The New York Times has a rather remarkable story in today’s paper, telling us that Saudia Arabia’s “justice system” is not really all that bad, because some people who might otherwise get their heads or hands chopped off, don’t. Consider the case, the Times tells us, of Bandar al-Yehiya, who, Allah be praised, did not get his head chopped off after all:
Saudi Arabia’s justice system is regularly condemned by human rights groups for violating due process, lacking transparency and applying punishments like beheading and amputation. Criticism has grown as Saudi cases have made news abroad: a liberal blogger caned for criticizing religious leaders; activists jailed for advocating reform; a woman held without charge for more than two months for driving a car.
Such rulings have prompted comparisons to the Islamic State, which regularly beheads its foes and also claims to apply Shariah law.
But Mr. Yehiya was saved because of checks in the Saudi system on the use of harsh punishments. His case wound its way through a yearslong odyssey of law and tradition. Mr. Yehiya reformed in prison, sheikhs and royals appealed for his life, and he was ultimately spared by a daughter of the man he had shot dead.
Mr. Yehiya’s reprieve was the product of a justice system little understood outside the kingdom, one that is based on centuries of Islamic tradition and that prioritizes stability and the strict adherence to Islamic mores over individual rights and freedoms.
The system is indeed merciful:
A Riyadh judge recalled a case of four thieves who had broken into someone’s living room and stolen the furniture, television and refrigerator. The crime met the conditions for amputation, but the judge allowed them to confess to a lesser charge and sentenced them to two years in prison and 100 lashes each.
Only a hundred? Why, they’re positively soft over there. What a kind and caring judge.
The point of the article is to favorably contrast our esteemed ally’s “justice” system with the “justice” meted out by our enemy, ISIS. The fact is, both systems are barbaric. And I fully realize that compared to most of the civilized world, we are also barbarians. You might say that American justice is to European justice what Saudi justice is to ISIS justice. The fact that we look good compared to the Saudis speaks volumes about just how bad their “justice” system is.
One must wonder about the motivations behind this article, which reads more like a PR man making the best of a bad situation than objective reporting. If the same humane system was used in, let’s say, Iran, it’s hard to believe the Times would be invoking “tradition” in order to justify it, or would be highlighting those parts of the system that somewhat mitigate its harshness, which, at least in Mr. al-Yehiya’s case may come down to something that is a universal in all societies: who you know makes a difference. The guy whose head is chopped off is the guy about whom “sheikhs and royals” remain silent. Same as it ever was.