Saudi Arabia: Holy hypocrites
I was born in Saudi Arabia and am very closely accustomed to the grossly odd laws that exist within the nation, namely, and perhaps most famously, that women are not allowed to drive, that women have to don the black abaya when in public and that there is strict segregation between men and women most stringently enforced by the muttawas or religious police.
I distinctly remember a muttawa once giving my mother a religious lecture over how she should contain her eight-year-old daughter and stop her from running around in case she attracted men. A complete absurdity indeed but my mother had to obey instead of facing their wrath. They fed on fear, intimidation and being the supposed ‘guardians’ of Islam.
However, Saudi Arabia is a land of blatant hypocrisy and double standards. This becomes crystal clear when you see how the Saudi authorities mete out capital punishment at the drop of a hat and often without solid evidence. Two very disturbing reports have emerged this week of how Saudi Arabia has maintained their status of being “guardians of Islam”. A Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi, was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, which are carried out in a piecemeal fashion of 50 lashes every Friday. His crime? Being a blogger and running a secular website aptly labelled Free Saudi Liberals.
The second story, and this is far more disturbing, is of a Burmese-origin lady, Laila Bint Abdul Muttalib Basim, who was dragged in the streets of the holy city of Makkah and brazenly beheaded for allegedly sexually assaulting and murdering her step-daughter. A charge the lady vehemently denied right up until her demise, with her screaming “I did not kill, I did not kill” and three police officers holding her down while the punishment was carried out in an extremely sadistic manner. According to The Independent, a video showing how the execution took place has now been removed by YouTube as part of its policy on “shocking and disgusting content”. No evidence of her involvement in the death has ever been provided.
Even if the said crime was proven, was this ghastly method of execution not worse than the death penalty itself? Why was the execution made public in this manner? Why was it performed in a city that is held to be the most sacred city for Muslims around the world? Why was it so important for the Saudi officials to exhibit their power and authority in this manner? This execution has set a rather significant symbolic precedent and it is no wonder that the world at large refutes the claim that ‘Islam is a religion of peace’. With custodians like these, Islam does not need enemies.
Let’s not forget of the hundreds of Pakistanis who are labelled as drug mules by the Saudi authorities and beheaded on a regular basis. Who is to know of their innocence or guilt without any questioning or appeal?
I do not wish to go into the nuances and detail of Sharia Law as I am not qualified to comment, however, I am aware that in Sharia Law the person charged with an offence must be given the chance to defend themselves. If they do admit their guilt, they are offered the chance to give blood-money to the aggrieved party, failing which, capital punishment is carried out. Saudi lawmakers offer little assistance when outsiders question the tactics and decision making that is used to carry out such heinous punishments. Also, a country which is so keen to follow Islam verbatim fails to explain why the ruling party is a monarchy, a form of government which is not allowed in Islam. Herein starts the hypocrisy.
Saudi Arabia is a strange dichotomy within the Middle East. Being the largest provider of oil in the world and also being custodians of the two most holy sites to Muslims worldwide, it has to balance the competing interests of the civilised world and yet ensure that the local population remains repressed and highly regulated through the use of a stringent interpretation of Islam. Any person who dare voice any opposition is swiftly rebutted, imprisoned, lashed or beheaded on the basis of “disturbing the peace of Islam”. The highly ironic thing is that Saudi Arabia is the largest provider of oil to the United States, the latter country regularly carries out drone strikes in other Muslim countries and is a staunch supporter of Israel, a country which Saudi Arabia refuses to recognise. While Raif’s flogging may be used to serve as a way to silence any home-grown dissension, it also goes to show that this blatant hypocrisy is something the local population is no longer willing to ignore.
Saudi Arabia cannot exist in a vacuum anymore. The global dynamics have changed so drastically and swiftly that such disgusting and abhorrent executions must stop. However, what can be expected from a country’s religious authorities which just last week decided that making snowmen is “haram” in Islam? The good news is that international pressure brought about media attention has resulted in Raif’s weekly floggings being stopped on “medical grounds”. He was the lucky one but unfortunately for individuals like Laila, very little help will be available. What Saudi must remember is that the wheels are turning, slowly but surely.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.