How to honor Jamal Khashoggi

How to honor Jamal Khashoggi
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In the wake of the headlines about the brazen murder of Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, we initiated in our private capacity an online petition that calls for renaming the street immediately in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington the “Jamal Khashoggi Way.” At the moment, the petition has been electronically signed by nearly 2,500 individuals. As the introduction to the petition indicates, there are two principled reasons behind our idea to publicly set this forward.

First, it is important for the Saudi government and its leadership to be reminded, and our American government to assert, that such behavior is unacceptable. It is unacceptable under international law and, even more fundamentally, it is a gross violation of basic human norms. Requiring Saudi officials to come to work every day at “Jamal Khashoggi Way” is one simple way to get this point across in a daily and concrete fashion.

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Second, Khashoggi was an opinion contributor to the Washington Post. The point of our petition is not to suggest we agreed with everything he wrote. We leave that discussion to experts more knowledgeable about Saudi affairs than we. That said, our critical point is that a journalist associated with a major American newspaper was murdered because his writings apparently offended the current Saudi leadership. His murder is an assault on the core American principle of freedom of the press.

We are not so naive as to think that renaming a street will cause a sea change in Washington policymaking circles when it comes to Saudi Arabia. But we do think that this step would be both a lasting and important reminder to the Saudi government that Americans think such behavior is beyond the pale and, no less important, a reminder to the Washington community that “strategic partnerships” with autocratic states will rarely, if never, be without compromises to our liberal values.

We are of course gratified that so many have signed the petition and do hope that it leads to the District of Columbia Council taking the proposal up. But, as The Hill and other media outlets have suggested, we are not activists. We are policy scholars at two distinct Washington think tanks. Our jobs are tied to putting forward the best policy proposals that we can rather than lobbying for them. That is for others to do and why we were careful not to put our institutional affiliations next to our names.

We also note that others have taken up this proposal as a good idea, such as Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations. As he is reported to have said in an event in London, imagine if their mail had to be sent to “Jamal Khashoggi Way” or that their business cards included such an address. But to be clear, our petition and the statement of principles it is intended to support was, and remains, our idea. We want those signing the petition to be clear about that fact.

As Washington insiders know, in our professional capacity, we work at two think tanks that, more often than not, are in considerable disagreement over policy issues, though many might be surprised by how many times scholars at the two institutions actually do work together. To their credit, our think tanks do not try to micromanage what we write, let alone think.

That is why, in addition to being friends for nearly two decades, we were able to come together in this instance to support what we believe are principles that transcend the everyday policy disputes in Washington. Our intent here is straightforward. Renaming the street in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy the “Jamal Khashoggi Way” is the right thing to do.

Michael Werz is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and Gary Schmitt is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.