for the continuation of the old order under the veneer of modernity that has made him a close ally of Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu shares the same goal: namely to preserve the status quo.

Jamal Elshayyal, an award-winning journalist for Al-Jazeera, covered the Arab Spring in Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen and reported seeing the Palestinian flags being waved next to the national flags everywhere he went: in Cairo, Benghazi, Tripoli, Sana’a, etc.

Mohammed bin Salman, an opponent of Arab Spring, knows full well that the Palestinian liberation will pave the way for democracy and justice in the Middle East by putting an end to the tyrannical rule of the few over the many.

By cozying up to Israel and literally buying the loyalty of Trump, Mohammed bin Salman has been getting away with murder and other atrocious acts, including murdering Yemenis children, kidnapping the Lebanese Prime Minster, and the blockade of Qatar.

And the whole time, the world has looked the other way.

But a robust international response to the gruesome murder of Khashoggi might offer a watershed moment in the dark history of despotism in the Middle East.

Many political dissidents and courageous independent journalists are under siege, not only in the Middle East but also increasingly in supposedly freer counties such as Hungry, Poland, Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, Cambodia and Kenya.

The world owes it to them to conduct a proper and independent investigation of the Khashoggi’s murder. Allowing the Saudi crown prince to investigate his own involvement in the killing of Khashoggi would be absurd.



  1. “the Palestinian liberation will pave the way for democracy and justice in the Middle East by putting an end to the tyrannical rule of the few over the many” is ridiculous. Tyrannical rule is far more pronounced in KSA, Iran, and the 49 other Islamic States in the Middle East than the democratic nation of Israel.

    If the Palestinians agree to negotiate and accept a peace deal, the Sunni-Shia rift will not magically disappear, the tribal wars will not stop, and the rulers will not suddenly become benevolent.

    • That’s true, Heather. But at least one source of friction will have been resolved, just as the peace accord in Northern Island resolved the Catholic-Protestant conflict.

      I would question your reference to Israel as a “democratic nation”. It is nominally democratic if you’re a jewish Israeli citizen. Not so much if you’re not.

    • Thank you for your comment Heather.
      Sunnis and Shias have lived side by side in the Middle East for over a thousand years. Iran’s Shia majority government supports Sunni Hamas. This idea that the root cause of the problems in the Middle East is an old rivalry between Sunnis and Shias is a popular Western manufactured myth created in order to absolve the West’s responsibility in creating and supporting the very forces that have brought mayhem and destruction to the region. Ask yourself who created and armed Talaban in Afghanistan or removed the only democratically elected government in Iran. Once the need to support Israel at the cost of demonizing Iran and destabilizing the Middle East is removed, we might begin to see the flourishing of civil movements in the region that will hopefully put an end to despotism in the Middle East.

  2. The Middle East must be one of the most corrupt parts on this planet, the post suggests Palestinians may achieve democracy, is that in the ghettos left for them to rot away in? Or are they going to be the slave labour force of Israel, Saudi and others of the future, allowed a permit to slave, when needed?

    And where is that ‘solidarity’ of Kiwis, it is NOWHERE to be seen, except within some few activists.

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