General knowledge question: which country . . .
1) practices public beheading of convicted criminals
2) has a government which had close links to the 9/11 hijackers
3) invaded a neighbouring country last year
4) has, in the past year, killed hundreds of civilians, including children, by bombing hospitals
5) forbids its citizens from becoming Christians, bans the selling of Bibles, and tolerates no church buildings on its territory?
1. Only one country in the world practices public beheading.
Four countries in the world practice public execution. Of these, only one uses beheading as its standard method.
Here’s a story published last August by MintPress News:
“In January, a Muslim woman from Myanmar screamed “I did not kill” and pled with her attackers for mercy, but they showed none. In the center of an intersection, she was publicly beheaded in front of spectators, her death caught covertly on video.
It’s the kind of horrifying tableau that has become almost commonplace in Western media, as it plays out each time ISIS claims its latest victims. But this woman, Laila Bint Abdul Muttalib Basim, wasn’t a victim of ISIS, but one of 110 prisoners executed by Saudi Arabia so far this year. In fact, this U.S. ally has beheaded almost twice as many prisoners as ISIS in 2015 and may be on pace to achieve a record-breaking number of executions.”
While I don’t know if it is true that Saudi Arabia was beheading more people than ISIS in 2015 (I doubt that anyone knows how many people ISIS has beheaded), what we do know is that Saudi Arabia does behead people in public, and it beheads plenty of them. The Guardian reported earlier this year that
“According to data collected by Amnesty International, at least 151 people were executed in Saudi Arabia between January and November 2015 , while Human Rights Watch recorded 158in total during the year. The figures mark the highest number of recorded executions in one year since 1995, when 192 people were killed. It also marks a 67% increase on the 90 in 2014. Saudi Arabia does not release its own figures on the number of people it executes.”
2. The Saudi government had several rather unexpected links to some of the 9/11 hijackers.
Most press and media reaction to last month’s release of the previously classified 28 pages of the US government’s 9/11 Commission Report have given the impression that they proved conclusively that the Saudi government had no involvement. For example, the BBC‘s angle was “The White House has said previously classified papers concerning the 9/11 attacks released on Friday show there had been no official Saudi role. ”
The Guardian was more cautious:
“This information does not change the assessment of the US government that there’s no evidence that the Saudi government or senior Saudi individuals funded al-Qaida,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary. “The number one takeaway from this should be that this administration is committed to transparency even when it comes to sensitive information related to national security.” The publication, awaited for 13 years, will not necessarily end speculation around Saudi influence, however.
However, if you really want to know what was in the 28 pages, a report by independent journalist Larisa Alexandrovna Horton (which goes into much more detail than the BBC or the Guardian) concludes that “The 28 Pages make it clear that the hijackers had handlers who were reporting to, funded by and taking directions from figures at the highest levels of the Saudi government.” Read it yourself. It makes very interesting reading.
3. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen.
Admittedly, Yemen was already in a state of civil war when Saudi Arabia went in, so it’s not the case that they invaded a peaceful country and brought chaos. However, what has happened since the invasion indicates that Saudi Arabia is not only not bringing peace or stability – it is doing some pretty shocking things. Which brings us to . . .
4. In the past year, Saudi Arabia has killed hundreds of civilians in Yemen, by, among other things, bombing hospitals.
According to CNBC, “U.N. investigators say that air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition are responsible for two thirds of the 3,200 civilians who have died in Yemen, or approximately 2,000 deaths. They said that Saudi forces have killed twice as many civilians as other forces in Yemen.”
The United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Johannes van der Klaauw, said Sunday that coalition strikes over the weekend had targeted schools and hospitals, in breach of international law.
According to Reuters, “The U.N. report on children and armed conflict – released last Thursday – said the [Saudi-led] coalition was responsible for 60 percent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen last year, killing 510 and wounding 667, and half the attacks on schools and hospitals.”
According to Medecins Sans Frontiers “Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces have carried out a series of air strikes targeting schools that were still in use, in violation of international humanitarian law, and hampering access to education for thousands of Yemen’s children, said Amnesty International in a new briefing published today. The coalition forces are armed by states including the USA and UK.” Note the word “targeting”. MSF seems to be saying that Saudi Arabia is deliberately attacking schools.
And from the Red Cross: “The International Committee of the Red Cross says Saudi war planes have targeted hospitals in Yemen, killing staff and wounding patients.”
5. Saudi Arabia is one of the worst countries in the world for freedom of religion
Saudi law requires all its citizens to be Muslims. It is illegal for anyone to publicly practice any faith other than the state’s official religion Sunni Islam. Members of other faiths can worship privately, but non-Muslim houses of worship may not be built. The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, otherwise known as Saudi’s morality or religious police, enforce Shariah law on the streets. Apostasy and blasphemy against Sunni Islam can be punished by death, as several high-profile Twitter cases have reminded global media in recent years.
Saudi Arabia does not just have a poor record for freedom of religion – it is one of the worst in the world for every kind of freedom. According to Freedom house, of the 55 countries and territories designated as “Not Free”, 12 have been given the worst possible rating of 7 for both political rights and civil liberties. That makes Saudi Arabia one of the 12 most repressive countries in the world.
For example, Reuters reports that in October 2014, three lawyers were sentenced to up to eight years in prison for using Twitter to criticize the Ministry of Justice. One man, Raif Badawi, was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison for using his blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics.
According to The Independent, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 aged either 16 or 17 for participating in protests during the Arab spring. His sentence includes beheading and crucifixion. The international community has spoken out against the punishment and has called on Saudi Arabia to stop. He is the nephew of a prominent government dissident.
What is going on?
To be honest, I find this shocking. In the past 15 years, the USA, with the help of the UK, has invaded and brought down the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, sent in bombers to help bring down the government of Libya, and has made attempted, by the use of air power, to bring down the government of Syria.
But here is a regime which, like ISIS (but unlike Iraq, Syria, and Libya), practices public beheading. Here is a regime that has invaded a neighbouring country, bombing hospitals and schools and killing hundreds of civilians, including children, in apparent violation of international law. Here is a regime which has an appalling record of repression of its own citizens. But despite all these things, it remains on remarkably good terms with the governments of the US and the UK.
The fact that the Saudi government had several strange and remarkably close links with some of the 9/11 hijackers is particularly interesting. Iraq, Syria, and Libya – countries that America attacked as part of its “War on Terrorism” – had no such links. These links don’t conclusively prove anything. But one suspects that if any other country in the Middle East had such close links to the hijackers, the US would have invaded it.
Furthermore, in terms of freedom of religion (and in particular, freedom for Christians), Libya under Gaddafi was better than Saudi Arabia – and Iraq under Hussein and Syria under Assad were much better.
And yet, despite Saudi Arabia’s appalling record on so many fronts – a record that in many ways is worse than countries that the US and UK governments have attacked and bombed – the American and British governments keep on supporting it. The response of the White House to the release of the 28 pages is pretty typical.
Despite the fact that those pages raise huge questions, the White House is at pains to say that there is no evidence that the Saudi government or senior Saudi individuals funded al-Qaida.
Despite the fact that there Amnesty International, Medecins Sans Frontiers, the UN, and the Red Cross are concerned at the way that Saudi forces are attacking schools and hospitals, the British Foreign Secretary insists that Saudi actions comply with humanitarian law – despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.
And, perhaps more interestingly, the amount of press coverage of Saudi Arabia’s behaviour is remarkably limited. Yes, there is some. But it is not on the front pages, and it is rarely in the TV news headlines, where, instead, we get things like intruders trying to climb into Buckingham Palace and Peter Sutcliffe being moved from Broadmoor Hospital to an ordinary prison.
One wonders how many people in the west actually care.