Lawrence Wright Reflects On Friend Jamal Khashoggi’s Work As A Journalist And Dissident

Wright says Khashoggi had always advocated for democracy in the Arab world, but that he became more outspoken about it later in life.

By Rhonda FanningOctober 19, 2018 12:35 pm

The day after Jamal Khashoggi was reported missing in Istanbul, the global editor of The Washington Post received what appears to be Khashoggi’s final piece for the paper for which he was a columnist. The editor at the Post held off publishing it in hopes she could talk with Khashoggi and they could edit it together. Resigned to the likelihood that Khashoggi was killed while inside the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, the Post published the column Thursday. In it, the U.S. resident and Saudi dissident makes an impassioned plea for the world to take note of what he describes as an iron curtain falling across the Arab world, threatening freedom of the press and those who’ve tried to advance it. It’s a sober and chilling read, especially in light of Khashoggi’s apparent torture and alleged killing directed by the Saudi government.

In March, Khashoggi was a guest on one of KUT’s Views and Brews events, and he spoke about his disappointments following 2011’s Arab Spring:

“I think the true freedom is the freedom to choose a leader – that is the true freedom: the freedom to choose my destiny. Unfortunately, many in the Arab world, in republics and kingdoms, they think the people of the Arab world are not ready yet for that prerogative, for that luxury of choosing their own leader. That’s why we have civil wars,” Khashoggi said.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Texas journalist Lawrence Wright has reported from the Arab world and was a friend of Khashoggi’s. Wright also wrote the recently published book “The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State.” Wright joined us in the Texas Standard studio.

Wright on Khashoggi taking aim at the Saudi regime and other monarchies and dictatorships:

His position has gradually hardened over time. He was making a statement at that Views and Brews meeting; that means democracy and that means the royal family takes a back seat. He had advocated for democracy but not as as strongly as he was beginning to at the end of his life.

On the Saudi government’s fear of Khashoggi’s position and his reporting:

He went into exile because he was afraid. He had to leave his family. He left his job. He left his friends. This was actually his second period of exile, but he knew he was in danger. Shortly after he left, the crown prince rounded up hundreds of princes, intellectuals and clerics and imprisoned them in the Ritz Carlton. Some are still imprisoned without any trial or anything. There were reports of people being tortured, there was [a report of one] general being tortured to death. Yes, had Jamal been in the kingdom at the time, he was quite certain that he would have been one of the ones that had been rounded up. He knew he was under suspicion, and he knew it would be too dangerous for him to ever return to Saudi Arabia.

On Khashoggi’s final piece for The Washington Post:

What he was calling for was free press in the Arab world. I worked in the Arab press; I know exactly what the boundaries are. I was told quite explicitly when I was trying to mentor these young reporters, “You can’t talk about the royal family. You can’t talk about religion. You can’t criticize any of the imams.” These are the boundaries. In a way, what was most frightening to the censors of the press was facts, not opinions.

On threats and safety concerns for journalists in Saudi Arabia:

I try not to think about those things. You can get too paranoid and not able to do the story. I could see the things when I was there in 2003. I could see that things were heating up. Indeed, right after I left, the al-Qaida attacks on housing compounds began. I did change the car occasionally, I varied my routine, but essentially you can’t let those things preoccupy you. You trust your instincts, but you have to be there and do your job.


Written by Brooke Vincent.