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Looking for signs in a clash of cultures
The authors of the war that nearly everybody thought was necessary at the time seem genuinely puzzled that so many Americans think all of Arabia isn’t worth the life of a single American soldier.
If they’re curious about why, the folks at the White House should read the stories that occasionally make it only to the back pages of the newspapers.
Item (London Daily Telegraph): “The imminent execution of a teenage maid in Saudi Arabia drew fierce criticism yesterday and provoked condemnation of the kingdom’s prolific use of capital punishment. The case has brought fresh attention to the draconian Saudi criminal justice system, which is expected this year to set a record in its use of the death sentence.”
Item (Agence France-Presse): “Lawyers for the ruler of Dubai (United Arab Emirates) argued yesterday for dismissal of a U.S. lawsuit [seeking compensation from] the emir for enslaving thousands of children [some of them as young as 2 years old], who worked as camel jockeys.”
Sometimes, to be sure, there’s good news about the bad news. Muslims across India, where they comprise about a sixth of the population of nearly a billion, have united to oppose a fatwa from a theological school that would bar girls from coeducational schools and colleges.
A bloodthirsty minority should not be the standard by which others judge the Muslim majority, even though official acts of certain Islamic governments, eager to behead now and ask questions later, inevitably invite harsh judgment. We have our own aficionados of the needle and the noose, after all, who sometimes gather outside the prison on the night of an execution to cheer when the electric lights dim. But most of us, even if sanctioning murder by fiat, regard these as solemn, even sad, occasions. That’s why we do the deed indoors, to avoid coarsening public sensibilities. The Saudis love a public beheading, having decapitated 99 men and 3 women already this year, and usually keep judicial oversight to a minimum, lest an innocent man, woman or child go free.
Rizana Nafeek is a 19-year-old Sri Lankan girl who went to Saudi Arabia to work as a nanny for a 4-month-old boy. The child died while she was giving him his bottle. She said he choked and lost consciousness as she desperately tried to clear his air passage. The Saudi authorities said she strangled him deliberately, though offering neither motive nor evidence. The Saudis were not much interested in finding out what really happened. Rizana was denied a lawyer so the kangaroos conducting the trial wouldn’t be distracted. The Sri Lankan government tried to send an official delegation to investigate the boy’s death, but couldn’t obtain visas. The executioner began sharpening his scimitar.
“It’s an absolute scandal that Saudi Arabia is preparing to behead a teenage girl who didn’t even have a lawyer at her trial,” said Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International. “The authorities are flouting an international prohibition on the execution of child offenders. The girl was 17 at the time of the alleged crime.”
Rizana Nafeek is one of nearly 6 million foreign workers imported to do the jobs that Saudis presumably won’t do, and when something goes wrong, they’re the usual suspects. “The workers commit big crimes against Saudis,” said a spokesman for the National Society for Human Rights. “Allah knows best what’s good for his people.”
Allah presumably knows what’s best for the little camel drivers of Dubai, too. Confronted with accusations that agents of the ruling sheiks routinely kidnapped and enslaved the children, the sheiks’ lawyers told a U.S. District Court judge in Miami, where the parents of one of the children lives, that none of this is any business of Florida or the United States. The sheiks asked President Bush for help, and the State Department, fast friends of sheiks everywhere, urged the court not to dismiss the lawsuit until the U.S. government decides whether to get involved. In any event, Dubai camel-racing fans will have to settle for watered-down entertainment. Most of the children have been sent home and replaced by robots.
Rizana Nafeek, without even a lawyer, is not likely to be so fortunate. The deadline for an appeal passed last night. Barring a last-minute message from Allah, her headless torso will soon go on the usual public display.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.
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