Fine allies Dubya has, part umpteen

Oh, Saudi Arabia. The problem with that country isn’t the general insanity of its theocracy–it’s where to start. A few posts ago, I blogged about a rape victim getting punished for being a victim. Now, it gets even worse–the authorities have decided to heap defamation on top of abuse and humiliation, no doubt in an effort to make themselves look better.

Saudi justice officials say a woman who was sentenced to prison and flogging after she was gang-raped has now confessed to an extramarital affair.

The case of the unidentified woman, 19, drew international criticism after an appeal increased her 90-lash sentence to 200 lashes and six months’ jail.

The justice ministry statement rejected “foreign interference” in the case.

It insisted the ruling was legal and that the woman had “confessed to doing what God has forbidden”.

Coming from a ministry that upholds a man’s legal right to be unfaithful (by marrying multiple wives), that bit about “what God has forbidden” is downright rich. Mmmmm, smell the waft of hypocrisy!

And if you think that’s bad, consider what happened back in 1977, to a daughter of the Saudi royal family itself:

A 17-year-old, “very beautiful” girl, Princess Misha’al was a granddaughter to Prince Muhammad bin Abdul Aziz, who was an older brother to the then king of Saudi Arabia, King Khalid bin Abdul Aziz.

“She was the King’s favorite. He loved her. The entire family loved her. She traveled all over the world. Her parents gave her everything she wanted. And when she was at the right age, the family chose a good husband for her, a royal cousin.”

“But the young lady had ideas of her own. She rebelled. She refused to fulfill the marriage contract. She wanted to go the university, to Beirut. The family agreed. The husband, he had no choice.”

“You can imagine the influences in Beirut— radical Arab politics, women’s liberation, Palestinians, Western influences all pulling, and all pulling in different directions. And then she— she met a boy from our country, a student. She completely lost her head. She forgot who she was— a royal princess, the king’s niece, a married woman.”

She fell madly in love with the boy Khalid Muhallal, the nephew of General Ali Shaer, the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon.

But of course, that too falls under “what God has forbidden”, at least according to Saudi law. And what happened as a result?

“You see, in our country, execution for adultery happens very rarely. There have to be four independent and honorable male witnesses or eight independent and honorable female witnesses. They have to witness — excuse me — the actual penetration. Now, the only other way that the accused can be condemned is out of her own mouth, by saying three times in front of a court of law, “I have committed adultery.” Three times.

“Well, that girl stood before the court. She was asked and she said, “I have committed adultery.” Well, immediately the king stopped the proceedings. He loved her. He summoned her to his private rooms. “Do you realize that if you admit your guilt for a second and a third time, I can’t save you, your grandfather can’t save you. Go back. You only have to say one thing, that you will never see this boy again. Please.”

“Well, she went back to that court and she said, “I have committed adultery. I have committed adultery.” Three times. In five seconds, she had condemned herself and the boy.”

“Both of them” were going to be publicly executed.

And they were…the princess by a gunshot, her boyfriend by beheading.

It is worth noting that we are not talking about Islam here, but about Saudi law, which interprets it in a very tribal, very biased (and as you can see, sexist) fashion. There are plenty of Muslim countries where this sort of thing doesn’t happen, at least not as a matter of formal law. And there is a growing number of Muslim countries where there is a backlash against laws sanctioning “honor killings”, too. In Jordan, for example, the king himself declared his opposition to his own country’s laws which allowed male relatives to kill a woman who gets out of line. At least one article, #340, has been struck from the Jordanian legal code, although more still remains to be done, especially on the enforcement front. But the high-level opposition to this barbaric custom has been noted, and it is only a matter of time before popular feeling catches up and makes it more dishonorable to kill a woman than it is for that woman to dance out of step.

So it is clear that Islam is, in fact, no defence regarding the abuse and killing of women. Given that various Middle-Eastern and South Asian non-Muslims have done it, as have Christians, it should be obvious that this is not really about religion at all, but about narrow, tribal notions of justice which are becoming outmoded, and which are opposed by leading Muslim feminists and religious scholars alike.

I wonder if this woman really confessed her “crime” freely, or if she was coerced or tortured into doing so. Remember, torture can make anyone say anything, even if it’s a lie. It’s obvious that we can’t rely on the word of the Saudi justices. They are more concerned about defending the indefensible than they are about coming clean:

The justice ministry statement is at odds with previous published testimony of the woman, who is a Shia Muslim from the Qatif area.

It’s worth noting that Shias are a minority in Wahhabi-dominated Saudi Arabia. And a persecuted minority at that. Surely that has nothing to do with this…

And don’t look to Washington for anything to be done about it, either:

Several governments and human rights groups have condemned her sentence and urged it to be lifted. Canada described it as “barbaric”.

The US, a major Saudi ally, declined to condemn to sentence, but did call it “astonishing”.

I’m sure the fact that Saudi Arabia is a tame oil-cow has nothing to do with that.

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