Newsweek asks a good question: Why, if Americans are so horrified by the ISIS beheadings, do we collectively shrug about the beheadings carried out by Saudi Arabia, our so-called ally?
Since the beginning of the year, 59 people have had their heads chopped off in the Islamic paradise, in cases that wouldn’t pass judicial muster in a halfway enlightened nation.
The Saudi legal system is based on Islam’s Sharia law. Some countries that use Sharia possess a penal code, but Saudi Arabia does not.
This is what awaits the condemned.
If you are a prisoner in Riyadh, the capital, you might be taken to the ocher-colored Deera Square, which has acquired a macabre sobriquet: Chop Chop Square. Before you arrive, police and security forces will have prepared the area. It may have been cordoned off to keep curious spectators at a distance, but they will congregate nonetheless.
You will be led to the center of the square, on the bare earth. According to one of Saudi Arabia’s state executioners, Mohammed Saad al-Beshi, who was interviewed in the Saudi newspaper Arab News in June 2003, your energy is likely to fade at this point, from sheer exhaustion and fear. You will not fight for your life, nor protest against your restraints.
Also because usually there’s Valium or another sedative coursing through your system – a pill that the regime touts as a kind offering to calm the convict’s nerves, but which is also to the executioner’s benefit: less chance of fear, panic, and writhing.
The Saudi flag and the national Saudi coat of arms. Note that they both feature swords. Rest assured, however, that that iconography is entirely incidental to the Saudis’ peaceful faith.
The executioner — always a man — is not allowed to talk to his victim. He reads your charge and some verses from the Quran. You are blindfolded, which is extremely important, and not for humanitarian reasons. If, when the sword is coming down, you turn in fearful anticipation, things could get messy. The blade might not sever with a single chop, or the executioner could miss his mark. The blood won’t be neatly caught by the plastic bags, and the head might not be so easy to scoop up…
Even in death, you are not liberated. Your murder is meant to be a sign to the people in the crowd that Saudi Arabia does not tolerate dissent. A loudspeaker announces your crime. Your body may be taken away to be buried immediately. But if you were accused of banditry or drug smuggling, like seven Yemenis who were beheaded last year, your corpse will also be crucified.
Mohammed Saad al-Beshi’s most productive day so far was when he beheaded seven prisoners. He told Arab News, “It doesn’t matter to me: Two, four, 10 – as long as I’m doing God’s will, it doesn’t matter how many people I execute.”
Al-Beshi started his trade in Jeddah in 1988, but many of the beheaders [there is currently a shortage of them] come from a long line of executioners, an occupation passed from generation to generation, like a cherished heirloom.
They’re nothing if not versatile.
In Saudi Arabia, at least, the executioner isn’t limited to separating bodies from heads. He also cuts off other body parts — hands, legs — depending on the crime.
Newsweek notes that the most recent beheading victim was convicted of — no joke — sorcery. Some Saudi prisoners are put to death for political dissent.
Also, last year a Saudi defendant who’d caused another man to become paralyzed was ordered to undergo the same fate, reportedly by having the executioner sever his spinal cord.
Through it all, the silence from the West is deafening.
George W. Bush, for one, made it clear that he would rather hold hands with the Saudi King — and repeatedly kiss him, see the video below — than ask the despot to stop the head-chopping barbarity. That attitude continues: Last month, Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Saudi Arabia to strategize about ways to stop the human-rights violations perpetrated by ISIS. As expected, Kerry gave the Saudi executions a free pass, never raising the subject.