There was an article in the New York Times the other day about a 74 year old British man who’s been languishing in a Saudi prison for more than a year waiting for his sentence to be carried out. (In addition to his age, he has also some very serious health problems).
This man’s offense (you may want to stop reading now if graphic descriptions of crime offend you)… Alright then— this criminal’s transgression against morality and the state was that alcohol was found in his car! (We don’t know if it was a hip flask of Johnnie Walker or a bottle of Manichevitz Cream Concord. Anyway, he was allegedly caught with alcohol in his car).
So what, you say. What’s the problem—aside from keeping a man in prison for a year because he was illegally in possession of alcohol? The problem is that the alleged offender’s sentence is 350 lashes!
Not surprisingly, there is an international uproar—especially in England—about the arrest itself and the severity of the sentence. The man, who is a retired oil executive, has lived in Saudi Arabia for the last 25 years. According to the Times article, it’s not uncommon for foreigners to drink covertly. (Actually, the exact wording was “to consume alcohol”. When you have a drink, do you think of yourself as consuming it? “I believe that I will consume another shot of that excellent Vodka”. Sounds like the Cone-heads).
Moving on… So, this poor guy probably had been having his couple—or few—daily drinks the entire time he worked and lived in the Great Desert Paradise but it was just his bad luck that the alcohol consumption police nailed him this time around.
Obviously, 350 lashes would kill him. Probably 10 lashes would kill him. But, hey, the law’s the law, right?
In the end, because the whole world is watching them now, the Saudi government probably won’t carry out the sentence. The chilling fact remains that if no one knew about it, they would carry it out. They do this kind of thing all the time.
The Saudi’s “justice” system has long been criticized by human rights groups and various governments; rigged, secret trials, excessive sentences for what most of the rest of the world might consider a minor offense or no crime at all, and execution of juvenile offenders.
When someone is convicted (whatever “convicted” means in Saudi Arabia) of a very serious crime, like murder or arms smuggling, they’re executed, usually by beheading in a public square.Well, God bless ’em–at least they don’t sneak into some hidden room somewhere and inject faulty drugs into somebody strapped to a table. I say, if the state is going to kill people, chop their heads off in the town square.
…Here are some other offenses that are punishable (and have been punished) by flogging: Meeting members of the opposite sex who are not close relations, homosexuality, and driving if you are a woman. So, obviously, if you’re gay, or a female wanting to take a spin in your new car, or want to date somebody new, you might consider avoiding downtown Jiddah.
Crime and punishment in Saudi Arabia are defined by conservative clerics, applying the most rigid and unforgiving interpretation of Shariah law. Basically, the entire country’s conception and administration of what is a crime and the appropriate punishment to be meted out is roughly the same as it was in Salem Massachusetts in the late 1600’s.
All of this internal brutishness is in addition to the tens of thousands of religious elementary and secondary schools (Madrassahs) that the Saudis have funded all over the world for the last several decades; schools in which the most rigid, narrow-minded and belligerent brand of Islam is fed to millions of children day in and day out.
And the billion dollar, modern weapons systems that the USA routinely sells the Saudis are being used now in bombing towns and cities in Yemen—the Saudis having chosen sides in the Yemeni civil war. Hundreds of civilians in Yemen have died in these bombings. (And if the Saudis haven’t bothered to change the labels, these jets and bombs and attack helicopters and rockets knocking down buildings and ripping people apart probably have a stamp on them somewhere saying, “Made in the USA”. I wonder if the Israelis go to the trouble of getting rid of these labels?)
Also the Saudis fund—usually covertly—various other governments and groups of fighters in other countries who have little or no regard for the lives of average citizens.
And all of this behavior—internal and external—by the Saudi ruling class is inseparable from the gold-medal winning, Olympic-class hypocrisy of the Saudi royal family. (The estimated worth of the approximately 15,000 member Saudi royal family is approximately one Trillion dollars. The actual worth of the entire Saudi royal family is, by my own measurement, exactly 9.2 ounces of lukewarm camel feces).
…While these “royals” are allowing (actually encouraging) crazy mullahs to whip and jail women who attempt to drive cars, or to behead twelve-year-olds—or imprison sick old men because they have a bottle of liquor in their car—they (the royals) are off in Paris or Monaco or London or New York—or on their ten million dollar yachts, assaulting servants and hotel workers, paying for the highest priced call girls and boys, gambling, and drinking themselves into a stupor.
So here’s a question for you: Why does the United States have anything whatsoever to do with such a sick, backward, brutal Monarchy as Saudi Arabia?
Of course, the obvious answer is OIL and the vast amounts of money and business that flow with it into the USA; Oil exploration and pipeline companies, shipping and trucking companies, Saudi government investment in US Treasury bonds (how else can we afford to stay another ten years in Afghanistan)? The Saudi royals and other Saudi millionaires and billionaires are prominent consumers of luxuries; yachts, jewelry, sky-high condominiums, five-star hotels, etc. They also speculate in American real-estate and make huge investments in American corporations.
And then there are the weapons sales to Saudi Arabia—Over the years, tens of billions of dollars-worth of jets, helicopters, bombs, missiles, rockets, tanks and armored personnel carriers; munitions, small arms—and who knows what else.
The American industries and companies supplying the Saudis with all these goods and services provide jobs for hundreds of thousands of American workers, from hotel chamber-maids to highly skilled, highly paid oil drilling technicians and fighter jet design engineers. So it’s not so simple to just break off relations with the Saudi monarchy—treat them like the bigoted, backward, violent hypocrites they are.
But I’ve read numerous articles recently that point out that the USA is “glutted” with oil (and gas) from all the offshore drilling and fracking on land. So, do we really need Saudi oil anymore? Maybe it’s a better grade of oil—I don’t know… For decades it was an accepted fact of international life (or at least a basic political selling point) that we had to keep kissing the Saudi’s asses and selling them weapons because we desperately needed their oil. But if don’t need it so any more, why is the US government still so accommodating to the Saudis?
And what percentage of US arms sales (we far outpace the rest of the world in that category) go to Saudi Arabia? Couldn’t we continue arming all the other dictatorships in the world and absorb the loss of the Saudi share of the business?
…Well, when it comes to business issues, I’m way out of my depth, so I will just let that all be for now.
I’ll just wind up with a final question:
Do our stated political, moral and legal principles, like separation of church and state, free speech, elimination of cruel and unusual punishment and equal rights—Do these principles cease to exist once the USA travels beyond its own borders?
My memory is not as good as it used to be, but didn’t we fight World War Two to keep two monstrous dictatorships from dominating the whole world? And do we not continue to insist that all our weapons and money and invasions and occupations all over the world are in the service of establishing and preserving democracy? (Let’s, for a moment, just ignore the USA’s long-time support of some of the worst dictatorships in the world and our subtle and not-so-subtle subversion of real democracies in the Middle East and Central America)
Are the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution (as much as those documents are fast becoming nothing but collectable antiques here at home) merely for domestic consumption? If they are, then this country should shut up—once and for all—about exporting democratic principles and supporting freedom and equal opportunity in the world. Just acknowledge that it’s all about money and power and be done with it.
I still think the majority of people in this country believe in fairness and decency but American citizens no longer have any say in what their government does, either at home or abroad. Torture, internal spying, rigged voting and elections controlled by the rich; wars and assassinations carried out by a few people in positions of power—It becomes more absurd all the time for the USA to denounce other governments’ corruption and brutality when we are wandering around in that same evil swamp ourselves.
…The Saudi government and ruling class would—if they could get away with it—flog a 74 year old man to death for having alcohol in his car. They lock up anyone who attempts to practice free speech and they flog women who want even the slightest hint of freedom. They are intolerant and xenophobic and have a mission to export their brand of paternal, religious nuttiness to the whole world. (Maybe we can get a couple of Saudi leaders up on the stage with Trump, Cruz, Carson and their buddies in the next debate).
Yes, I know I’m being naïve about so many things—but what’s new? I always seem to be stuck in some strange, philosophical Bermuda triangle; becalmed and drifting between the unattainable idealism of true democracy and the bedrock reality of power and money in everyday life.
Probably the most naïve and unrealistic (possibly immature) thing of all is expecting any established government to unwaveringly follow a set of humane principles. The Saudi Royal Family, The United States Government, The New York City Council— The extent to which they truly represent the people under their rule/administration can only be based on the courage of individuals or small groups of people to demand that everyone be treated with fairness and decency.
…Meanwhile, the Karmic wheel of history keeps turning. So flog away boys—one day the whip will be in the other hand…