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Saudi state media is going after Sean Penn now that he decided to do documentary on Jamal Khashoggi

In doing so, they oddly blend Trumpian rhetoric with the musings of an abandoned, lightly-read blog.

Sean Penn makes a speech for the Action Day during the 21st Session Of Conference On Climate Change on December 5, 2015 in Paris, France.  CREDIT: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images.
Sean Penn makes a speech for the Action Day during the 21st Session Of Conference On Climate Change on December 5, 2015 in Paris, France. CREDIT: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images.

Mired in what can only be termed as an international scandal and a total PR disaster owing to its murder of a dissident journalist and attempt to cover it up with a flurry of lies, Saudi Arabia chose on Wednesday to focus its strategy on… Sean Penn?

An unbylined piece that ran in state media Al Arabiya on Wednesday asked “Is Muslim Brotherhood using Sean Penn again, this time on a Khashoggi film?” Theh pieced noted that the actor/director/foreign policy dabbler is currently in Turkey, interviewing Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, and working on a documentary on the journalist’s slaying.

The brief article — which was not reported in a tabloid, but in state media — is mostly straightforward. But then, as promised by the headline, here it comes:

“Penn is very pro-refugee, which is aligned to the ‘demographic Jihad’ promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood, according to wordpress.com.”

The “again” in the headline is a reference to a 2016 blogpost on WordPress (posted by a writer who goes by Iakovos Alhadeff — an author with a fondness for conspiracy theories and extremism), connecting Penn’s visit to deceased Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez with the Muslim Brotherhood. The article on Al Arabiya, in fact, pretty much repeats Alhadeff’s “demographic Jihad” claim, almost verbatim, and even uses one of the photos used in the blog.

The oddity of focusing on Penn, and mistaking WordPress (a platform) for a publication aside, this story weaves in President Donald Trump’s rhetoric into the flailing Saudi effort to deflect blame from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (or, MBS, as he’s known) for Khashoggi’s death.

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President Trump is increasingly alone in defending MBS — the CIA has issued a report concluding with a high degree of certainty that the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing, and U.S. lawmakers believe it.

The Senate recently passed a bill that would see the United States ceasing its military support for the Saudi coalition siding with the Yemeni government in a civil war that has seen thousands of civilians killed.

Trump, like Saudi authorities, believes that the Muslim Brotherhood — a political, Islamic movement taking different shapes in different countries — is a terrorist organization.

The connection between between being “pro-refugee” and aligned to some kind of “jihad” is one made by the far right in the United States, certainly including Trump, who has slapped various Muslim countries — not Saudi Arabia, though — on his (Muslim) travel ban.

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Just what the Muslim Brotherhood has to do with Khashoggi’s death (other than his affiliation with them making him a target for the Saudis) is unclear. But Al Arabiya keeps trying to make that connection.

In another unbylined piece last month, Al Arabiya pointed the finger at anyone — a reporter, an eyewitness, and even Cengiz, in an attempt to somehow link Khashoggi’s death to Qatar, which supports the Muslim Brotherhood.

Saudi media has not strayed from a nationalistic line, largely claiming that the Gulf Arab kingdom is being targeted by enemies in a nefarious plot that somehow required Khashoggi to be killed in Saudi’s own embassy by an official kill team of 15 on foreign soil.

Khashoggi, who was a Washington Post contributor, was killed when he went to the Saudi embassy in In Istanbul for paperwork he needed to marry his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, on October 2. His body has not yet been found, but is reported to have been dismembered.