The murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October prompted much debate about the writer’s past affiliations and ideological inclinations.
Responding to President Donald Trump’s Tuesday statement on the killing, Katy Tur of MSNBC falsely claimed Khashoggi was never a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but he indisputably was a member and a lifelong proponent of its Islamist ideals. Acknowledging this truth does not in any way condone his death at the hands of Saudi agents.
Tur’s point was that everyone who mentions Khashoggi’s Brotherhood past, including President Trump, is attempting to justify his murder:
What they try to do is say that Jamal Khashoggi was not a good guy. They casually drop in that he – the Saudi Arabians say he was part of the Muslim Brotherhood and that he was an enemy of the state. Those two things are not true, and it’s interesting to put Saudi Arabian propaganda into a U.S. statement.
The relevant passage from President Trump’s statement on Tuesday read as follows: “Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an ‘enemy of the state’ and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime.”
Ryan Saavedra of the Daily Wire posted the Tur clip and noted that even the liberal Brookings Institute acknowledges Khashoggi was indeed a member of the Muslim Brotherhood:
MSNBC’s Katy Tur lies about foreign national Jamal Khashoggi, falsely claims that he was not part of the “Muslim Brotherhood”
The Brookings Institute: "Khashoggi had many friends among the Muslim Brotherhood and…had joined the movement himself as a young man" pic.twitter.com/68hlqFKTzD
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) November 20, 2018
The October 19 Brookings Institute post to which Saavedra referred, written by Senior Fellow Tamara Cofman Wittes, was critical of “pro-Saudi social media” and “right-wing commentators in the United States” who implied Khashoggi “was an extremist and that those who condemn his apparent murder are serving an Iranian agenda to break up the U.S.-Saudi alliance.”
The post is generally sympathetic to Katy Tur’s point of view on the Khashoggi murder and yet the very first substantive point made by Wittes is that Khashoggi did join the Muslim Brotherhood and everyone familiar with his work knows it. Far from being a “lie,” as Tur falsely stated, Khashoggi’s Brotherhood membership was a fact so widely known that it scarcely deserved mentioning:
Yes, Jamal Khashoggi had many friends among the Muslim Brotherhood and, as his colleague David Ignatius reported days after his disappearance, had joined the movement himself as a young man before apparently shifting away from it later in his career. No one who knew Jamal at all is surprised by these facts, no matter with what lurid framing they are now “revealed.” Whatever sympathies and associations he may have had, they do not change the apparent fact that Jamal Khashoggi was kidnapped, murdered, and dismembered to silence his freedom of expression.
Those on the right who have spent decades fighting for free speech on campus will leap to tell you, correctly, that freedom of speech demands respect regardless of the political valance of the views espoused—and that protecting the expression of unpopular views that challenge current political correctness is the acid test for the security of this right overall. So even if you believe that Jamal Khashoggi was a full-bore Brotherhood member with an agenda of Islamization for the Arab world, you should still condem his apparent assassination for the crime of speaking his mind.
The David Ignatius column cited by Wittes was posted on October 12 at the Washington Post, which was understandably concerned by the ominous disappearance of its contributor. Like Wittes, Ignatius strove to paint Khashoggi as a changed man who had a fiery youth but mellowed with age and became a worldly journalist instead of an Islamist agitator, but he did not deny Khashoggi’s past:
Khashoggi’s intellectual interests were shaped in his early 20s when he studied in the United States and was also a passionate member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The brotherhood was a secret underground fraternity that wanted to purge the Arab world of the corruption and autocratic rule it saw as a legacy of Western colonialism. Khashoggi was hardly alone in this belief.
The flavor of that period in Khashoggi’s life was captured by Lawrence Wright, a journalist for the New Yorker who met him in Saudi Arabia more than 15 years ago. In his book “The Looming Tower,” Wright quotes Khashoggi about the brotherhood’s appeal: “We were hoping to establish an Islamic state anywhere. We believed that the first one would lead to another, and that would have a domino effect which could reverse the history of mankind.”
Bin Laden joined the brotherhood at about the same time Khashoggi did, in the late 1970s, says Wright. The two men shared a passion for the mujahideen’s war in Afghanistan, first against the Soviet Union and later for power in Kabul. Khashoggi was covering the war as a journalist, but he was clearly sympathetic to the cause.
This argument is really about whether Khashoggi was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or supporter of its ideals at the time of his death. There is no question he was a member in his youth and the association persisted for a very long time. Those who claim he was never a member and never espoused Islamist ideals are lying. Their goal is to question the motives of those who insist on the truth, but the real question is why they seem to feel condemning Khashoggi’s murder while being honest about his ideology is impossible.
As to what Khashoggi believed at the time of his death, he left a copious body of work behind expressing his views. He defended the Muslim Brotherhood as a force for democratic reform in the Arab world and criticized U.S. policymakers for their irrational “aversion” to the organization. The title of his August 28 post was “The U.S. Is Wrong About the Muslim Brotherhood – and the Arab World Is Suffering For It.”
And yes, as of three months ago, Khashoggi was still a true believer in the Brotherhood’s philosophy of Islamism and firmly convinced most of the Arab world shared his beliefs:
There can be no political reform and democracy in any Arab country without accepting that political Islam is a part of it. A significant number of citizens in any given Arab country will give their vote to Islamic political parties if some form of democracy is allowed. It seems clear then that the only way to prevent political Islam from playing a role in Arab politics is to abolish democracy, which essentially deprives citizens of their basic right to choose their political representatives.
Claiming that Khashoggi turned his back on the Muslim Brotherhood is absurd. The real argument here is about the nature of the Brotherhood itself. Most of the commentators lying about Khashoggi’s association with the MB are simply taking cheap shots at President Trump or parroting former President Barack Obama’s pro-Iran foreign policy agenda, but some of them are interested in whitewashing the Brotherhood and pushing Khashoggi’s view of it as a benevolent organization. They claim Jamal Khashoggi outgrew the Brotherhood, but what they’re really saying is that the Brotherhood grew and evolved along with him.
It is also transparently ridiculous to deny Khashoggi was a political activist with hostile intentions toward the current Saudi government. He spent the last year working on setting up an advocacy group called Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) that wished to continue the “Arab Spring” spirit of revolution across the Middle East. He was raising funds for DAWN at the time of his disappearance.
Again, Khashoggi’s activism was no excuse for abducting or murdering him, but pretending he was a disinterested journalist without ideological ambitions or political connections is profoundly dishonest. It is not necessary to agree with his agenda to condemn his death. It is also unnecessary to pretend he didn’t have one.