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Gordon Campbell on Saudi Arabia and Islamic State

Gordon Campbell on whether Saudi Arabia is a bigger threat than Islamic State

So the US has been holding talks in London this week with its 21 coalition allies, on how best to co-ordinate the military response against Islamic State. Oddly enough, New Zealand has not been attending the conference even though we seem well down the track to contributing to the military effort in question. (I guess we’ll just take our orders from the US and UK, and leave it at that.) Yet here’s a thing. If you compare (a) the barbaric practices of Islamic State and (b) the barbaric practices of the West’s strong ally Saudi Arabia, (which happens to be the world’s richest and most influential islamic state) the overlap is striking.

For starters, compare this list of punishments to offenders recently published by Islamic State, with the almost identical list of punishments operant in Saudi Arabia, as tabulated by the Middle East Eye website.

Middle East Eye has compiled a useful chart. Blasphemy? Homosexuality? Treason? Murder? The punishment is death under both Islamic State and the House of Saud. Drinking alcohol? Slander? That’ll get you 80 lashes under IS, but is at the judge’s discretion in SA. Adultery if you’re married? Death by stoning under both IS and SA. Adultery if not married? 100 lashes under both IS and SA. Stealing? Amputation of right hand under both IS and SA. Banditry and theft? Amputation of the right hand and foot under both IS and SA. Banditry, murder and theft? Crucifixion under SA, death by beheading in SA.

Nor is this some residual, on-the-books but not actually practiced situation in Saudi Arabia. In recent weeks, the world has witnessed the repeated flogging and 10 year jail term imposed on Raif Badawi for the crime of blogging about the monarchy. Yet so far, there has been little of the global outcry we saw recently in France, about the sanctity of free speech. Je Suis Raif? Not so much. Then there was this account of an execution by sword of a woman on a street in Mecca, on January 12 which got publicised solely because it was videoed. The person who did it – the videoing, not the execution – has since been arrested. Part of a pattern, it seems:

Saudi Arabia, a country of 27 million, executed 87 people last year for crimes like rape, murder, armed robbery and drug trafficking, according to a count compiled by Human Rights Watch. It has executed 11 people so far this year.

While most executions are believed to be beheadings, the government does not usually disclose the method used. According to the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the executed woman was a citizen of Myanmar who had been convicted of severely beating her husband’s 7-year-old daughter, also from Myanmar, and violating her with a broomstick “without mercy or pity, which led to her death.”

In the video, which appeared to have been filmed with a mobile phone, the women repeatedly yelled, “I didn’t kill! I didn’t kill!” and “This is oppression!” in Arabic while the men positioned her for the blows of the sword.

Ah, but isn’t the real problem with Islamic State the fact that it is poised to over-run neighbouring states in the region? Again, how is this all that different from Saudi Arabia, which in 2011 strongly assisted – with weapons and troops - the monarchy in neighbouring Bahrain to crush its fledgling pro-democracy movement? Reportedly, representatives from both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain hypocritically marched in the Charlie Hebdo protests in France, in support of free speech. And the West continues to sell weapons to the Bahrain monarchy:

The Bahraini monarchy in 2011 violently repressed a pro-democracy opposition movement led by the country's Shia majority, Doctors who treated protesters were tortured. According to the Bahrain Human Rights Group security forces arrested 54 people and suppressed 119 demonstrations in the first week of this month alone. As the regime continued to jail human rights campaigners, Britain last year designated Bahrain as a "priority market" for its weapons.

Finally though, isn’t Islamic State a pressing concern because of its export of terrorism back to the West’s own homeland cities? Well, hello. Some 15 out of 19 of the 9/11 hijackers – who killed 3,000 people in New York and Washington - were from Saudi Arabia. By comparison, 17 people died recently from the terrorisst attacks in France. Such comparisons are an indictment of Saudi Arabia even before you count the hundreds of millions that Saudi charitable organisations have pumped into the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, at the subsequent cost of thousands of US and local lives, and billions upon billions of dollars spent. Not to mention the seed funding that Saudi Arabia and Qatar gave to Islamic State at the outset, to create it as a tool to be turned loose against Iran, Syria and Lebanon. If we’re aso very worried about the export of terrorism, the Islamic State has actually been Saudi Arabia’s most successful terrorism export since 9/11.

I’m not saying Islamic State isn’t abhorrent, or that it isn’t a threat to the West. Yet the outrage and effort being expended against IS is highly selective. Clearly, IS needs to take over Iraq quickly, and start pumping oil. Then the West could sit down and do business with it, while ignoring its barbarism as being purely an internal matter.

Lonely Daze. Sure, summer is fun, but the long summer days can also be a lonely time. Kate Tempest is a young British poet who made an interesting attempt last year (with her Everybody Down album) to set some of her narratives to music – and this track is an acutely observed tale of just how hit and miss the hungry process of trying to communicate with strangers in the big city can be.

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