Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals for global changes, national and international security, political and geopolitical risk of interest to private and public actors.
Editorial: The New York Times’ article “Why Jamal Khashoggi’s Killing Has Resonated” by Megan Specia ponders what many have been wondering lately. Why on earth would the murder of Mr Khashoggi, definitely an atrocious crime, definitely terrible for his family and definitely wrong, yet an event that hardly obviously belongs to international relations and even less to major historical events, take center stage not only in the media but also for international actors be they public or private?
A potential attack on press freedom or denunciation of Saudi Arabia’s human rights’ breaches cannot be a sufficient answer, considering the number of journalist murders or jailed on the one hand, so many countries’ breaches of human rights on the other. Actually, most of the time, these events do not stir anything.
Megan Specia (Ibid.) gives an answer in four main points: “Mr. Khashoggi was a prominent writer with powerful friends”; “A killing inside a consulate, often a place of refuge, is shocking”; “Leaks to Turkish media kept the story in the headlines”; “The Saudi crown prince had already set the stage for tense geopolitics”.
Her first and last points are certainly the most interesting, especially read together, as they point towards factions war within Saudi Arabia, with ramifications outside the country and manipulations of the media and public opinion. Worryingly, the propaganda operation – assuming there was one – worked extremely well, with foreign heads of states, diplomats and CEOs falling into the trap and becoming pawns in a game they do not master.
There is, however, also another point that must be made, or to the least pondered, about the Khashoggi affair and its resonance, a point related to international public opinion: increasingly, important even crucial events and dynamics are completely downplayed or stir absolutely no interest when, on the contrary, irrelevant matters do.
To take a very easy example, extreme weather events pile worldwide, while the IPCC panel issued its sternest and most urgent warning ever, yet it feels as if nobody was really concerned. The amazing hailstorm on Rome, on 21 October, was not even crowdsourced by the Weekly algorithm, and did not make international news, at least not anywhere on a par with Mr Khashoggi’s murder. Yet, climate change impacts are incredibly more important, for the whole world and for each and every human being, than what happened in the Saudi Arabia’s consulate.
Meanwhile, the Cold War is finally coming to an end in East Asia, artificial intelligence and quantum computing seem to point towards the birth of a completely new paradigm, tensions between the U.S. and China are high indeed… etc.
Yet, people prefer being fascinated with a murder.
The why this is happening deserves being pondered because, considering the stakes, our very survival could depend on it.
However unpalatable, we may wonder if the information overload created by the world-wide-web, and the way major high-tech actors’ interest end up favouring very low quality content, where analysis is disappearing for opinion, has not a large part of responsibility in what is happening.
We may also wonder if the very real and serious and threatening stakes at hand are not so frightening that people just prefer to ignore them in a mad rush forward, seizing any piece of information that could assuage their rising anxiety. In that case, the fascination with Mr Khashoggi’s murder would be a symptom of denial and escapism.
In both cases, after proper and detailed analysis, responses must be designed, given and truly implemented.
Should such new dynamics take place, then, the sad murder of a journalist would have served as a wake up call, and, after all, become truly a historical event.
Find out more on horizon scanning, signals, what they are and how to use them:
Read below our latest complimentary Weekly horizon scanning.
Each section of the scan focuses on signals related to a specific theme: world (international politics and geopolitics); economy; science; analysis, strategy and futures; AI, technology and weapons; energy and environment. However, in a complex world, categories are merely a convenient way to present information, when facts and events interact across boundaries.
The Weekly is the complimentary scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. It focuses on political and geopolitical uncertainty, on national and international security issues.
The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilising problems and issues.
Featured image: Antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes. The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, two companion galaxies to our own Milky Way galaxy, can be seen as bright smudges in the night sky, in the centre of the photograph. This photograph was produced by European Southern Observatory (ESO), ESO/C. Malin [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.