- - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The New York Times’ Ben Hubbard on Tuesday wrote a glowing piece of puffery focused on Saudi Arabia, titled “Saudi Justice, Harsh but Able to Spare the Sword.” In it Mr. Hubbard admits that the kingdom’s harsh punishments, including beheadings and amputations, are based on the shariah (Islamic law) and are viewed as unchangeable and derived from Allah. But he still attempts to paint the system as merciful and some how possessing the equivalent of modern checks and balances.

He goes on to stress how rare such punishments are, even while citing the reality that Saudi Arabia in 2014, a country of almost 29 million people executed 88 people compared to the United States’ 35. But if Saudi Arabia had a U.S.-sized population (320 million) and the same ratio of execution, it would have executed 971 people. And that’s for a country which advertises a murder rate of .8, compared to the U.S. rate of 4.5. And of course not all executions in Saudi Arabia are for murder, considering that Saudi Arabia also executes apostates, homosexuals and “sorcerers.”

Despite this, Mr. Hubbard continues his effort to exonerate the Saudi slaughterhouse, noting efforts by organizations to acquire pardons, sometimes through the payment of blood money, a principle permitted under Islamic law. Mr. Hubbard cites Koran Sura 5:32, noting: “Many Muslims believe that saving a life, even that of a murderer, earns one rewards in heaven, so the possibility of a pardon by the victims’ heirs has opened a realm of activism aimed at stopping executions.”

The actual citation is as follows: “Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors.”

The quote is widely used in Islamic apologetics, but is routinely misapplied, since few people note its being aimed foremost at the Jews (Children of Israel) and intended as a criticism of their (supposedly rebellious) behavior. Additionally, it is rarely noted that it is immediately followed by Sura 5:33, which provides the authorization and justification by which the Islamic State, and Saudi Arabia, engages in crucifixion as punishment for “mischief in the land”, which can range from murder, terrorism and highway robbery, to speaking freely and criticizing the existing regime.

Mr. Hubbard actually obliquely references this reality, when he cites the unfortunate fate of Raif Badawi, a liberal Saudi blogger accused of apostasy and for criticizing the religious establishment: “Many Saudi lawyers believe the case against Raif Badawi, a liberal blogger who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, was made because he attacked the religious establishment, an act believed to be more destabilizing than adultery, or even murder.”

The irony is no where thicker in the article then where Mr. Hubbard essentially defends the Saudi concept of killing for retribution (qisas), noting the case of a man recently spared death after a campaign waged to convince one of the victim’s family to issue a pardon. The retribution principle is the same shariah law which supplied justification for the Islamic State’s burning alive of Jordanian fighter pilot LT. Moaz al-Kasasbeh, but also justified the Saudi court ordering a man’s back to be surgically broken, and the Iranian court which ordered a man to be blinded with acid (the victim made the decision to spare her attacker).

It seems a bizarre situation to be in where the most influential “progressive” newspaper is sanctioning as just (if a slightly harsh) a theocratic system based on a literally interpretation of “eye for an eye,” where men and women are beheaded with swords and crucified, and where all law is carried out by clerical judges interpreting the word of God.

Kyle Shideler is director of the Threat Information Office (TIO) at the Center for Security Policy.)

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