[Marxism] What a Murder by Mussolini Teaches Us About Khashoggi and M.B.S.

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Oct 24 07:29:31 MDT 2018


NY Times Op-Ed, Oct. 24, 2018
What a Murder by Mussolini Teaches Us About Khashoggi and M.B.S.

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudis has striking parallels with 
the murder of the Italian socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti by Fascist 
thugs.

By Alexander Stille

(Mr. Stille teaches journalism at Columbia University.)

In the weeks after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in 
Istanbul, a question has been repeatedly asked: How could the Saudi 
crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, be so reckless as to sanction this 
horrifying murder carried out in such a clumsy and shameless fashion?

The answer, I think, is that dictatorships are inherently obtuse. 
Dictators live in their own self-created bubble of adulation and 
impunity, which leads them to huge misjudgments when they are forced to 
act outside of the bubble.

The premeditated and coldblooded murder of Mr. Khashoggi by the Saudis 
has striking parallels with the premeditated and coldblooded murder of 
the Italian socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti by Fascist thugs 
operating on the orders of Benito Mussolini.

On the afternoon of June 10, 1924, Mr. Matteotti was walking in Rome 
when a group of Fascists grabbed him and stuffed him into a waiting car. 
Two months later, his decomposed body was found about 12 miles away.

Several days before his abduction, Mr. Matteotti had delivered an 
impassioned speech denouncing widespread fraud and violence committed by 
the Fascists during national elections two months earlier. He was 
scheduled to give another speech when Parliament reopened the day after 
his disappearance.

The murder of a prominent critic of Fascism shocked Italy and the world. 
Before Mr. Matteotti’s disappearance and murder, Italy’s democratic 
allies had been prepared to believe that despite Mussolini’s violent 
rise to power, he intended to respect the rules and freedoms of 
parliamentary democracy.

For some months, while an official investigation took place, Mussolini’s 
political survival as the prime minister seemed to hang in the balance, 
as evidence accumulated that Mr. Matteotti’s killers were part of a hit 
squad operating under the control and acting on the orders of the prime 
minister’s office.

Mussolini survived the crisis because of the weakness and division of 
his political opposition, because Victor Emmanuel III, Italy’s king, who 
had invited Mussolini to form a government, was reluctant to risk a 
“leap in the dark” by demanding his resignation.

Mussolini was also saved by the complicity of foreign allies and 
international public opinion to accept the implausible explanation that 
Mr. Matteotti’s killers were Fascist hotheads who had acted on the spur 
of the moment, to “teach him a lesson,” and killed him accidentally.

Then, as now, there were even powerful oil interests in the affair — 
possible payments to Mussolini’s brother Arnaldo Mussolini, the Jared 
Kushner figure of the situation — that contributed to the consensus to 
“get over” the brutal killing.

Then too, the reaction of near-universal horror to the Matteotti killing 
was surprising since violence had been a consistent feature of Fascism. 
The thugs who killed Mr. Matteotti had already used violence, 
intimidation and fraud during the 1924 elections that gave Mussolini a 
majority in Parliament. The world — and most middle-class Italians — 
credited Mussolini with preventing a Bolshevik-style revolution in Italy 
and was prepared to overlook what it took to be a little residual 
violence that it assumed would fade away after Mussolini started wearing 
the bowler hat and spats of a respectable politician.

Italy was still a half-functioning democracy, and that helped expose the 
murder and the lies deployed during the attempts at a cover-up. 
Eyewitness had seen Mr. Matteotti being forced into a car. An elderly 
couple had seen the killers’ Lancia automobile as they staked out Mr. 
Matteotti’s house in the days before the kidnapping and wrote down the 
license plate.

The police found the car’s upholstery covered in Mr. Matteotti’s blood. 
He had been stabbed repeatedly and his body mutilated. A comparatively 
independent initial investigation linked the killers to Mussolini’s 
office, where one of his top aides, Cesare Rossi, directed his press 
office and ran Ceka Fascista, the private hit squad named after Cheka, 
the Bolshevik predecessor of the K.G.B.

Mr. Matteotti was killed before his parliamentary speech because he had 
been gathering evidence and planning to expose corruption in the 
assigning of a major oil concession by Mussolini’s highly personalized 
government to an American company, Sinclair Oil.

Mussolini got the case transferred to more cooperative investigators who 
concluded that the Matteotti killing had been unplanned and involuntary. 
The passage of time, the dithering of the Italian political class, the 
self-interest of foreign governments and the complicity of the 
international press helped Mussolini survive.

A remarkable new book, “La Scoperta dell’Italia,” by the Italian 
historian Mauro Canali, describes how the Fascists manipulated foreign 
journalists during the Matteotti crisis. At the time, two of the most 
important media outlets in Italy, The Associated Press and The New York 
Times, were locally headed by a father-son team, Salvatore and Arnaldo 
Cortesi, who were Italian citizens and ardent Fascist supporters.

Mr. Rossi, the Mussolini aide who directed the hit squad, fled to Paris, 
and to avoid taking the fall for the murder, he offered The New York 
Times documentation implicating Mussolini. But the paper refused the 
offer both because Mr. Rossi wanted $15,000 in return and because the 
journalists were reluctant to accept the notion of Mussolini as a 
political assassin.

Mr. Rossi made a deal with The New York World, and Arnaldo Cortesi 
published a long piece in The Times attempting to deflect blame from 
Mussolini and discredit the Rossi revelations. His piece ran with the 
headline “Rossi ‘Revelations’ Fall Flat in Italy; Why Former Associate’s 
Charges Against Mussolini in the Matteotti Murder Failed. Premeditation 
Disproved.”

And soon, most of the world was happy to move on and do business with 
Mussolini, who proceeded to consolidate his dictatorship. Getting away 
with murder wasn’t good for Mussolini or Italy, feeding his sense of 
dangerous omnipotence. While he was extremely shrewd in judging and 
dealing with his internal opponents, he made one catastrophic mistake 
after the other in foreign policy. He vastly underestimated England and 
the United States, failed to listen to his advisers about the 
unpreparedness of Italy’s war machine and believed his own rhetoric 
about Italy’s being a nation of “eight million bayonets.” Dictators 
rarely end well.

This might offer lessons as to why the Saudis had the chutzpah to murder 
Mr. Khashoggi in Istanbul. The Congress and the global press must avoid 
the mistakes made during the Matteotti affair.

A paunchy, middle-aged journalist does not take on 15 Saudi agents in a 
fistfight, and you don’t bring a forensic doctor and a bone saw to the 
interrogation of a political dissident. If Mr. Khashoggi had been killed 
accidentally, the Saudis could hand over his body and it would come out 
in an autopsy. The Saudi failure to produce his body is a virtual 
admission of premeditated murder.

Alexander Stille, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, is 
the author of “Benevolence and Betrayal: Five Italian Jewish Families 
Under Fascism.”




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