Friday, January 16, 2015

Saudis Condemn Charlie Hebdo Killings While They Flog Blogger Raif Badawi

The world is complex and we face plenty of challenges.  Unless we're willing to stop accepting simplistic (and often nationalistic) explanations of what's happening, things won't get better.  This post reflects a bit of that complexity by following a few threads from the coverage of the Paris killings at Charlie Hebdo.

From the Guardian:
Arab governments and Muslim leaders and organisations across the world have condemned the deadly attack in Paris, but it was praised by jihadi sympathisers who hailed it as “revenge” against those who had “insulted” the prophet Muhammad.
Saudi Arabia called it a “cowardly terrorist attack that was rejected by the true Islamic religion”. The Arab League and Egypt’s al-Azhar university – the leading theological institution in the Sunni Muslim world – also denounced the incident in which masked gunmen shouted “Allahu Akbar” – “god is great ” in Arabic.

Screenshot from Australian News  with text added
Meanwhile, a Saudi blogger is being flogged as part of his sentence.  His crime? reports (part of Murdoch's News Corp):
His brutal punishment follows his arrest in 2012 after he created an online forum that his wife insists was meant to encourage discussion about faith. Following his arrest, his wife and children Najwa, Tirad and Myriyam left the kingdom for Canada.
Last year, Badawi was initially sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in relation to the charges. But after an appeal, the judge stiffened the punishment.
The charges related to articles he wrote criticising religious authorities in Saudi Arabia, as well as pieces written by others that were published on his website.
According to Amnesty International, the prosecution had called for him to be tried for ‘apostasy’ (when a person abandons their religion), which carries the death sentence. As well as the weekly flogging, the 31-year-old’s sentence also includes a 10-year travel ban, and a ban on appearing on media outlets.

Here's a video that purports to be of the first public flogging of Badawi.  It's apparently done with a cellphone and I would imagine that the person who filmed it took considerable risk.

It's not easy to see what is happening.  At the end, it appeared to me that the strokes were more symbolic than serious.  But I don't have any personal experience with flogging.  I do know that sometimes what appears to be a slight impact can do serious damage.  But I looked up about how much damage flogging can cause.

 From a 2007 ABC News report:
". . . Floggings in Saudi Arabia typically take place Thursday nights outside of prisons or marketplaces. The accused is shackled and sometimes permitted to wear a single layer of clothing, like the popular Saudi tunic or dishdash.
This flogging clearly didn't take place at night, nor on Thursday.

Screenshots from YouTube video
A police officer administers the lashes with a bamboo whip about 7 feet long. Under his arm, the officer will typically hold a copy of the Koran in order to regulate the power with which he can whip the accused.
It's hard to know whether this is bamboo or something else.  It's clearly not 7 feet long and it appears the flogger does not have a Quran under his arm.  Here are some screenshots from the video.  I tried to get shots that would show the Koran if he had one.  The bottom picture shows his arm out from his body so that a book would have dropped.  I did talk to an official for an Islamic country who has spent time in Saudi Arabia and he said he'd never heard of the Quran being used this way.

"In the sentence a judge will specify three things: One, the amount of lashes; two, whether the flogging will be held in the prison or publicly; and third, what portions are to be administered at one time," Wilcke said. "No more than 60 to 70 lashes are administered at any one time with usually one to two weeks between floggings. Women will get 10 to 30 lashings a week; a man might get 50 to 60 per week."
If a complete sentence was administered at once, the accused could potentially die. Doctors in Saudi Arabia examine prisoners before each flogging to determine if they are healthy enough to withstand the lashes."
It's not at all clear that the person who wrote this description of the rules was accurate or that if he is, where the rules apply, or who enforces them.  I include them and this caveat to remind people that things are more complicated than we assume at first blush, and that we can't rely on the information.

I would note that I began this post yesterday (Thursday) and today it is reported that the sentence  has been referred to the Saudi Supreme Court and this week's flogging was postponed for medical reasons.

The Bigger Context

This situation raises all sorts of ethical conflicts.  We understand that the Saudis are fighting ISIS so their condemnation of the shootings makes sense on that level.  This punishment falls short of a death penalty (though his wife fears the cumulative floggings could kill him).

Meanwhile the US has condemned Badawi's sentencing and punishment  but shortly after that the State Department, according to Amnesty International's Steve Hawkins,  was praising Secretary of State Kerry's relationship with King Abdullah (about 1:30 into audio.)

Our media has framed the Paris attacks as extremist terrorists attacking freedom of speech.  But others see it in a much larger context.  People like Chris Hedges speak bluntly about this:
We have engineered the rage of the dispossessed. The evil of predatory global capitalism and empire has spawned the evil of terrorism. And rather than understand the roots of that rage and attempt to ameliorate it, we have built sophisticated mechanisms of security and surveillance, passed laws that permit the targeted assassinations and torture of the weak, and amassed modern armies and the machines of industrial warfare to dominate the world by force. This is not about justice. It is not about the war on terror. It is not about liberty or democracy. It is not about the freedom of expression. It is about the mad scramble by the privileged to survive at the expense of the poor. And the poor know it.
These are fighting words to the 1% and those who swallow their propaganda.  Notice he didn't say 'capitalism' but rather 'predatory capitalism.'  If the media pays any attention at all to Hedges it mostly will be to label him (not what he says)  disloyal, communistic, anti-American, or traitorous.  If we start to seriously discuss Hedges' arguments (and Hedges is a former Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times  reporter who has spent years reporting from the Middle East, Central America, and the Balkans), lots of corporate friendly versions of the how the world works will start to unravel.

So, it's easy to criticize the Saudi royals, but as I recall, Saudi royals have a special relationship with the Bush family. They were the only people allowed to fly in the US immediately after the World Trade Center attacks.  Which links fairly smoothly to asking what exactly is the Saudi role in the plummeting price of oil?  Merco Press, with a general link to, speculates that the US and the Saudis are in this together to put pressure on Iran, Syria, and Russia.  Arthur Berman, in an interview at doesn't dismiss the political factors, but claims income is the basic Saudi driver.

I don't claim any inside information, except I do know that the world is more complicated than our media present it.  And that Americans (and probably many others) are content with simplistic explanations - so long as they imply, "So go on and don't change anything."  And coverage and reactions are selective.  Why so much more reaction to Charlie Hebdo where 12 were killed, while hundreds, perhaps thousands, are being killed by Boko Haram in Nigeria?   But with climate change and with growing economic inequality both inside the US and globally, those answers won't work for too long.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.