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Was Jamal Khashoggi Inspired by Kahlil Gibran?

posted on: Oct 17, 2018

By: Warren David, President, Arab America

With all the media reports this past week regarding Jamal Khashoggi, I can’t help but reflect on my relationship with him as a colleague in the media and a man of principle and integrity.

Being in the media, and more specifically, covering the Arab American community, I was aware of Jamal for many years, during his tenure as a reporter and editor. I read about him and his initiatives at several media organizations in the Middle East. So it was a treat for me when I unexpectedly met him at a Washington DC Arab conference in the fall of 2015.

We spoke about Arab America, its impact in America, the Arab World, and the notion of free media

Jamal could speak from experience. He was the editor in chief of the Al-Arab News Channel, owned by Saudi prince and philanthropist, Al Waleed bin Talal Abdulaziz al Saud. After the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, Prince Waleed founded the channel which would focus on freedom of speech and democratic media.

In February of 2015, Al-Arab News Channel debuted in Bahrain under the leadership of Jamal Khashoggi. On the first day of broadcast, the opposition leader of Bahrain’s uprisings was interviewed.  Shockingly, within a couple of hours, the channel’s closure was announced. After searching for a new location, and securing a home for the network in Qatar, Jamal was ready to initiate broadcasting with the new network but was informed by Prince Al Waleed in February 2017 that the channel would never open.

Jamal and I kept in touch by email and was very happy to see him at a symposium sponsored by the Arab Center in Washington DC where he spoke about the new reforms in Saudi Arabia and the challenges incurred by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud, also known as MBS. In his talk, he affirmed how proud he was of his country and the new initiatives to combat corruption.  He expressed interest in moving Saudi Arabia forward but questioned the methods of MBS in achieving those goals.

We kept in touch and decided to get together after repeatedly trying to coordinate our schedules.  It was at the end of this past August when we finally met for lunch at Clyde’s Chinatown in Washington DC.

We talked about the importance of media and what he felt was a critical role Arab America played as a digital portal for Arab Americans and Americans at large.

Jamal looked me in the eye and seriously asked: “Did you know the impact Kahlil Gibran had at the turn of the last century on the literary movement in the Arab world?”

The Pen League’s four original founders shown in the photo (left to right: Nasib Arida, Kahlil Gibran, Abdul Massih Haddad, and Mikhail Naimy), the league’s members also included: Rashid Ayyoub, Wadih Bahout, William Katsifilis, Nudra Haddad, Elia Abu Madi, and Ameen Rihani. 

I assured him that I remembered reading about Gibran’s movement and the mission which was so eloquently stated through the Pen League’s (Al Rabitat al Qualamiyaat) objectives: “To lift Arabic literature from the quagmire of stagnation and imitation, and to infuse a new life into its veins so as to make of it an active force in the building up of the Arab nations.”

Jamal looked at me again with conviction and said, “What Gibran and the Pen League achieved at the turn of the last century, your Arab America can do the same in helping to promote democracy.”

At first, I was puzzled but then understood his analogy. He wanted Arab America to be an active voice in promoting democracy and the rebirth of the Arab nations just as Gibran wanted his literature to be an active force in the “building up” of the Arab nations.

Moreover, he recommended that we put together a group of Arab Americans to strategize and implement such an initiative.

We were excited about a possible collaboration with Arab America and departed each other with the promise to meet again, at Clyde’s after we both returned from our separate trips.

Unfortunately, the tragedy at the Saudi consulate in Turkey two weeks ago has shocked the world and silenced Jamal whose idea of promoting democracy in the Arab world is still ringing in my ears.