Tag Archive | "Quran"

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Sword of Justice? Beheadings Rise in Saudi Arabia

Posted on 05 May 2011 by hashimilion

On November 25, 2007, a Saudi man was beheaded by sword for committing homicide. His execution brought the country’s official number of beheadings to 151. This number was a new record, standing in stark contrast to the 2006 total of 38 and far exceeding the previous record of 113 beheadings in 2000. Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery, and drug trafficking are among the many crimes punishable by beheading in the oil-rich kingdom. Saudis point out that theirs is far from being the only country that maintains capital punishment. Yet, while it would be hypocritical as well as unreasonable to demand the kingdom to eliminate executions altogether, public beheadings are nonetheless cruel and unusual on a global scale. The discussion on this matter has shifted toward one on human rights–namely the right to die with dignity.

One of the primary reasons for the recent increase may lie in the psychological implications of beheadings. Some human rights experts argue that the kingdom’s powerful official clerics fear that they are losing their influence over the Saudi population. In order to achieve the fullest impact on the general populace, beheadings are often performed outside mosques in major cities after prayer services on Friday, the Muslim holy day. Much like the French use of the guillotine in the eighteenth century, a desensitized Saudi citizenry may have grown accustomed to and even expect beheadings. Repeated exposure to public beheadings has decreased their shock value and increased the public’s overall tolerance to them.

Social conditions also render the country particularly vulnerable to abrupt increases in fervor. Justification for capital punishment derives from the country’s conservative Wahhabi interpretation of Shariah, the set of Islamic religious laws. Yet these interpretations are by no means universally accepted in the Muslim world. Many clerics and scholars insist that the Quran makes no mention of the practice whatsoever. Of the roughly 57 Muslim-majority countries worldwide, only in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, and Qatar do national laws permit beheading. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is the only country that actually continues to behead its offenders, although both Iran and Saudi Arabia uphold the tradition of stoning adulterers to death.

Even with religious rationalization, significant ambiguity still surrounds the legal precedent for these execution practices. Although many of those beheaded are tried and convicted first, evidence suggests that many are neither explained their rights nor provided legal counsel. Most notable among this latter group are foreigners, typically migrant workers from South Asia, Africa, and the poorer areas of the Arab world. In November 2007 alone, those beheaded included citizens of Bangladesh, Yemen, Pakistan, and Ghana.

The imminent beheading of a 19 year-old Sri Lankan girl, Rizana Nafeek, received considerable international attention in 2007. Nafeek had left Sri Lanka to work as a maid in Saudi Arabia and was accused of murdering her employer’s infant child. She was tried without an attorney, apparently confessing to strangling the child under duress. Eventually, as the result of the efforts of international advocacy groups’ efforts, Nafeek received a lawyer in May, and the Sri Lankan foreign ministry attempted to intervene on her behalf. As of December 8, 2007, the country’s Appellate Court began hearing her case. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, Saudi police allegedly tortured a confession out of Nafeek, an accusation the Saudi judicial system has been forced to take seriously in light of international attention.

Despite this recent development, few outside Sri Lanka have maintained interest in the woman’s fate, and international attention to the case has waned. This is peculiarly indicative of Saudi beheadings as a whole. Since August 2007, there have been dozens of beheadings reported, but none have drawn any particular international outcry. The level of domestic criticism for beheadings, though not entirely negligible, is hard to assess given the kingdom’s tight control on media censorship. And while external human rights advocacy groups continue to demand an end to the practice, no one is encouraging Saudi Arabia to adopt a more structured, pragmatic approach–e.g., exercising greater discretion in choosing those to execute publicly or, better yet, transitioning toward a system of predominantly private, discreet capital punishment. With no end to beheadings in sight and with Saudi accusations of foreign critics’ moral relativism, promoting moderation is the only chance the international community has at swaying Saudi Arabia diplomatically.

By Jon Weinberg

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Women Assert Place in Yemen’s Protests

Posted on 22 April 2011 by hashimilion

Ali Abdullah Saleh, the beleaguered president of Yemen, should have known better. Fighting for his political life (and perhaps for his physical life too), he played the woman card. After last Friday’s prayers, he tried to dampen down the escalating protests against his rule by admonishing women to stay home. He claimed that their presence in the streets, “mingling with men,” was against Islam.   His ploy backfired. Within hours of his speech, text messages raced around the capital demanding a “women’s march” as a rebuttal.  The following day, 10,000 abaya-clad women, almost all wearing the face-covering niqab, marched in protest. Many of the women had never before participated in any political activities. They were there to avenge the honor of all Yemeni women. As one woman shouted into a microphone, “If Saleh read the Quran, he wouldn’t have made this accusation.”

Perhaps if he knew his history better, he would have avoided kicking this hornet’s nest altogether. Throughout the 20th century, women played an important role in revolutions and wars of independence across the Islamic world. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of modern Pakistan, well understood the critical role that women could play in the independence movement – as actors and as symbols. He purposefully addressed women’s gatherings and encouraged their participation in meetings and street demonstrations.  The women’s wing of Jinnah’s Muslim League – comprised mostly of wives, daughters and sisters of prominent Muslim League men – proved crucial in getting Muslim women out of their homes for the first time to advocate for an independent Pakistan.  Although conservative Islamic leaders condemned these actions on the part of women, the Muslim League defended women’s mobilization as a religious duty. Women’s mobilization, even in the conservative North-West Frontier Province, was so successful that the British governor, upon seeing the mass of burqa-clad women in the streets, supposedly exclaimed, “Pakistan is made.”

Ayatollah Khomeini was also a master of mobilizing women.   One of the turning points of the Iranian Revolution occurred on September 8, 1978, a day that is remembered in Iran as Black Friday. A number of revolutionary groups planned a large demonstration in Jaleh Square in downtown Tehran. By early morning, thousands of people from across the Iranian political spectrum–from Khomeini’s Islamist supporters to intellectuals to Communists–had gathered.  Among them was a sizeable group of women covered from head to toe in their dark chadors. These revolutionary “sisters,” as they came to be known, heeded Ayatollah Khomeini’s calls to leave the confines of their homes to support the protesters–an act previously considered blasphemous in traditional homes, but now legitimized by Khomeini.

As the demonstration progressed, the Shah’s troops closed in on the square. Suddenly, the security forces began firing indiscriminately on the crowd. Hundreds were killed and many more wounded. The Black Friday Massacre was the first time the Shah had used such a heavy hand in stopping a public protest. The fact that women were among the casualties inflamed public opinion. For many protesters, the Shah irrevocably crossed the red line on that Friday.

In some ways, it seems Saleh’s cynical comments about women (he is hardly known for his piety) crossed a red line for Yemenis. Women are now more engaged than ever in Yemen’s struggle for a better government. When I was in Yemen in January, I spent a day with Tawakul Karman, one of the most vocal and active leaders of Yemen’s youth movement who has been leading student demonstrations against Saleh’s corrupt rule for two years now.   Karman, a young mother of three and a member of the Islamic Islah party, has developed a high profile in Yemeni opposition politics. Her name has been bandied about as a possible presidential candidate to succeed Saleh. A female president is unlikely in a country that suffers from some of the worst gender statistics in the world. Then again, so does Pakistan, which has elected a woman leader twice – albeit the same woman.

Saleh, who has lost the backing of both the Saudis and the United States, seems to be in the process of trying to negotiate a handover of power.  Women have made it clear that they are determined to be part of Yemen’s transition. Undoubtedly, conservative forces will try to sideline women once the goal of overturning Saleh is achieved, much as they did in the Iranian revolution and in post-Independence Pakistan (and as some are trying to do in Egypt today). But Yemeni women, like Tawakul Karman, are not about to take a back seat.

By Isobel Coleman

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