And that includes the Saudi kings whose funding of Wahhabi doctrine gave rise to the scourge of Islamic extremism.
By Laila Lalami
What happened in Paris on November 13 has happened before, in a shopping district of Beirut on November 12, in the skies over Egypt on October 31, at a cultural center in Turkey on July 20, a beach resort in Tunisia on June 26—and nearly every day in Syria for the last four years.
The scenario is by now familiar to all of us. News of the killings will appear on television and radio. There will be cries of horror and sorrow, a few hashtags on Twitter, perhaps even a change of avatars on Facebook. Our leaders will make staunch promises to bring the terrorists to justice, while also claiming greater power of surveillance over their citizens. And then life will resume exactly as before.
Except for the victims’ families. For them, time will split into a Before and After.
We owe these families, of every race, creed, and nationality, more than sorrow, more than anger. We owe them justice.
We must call to account ISIS, a nihilistic cult of death that sees the world in black and white, with no shades of gray in between.
With much of the US press focused on the daily images of barbarity coming out the lands occupied by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the brutal practices of the real Islamic State, Saudi Arabia, receive scant attention. The reasons for this are as sickening as they are obvious: a major oil supplier to the West and a nation that casts itself as the mortal enemy of Shia Iran has been courted and coddled by the US since the end of WWII to keep domestic gas prices low.
The United States maintains a special relationship with the Saudi Dynasty that contradicts every ideal America stands for. Nobody should hold his breath waiting for the US media or government to finally and thoroughly expose the draconian policies of the desert kingdom, but President Obama does have the opportunity in one case to pressure the Saudis into granting amnesty to Ali-Mohammad al-Nimr and thereby earn a small part of his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. In a recent interview with the Guardian, al-Nimr’s mother pleaded that Obama has the power to “interfere and rescue my son.”
The Saudi government convicted al-Nimr – 17 at the time – of possessing firearms while protesting for Shia rights in 2012. But it is clear that is not the only reason the young man is sentenced to be beheaded and crucified. His uncle is the prominent dissident Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr who has also been sentenced to death for criticizing the Saudi State.
If the United States is ever to devise and implement an effective Middle East policy a reevaluation of its relationship with Saudi Arabia will be essential. Standing up for al-Nimr is vital in this regard. By pressuring the Saudis to pardon al-Nimr, Obama can win three immediate victories important to this reevaluation. First, he could portray himself as a seeker of justice in the spirit of his Nobel. Second, he could win some goodwill amongst those Shia the Saudis have repressed for generations. Lastly, his actions could open a dialogue in the US media that might educate the American public to crimes that are committed with its tacit support.
Since the US media and government rarely reprimand the Saudis, the American people have little understanding of the grave human rights abuses that take place daily in the kingdom. According to Amnesty International, the Saudis executed 102 people in the first six months of 2015. Death by sword beheading – often public – is the preferred punishment for adultery, homosexuality, and witchcraft (basically, not having radical Sunni Wahhabi beliefs). Children and the mentally handicapped do not escape the sword.
The kingdom is set to execute a young man for participating in the Arab Spring as a 17-year-old—and the Obama administration has admitted it’s not going to do a thing about it.
By Jay Michaelson
An Islamic regime in the Middle East may soon behead a young man and hang his corpse up for display. ISIS? Iran? No—America’s ally Saudi Arabia. And because it’s the Saudis, the Obama administration’s silence has been deafening.
In 2012, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was a 17-year-old pro-democracy activist in the Arab Spring. After harsh government crackdowns, protests turned violent, particularly in Qatif, a majority-Shiite region in majority-Sunni Saudi Arabia. Al-Nimr was arrested, along with others, and charged, at first, with relatively low-level political crimes related to the protests, such as “going out to a number of marches, demonstrations, and gatherings against the state and repeating some chants against the state.”
But then al-Nimr’s uncle, a prominent Shiite cleric, began giving fiery sermons against the regime. He, too, was arrested, on more serious charges of inciting sectarian strife, aiding terrorists, and “insulting Gulf leaders and scholars.”
Suddenly, the younger al-Nimr’s charges were increased as well, to include the capital crimes of attacking police and sheltering criminals. According to al-Nimr’s father, the teen was tortured until he confessed, and he was subsequently sentenced to death.
Al-Nimr would, however, be the first solely political prisoner to be executed in Saudi Arabia in some time—and based on flimsy evidence, an allegedly coerced confession, and acts of political dissidence committed when he was 17. How could such a thing happen, without a peep of protest from the United States?
Because it’s Saudi Arabia.
As outrageous as killing a kid for political activism may be, al-Nimr is just the latest collateral damage in our long, troubling marriage of convenience with the House of Saud. We need the Saudis for the fight against ISIS, for oil, and for providing some semblance of stability in the most unstable region on the planet. As my colleague Michael Tomasky wrote in January, we’re stuck with Saudi Arabia, because as bad as the Saudis are, the alternatives are worse.
Adding insult to injury, Saudi Arabia was just named to a UN Human Rights panel—only a subsidiary committee, and part of a regionally based rotation, but outrageous nonetheless given the country’s appalling human rights record.
There’s something extraordinary happening in Saudi Arabia right now. I should know — you see, I was born there, lived there half my life, speak the language and understand the customs. Lately, I’m both amazed at and humbled by what I’m seeing: Extremely brave Saudi women, more driven than ever to change their society, despite the sad fact that they still aren’t allowed to drive.
And while it’s true there’s no formal law that bans females from getting behind the wheel in the ultra-conservative kingdom, it is also by no means a stretch to say they are, indeed, prohibited from doing so. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it’s always been in a society where religious edicts are often interpreted to mean it is illegal for women to drive.
I’ve reported on this subject for years and must admit, it’s a personal one for me. Some of my earliest memories entail trying to figure out why my American mother would always drive me around Oklahoma City, where we spent our summers, but could never take me around Jeddah, where we lived the rest of the year.
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Saudi Arabia took the extraordinary step Friday of refusing to take its seat on the U.N. Security Council — despite pursuing the position for years. It’s an unprecedented protest over the council’s failure to take firmer action in Syria and Palestine. And it comes at a time of growing Saudi frustration with American-led policies across the Middle East.
The decision, which came in an announcement from the Saudi Foreign Ministry, came one day after Saudi Arabia was elected for the first time in its history to the United Nations’ most powerful body. And it reflected deep resentment over China and Russia’s blockage of steps by the Security Council to restrain President Bashar al-Assad’s military and to force him from power. The announcement left many regional specialists shaking their heads, saying the move may run counter to Saudi interests and would deny the Saudis an opportunity to use the high-profile position on the council to promote a tougher line on Syria and other issues.
A week ago, Saudi Arabia saw something that people in the kingdom often talk about but rarely witness — a potentially important political reform.
King Abdullah announced Jan. 11 that 30 women would join the kingdom’s Shura Council, a consultative body of 150 persons, and that women henceforth would hold 20 percent of the seats. Skeptics cautioned that it’s a symbolic move, since this is an advisory group that doesn’t actually enact any legislation. But it’s a powerful symbol, according to men and women here.
When Abdullah first signaled his plan to name women to the council, a Saudi cleric said it would be “haram,” or forbidden under Islam. The king went ahead and announced the 30 appointees, saying that he had consulted the Senior Ulema Council, the religious body whose approval is one of the pillars of the Saudi monarchy.
A Westerner here told me that, last weekend, several dozen conservative Saudis gathered near Abdullah’s palace to complain, but he wouldn’t see them.
It’s understandable why conservatives would be upset: If Saudi women are deemed worthy of joining the body that advises the king on sensitive matters, it’s harder to justify the many limits on their rights.
I met here last week with Hayat Sindi, a scientist who is one of the newly appointed Shura members. She took her doctorate in biotechnology from Cambridge in 2001, and in the years since she has been a visiting scholar at Harvard, launched two companies and helped run a third.
“I feel the solution for the Middle East is based on women and youth,” she says. Listening to her story of insistent, determined accomplishment, it’s hard to disagree.