December 14, 2011

Just when you think the Saudis have learned....

Beheading in Saudi Arabia

Over the last almost four decades, I have tried to give the Saudis the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their attempts to throw off the bonds of ultra-conservative Islam and embrace some semblance of modernity in what we Middle East specialists like to (somewhat derisively) call "the Magic Kingdom." I have served in Saudi Arabia many times in a variety of positions, including being a liaison officer to the Saudi armed forces and as General Norman Schwarzkopf's Arabic-language interpreter during Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Try as I might to see the Saudi positions on some of their ways, they do not make it easy.

Some of the Saudi positions are puzzling - for example, the prohibition on women driving in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world with this restriction. For a discussion on that, see my article, "Women driving in Saudi Arabia? I give up." (May 2011)

The women's driving issue, however, pales when compared to the recent beheading of individuals - regardless of gender - for sorcery and witchcraft, sometimes even referred to as "black magic." In 2007, an Egyptian pharmacist was beheaded for sorcery, sparking international outrage. In 2010 when a Lebanese television personality was sentenced to be beheaded for the same crime, the Saudi government caved in to world opinion and stayed the execution; the man remains in prison for the "crime." I discussed this in my earlier article - "Saudi Arabia - What century are we in here?" (April 2010)

Evidently, the Saudis have not changed their position on beheading people convicted of sorcery. In September of this year, a Sudanese man was beheaded in the the city of Medina (al-Madinah al-Munawarah) after being convicted of sorcery. As an aside, Amnesty International claims that the number of executions overall had tripled from 27 in 2010 to 79 thus far in 2011.

It continues. Witch hunting has become institutionalized in Saudi Arabia - the country's religious police now have an Anti-Witchcraft Unit and a sorcery hotline. On December 12, a woman named Aminah bint 'Abd al-Halim bin Salim Nasr was beheaded in the al-Jawf region of northern Saudi Arabia after being convicted of sorcery and witchcraft.

Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islamic law. Here is an interesting story/interview by Lebanese television on beheadings and Saudi Arabia's most famous executioner.

As I said before - execution by beheading for witchcraft and sorcery? What century is this?