Respectful Insolence

When it comes to detesting woo such as psychics like Sylvia Browne, I take a back seat to no one. But even I think beheading is a bit severe for such nonsense. Apparently, though, the religious loons who run Saudi Arabia disagree:

Amnesty International is calling on Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah to stop the execution of a Lebanese man sentenced to death for “sorcery.”

In a statement released Thursday, the international rights group condemned the verdict and demanded the immediate release of Ali Hussain Sibat, former host of a popular call-in show that aired on Sheherazade, a Beirut based satellite TV channel.

According to his lawyer, Sibat, who is 48 and has five children, would predict the future on his show and give out advice to his audience.

The attorney, May El Khansa, who is in Lebanon, tells CNN her client was arrested by Saudi Arabia’s religious police (known as the Mutawa’een) and charged with sorcery while visiting the country in May 2008. Sibat was in Saudi Arabia to perform the Islamic religious pilgrimage known as Umra.

[...]

According to Arab News, an English language Saudi daily newspaper, after the most recent verdict was issued, the judges in Medina issued a statement expressing that Sibat deserved to be executed for having continually practiced black magic on his show, adding that this sentence would deter others from practicing sorcery.

Yesterday, an execution date was set for Friday.

Barbaric. That’s the only word that comes to mind to me.

How should “psychics” bet treated? Mockery, yes, absolutely!. Shutting psychics down so that they don’t defraud people, yes. Cutting their heads off over a silly superstition? What is this, the Dark Ages? Children will lose their father over a nonsensical superstition for a “crime” he apparently didn’t even commit in Saudi Arabia! I don’t know what’s more depressing, though, the barbarism of the Saudis or the approval that some Americans demonstrate. Check out the comments, for instance from someone going by the ‘nym LifeinVA:

OK, so I don’t think socerey is real and this guy should not be beheaded. HOWEVER, the Saudi’s know how to deal with their criminals. I was stationed in Saudia Arabia many years ago and watched a number of these beheadings. You see one of these and you will NEVER want to commit a crime…now that’s effective law enforcement!

I’m sure that LiveinVA went to “a number of” these beheadings out of an academic interest and not because of a fascination with blood and gore. And then there’s HobbitJeff (defiling one of my favorite sets of novels of all time with his idiocy):

Good for the Saudis. If you’re going to pretend to be able to read the future and bilk the gullible, be prepared for the consequences. Now if we could do the same for the reprehensible “psychics” here in the US.

One wonders whom else HobbitJeff would like to behead. Before we start feeling to superior to the barbaric system in Saudi Arabia that would execute someone for witchcraft, we should look at our own bloodthirsty loons.

Comments

  1. #1 Dunc
    April 1, 2010

    I was stationed in Saudia Arabia many years ago and watched a number of these beheadings. You see one of these and you will NEVER want to commit a crime…now that’s effective law enforcement!

    It can’t be all that effective if he watched a number of them…

  2. #2 bluemaxx
    April 1, 2010

    BUT once again….dealing with psychics…

    And I agree that beheading seems a tad over (off?) the TOP for such an offense.

    However, the question raised several days ago in another ORAC posting…

    SHOULD NOT THE PSYCHIC HAVE SEEN THIS COMING?
    and…if he did NOT see this coming, is this not evidence that indeed he actually was NOT practicing sorcery.. or certainly not doing it well!?

  3. #3 Todd W.
    April 1, 2010

    @bluemaxx

    SHOULD NOT THE PSYCHIC HAVE SEEN THIS COMING?
    and…if he did NOT see this coming, is this not evidence that indeed he actually was NOT practicing sorcery.. or certainly not doing it well!?

    Not necessarily. It depends on how he claims his powers work. As much as I don’t believe in psychic powers, we still need to examine them on the basis of what they claim they can do.

    [/stick-in-the-mud]

  4. #4 Dave
    April 1, 2010

    Meh. Let them behead him, I dont see the harm. Its pretty clear he wasnt using his head anyway. Afterwards, Im sure he will thank the Saudi’s for removing a useless appendage and saving him the cost of an operation.

  5. #5 Ian
    April 1, 2010

    @bluemaxx

    Which is why I propose the “slap test” for psychics. You sit down across from them, and allow them to look deep into your psyche to deduce your future.

    When they are done this, you slap them as hard as you can in the face.

    If they see it coming and recoil before you can unleash your weapon of cheek destruction (which is also Ted Haggert’s nickname for his schming-schmong), then they can at least claim to have some kind of extra-sensory powers. If they press charges, you counter-sue for fraud.

  6. #6 cdrealist
    April 1, 2010

    What worries me is that killing psychics might cause the trait to die out in humans. And then what will World Net Daily do for news?

  7. #7 Phoenix Woman
    April 1, 2010

    It can’t be all that effective if he watched a number of them…

    It doesn’t work here, either: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/deterrence-states-without-death-penalty-have-had-consistently-lower-murder-rates

  8. #8 Rob Jase
    April 1, 2010

    Isn’t Islam, like it’s two Abrahamic cousins, a religion based on prophets forseeing the future & their clerics prompting that belief?

    Now if the Saudis follow their own logic then they should also behead their imans.

  9. #9 Blah
    April 1, 2010

    The problem with Saudi Arabia is that it is run by people who actually believe magic, witchcraft and such is reality. Those people must live in a constant state of fear. Don’t think that people like that only live in Saudi Arabia.

  10. #10 Pieter B
    April 1, 2010

    Previously when reading about this I have joked about sending Sylvia Browne on a Middle Eastern vacation, because I naively thought that there was no way they’d actually go through with the execution. Einstein was right; human stupidity is definitely infinite.

  11. #11 Richard
    April 1, 2010

    I think the Saudis are a bit behind the times–like about 500 years. And what are they going to do; trot out the king to pardon the offender every time their medieval justice system is exposed and embarrassed by the international community?

  12. #12 DaveD
    April 1, 2010

    HOWEVER, the Saudi’s know how to deal with their criminals. I was stationed in Saudia Arabia many years ago and watched a number of these beheadings. You see one of these and you will NEVER want to commit a crime…now that’s effective law enforcement!

    I remember reading the book “My Shadow Ran Fast,” in which the author mentions working in Saudi Arabia (back in the 50s, I think). He says that he saw one of the punishments where they cut off the hand of a convicted thief. He also said that despite these highly public punishments, thievery was rampant.

  13. #13 rob
    April 1, 2010

    i was shocked also by “Children will lose their father over a nonsensical superstition for a “crime” he apparently didn’t even commit in Saudi Arabia!”

    WTF? bunch of CAM*

    say i find a penny on the sidewalk and pick it up. then go to saudi arabia. do they cut off my hand for stealing?

    *crazy ass motherf#ckers

  14. #14 History Punk
    April 1, 2010

    Stuff like this just reinforces the superiority of Western Civilization.

  15. #15 Mary
    April 1, 2010

    Good news from Britain though (I know, off topic, but no open thread…)

    Simon Singh’s ‘resounding victory’ raises hope of libel reform

    [I'm assuming it isn't just an Apr 1 joke, too important...]

  16. #16 Becca Stareyes
    April 1, 2010

    History Punk @ 14

    Yes, because lethal injections and the electric chair are just so much more civilized.

    Seriously, you are aware there are many places in the world that:

    1. Are not typically considered part of Western Civilization.
    2. Do not behead people for sorcery.

  17. #17 Rene Najera
    April 1, 2010

    I got shat on pretty badly over on gizmodo because I disagreed with a posting by one of their authors whose thesis was that the “East” doesn’t need the “West”… That Google was meddling in a culture not it’s own, much like the English did with all of the world.
    I don’t believe that. There are certain rights that are universal, international, for all of us equally. The framers of the US Constitution were onto something that has worked out pretty good, and I’m not being patriotic (I’m not from your country).
    I’m from Texas, and all the death row executions in the world have not made a dent in the crime rate in that country… I mean, State.
    Yes, it may read humorous to make fun of a psychic who couldn’t foresee his own beheading (bluemaxx, dave), but I bet you good money he didn’t have a fair trial, by a jury of his peers. I’ll raise you that he was not allowed a just defense. And I’ll tack on that his punishment will be cruel, if not to him then to his family.
    But, what the hell… We’ll keep doing business with the house of Saud because oil is so necessary. We’ll keep accepting “their ways” because we want to be politically correct and not call out that brand of Muslims like we call out the Westboro Baptists. Nothing will change, no matter how much we comment on any post here or in China. (Wait, we wouldn’t be able to find Orac from China, from what I hear.)

  18. #18 aithne
    April 1, 2010

    History Punk- Superiority of Western Civilization?? I love ‘western civilization’ as much as the next westerner, but not so long ago, our culture did the same exact sort of thing. We are just on a different time frame. In general humans have the same predisposition to barbarism, violence, irrationality, no matter what region they come from. We just like to forget our ugly past.

  19. #19 James Sweet
    April 1, 2010

    Before we pile on History Punk too much, let’s maybe rephrase to what he maybe meant to say (or at least should have said): Stuff like this just reinforces the superiority of secular democracy.

    Not only does this acknowledge that a) it’s nothing magical about Western culture, it’s a better form of government; and b) the West doesn’t have a monopoly on secular democracy; it also reminds us that c) it doesn’t take a whole lot of desecularization to put us back to where Saudi Arabia is.

  20. #20 bluemaxx
    April 1, 2010

    to CD @ 6

    not to worry, World News Daily would shift to Bigfoot, Abominal Snowman, Sasquatch, Jersey Devil, and of course, the ever popular Space Aliens…..who as we all know, are at the secret moon base, NOT at the purposefully distracting Area 51.

    and I guess there are still Miracle Diets to tout as well.

  21. #21 Ian
    April 1, 2010

    “Western civilization” isn’t the same as “western people” though. I don’t think History Punk was drawing that equivalence. If we keep our definition of “western civilization” to those characteristics that are shared by North American and European countries then I don’t think he/she’s that far off. Free speech is better than censorship, democracy is better than theocracy, scientific skepticism is better than blind faith. Obviously “western” society doesn’t purely embody those characteristics, but they are definitely more prevalent here than there.

    Of course the entire argument rests solely on the deontological premise of “goodness”, whereby we consider truth and open-ness “good” whereas other places might consider fealty to scripture or honour of the overall culture “good”. If those things are the seat of “goodness”, then “western” society sucks donkey nuts as a bunch of godless, selfish jerks.

    However I would like to point out that it is my liberal, “western” education that allows me the knowledge required to discuss these topics. I know where I’d rather live.

  22. #22 James Sweet
    April 1, 2010

    He also said that despite these highly public punishments, thievery was rampant.

    Yeah, it’s weird how severity of punishment doesn’t have anywhere near the magnitude of deterrent effect that we intuitively feel like it ought. I guess it makes sense when you think about it: Who commits a crime thinking they are going to get caught? And people who are good at planning for contingencies don’t typically end up engaging in petty theft…

  23. #23 Passerby
    April 1, 2010

    If this man is a Lebanese citizen, and the broadcast was made from Lebanon, how do Saudi authorities have legal right to arrest and try him for an alleged offense committed in another state, while he is on travel?

    Why not simply ban the airing of the program in Saudi Arabia and warn the man off against entering the country?

    The Economist magazine currently has an interesting on-line article on the strange machinations of the Saudi government and the fomenting of terrorist that it has caused.

  24. #24 BLUEMAXX
    April 1, 2010

    @17 rene

    oh come on… take a breath.

    He didn’t get a jury trial… they dont do that over there. religious “court” after arrest by the religious ‘police’ with their beating sticks.
    They dont read rights, they tell you you will get your trial before the head chop, all criminals punished each Friday, if possible.

    Obviously, Capital punishment for obviously non capital, rather mundane offense is not a laughing matter. But the abstract of a psychic being beheaded for sorcery, etc IS a comic premise…
    And ORAC posted the thread not as a lampoon, but as raising general awareness and objection to the religious insular arbitrary societal overreaction.

    And you are right, they are one of our friends in that region, but like so many friends we all have, not perfect and with some (in this case) serious lapses of judgement. But I tend to keep my friends and help them evolve as I strive to be a better friend myself.

    AND… you are so right. THIS sort of nonsense (pyschic charlatan = capital crime, probably because he is NOT an IMAM) should be shouted down and condemned like the WESTBORO CHURCH OF INSANE RACIAL HATRED, and BOTH sorts of insanity should be more loudly condemned, rejected, and fought.

    But in MY America, we are also allowed periodically to laugh at the sadly ridiculous… and this incident IS sadly ridiculous. But you probably knew I was going to say that, you psychic you.

  25. #25 v.rosenzweig
    April 1, 2010

    Another thing to consider is that the alleged value of deterrence here—as exemplified by the person who said that, after seeing a beheading, he had no desire to commit the capital crime in question—is not for the criminal in question, but for the rest of the population. And for that, it is entirely irrelevant whether the person being punished is guilty: all that matters is that they are believed to be guilty.

    So, it’s entirely possible that the men behind this decision don’t believe in sorcery any more than I do: if they think claims of psychic powers are competition or will make people less devout or obedient to the imams, it’s in their interest to kill the competition.

  26. #26 IDM
    April 1, 2010

    It’s a case of woo against woo. Except the woo of Islam doesn’t just permeate life but government and law. It’s eliminating competitors more than anything.

  27. #27 Calli Arcale
    April 1, 2010

    Blah @ 9:

    The problem with Saudi Arabia is that it is run by people who actually believe magic, witchcraft and such is reality.

    Not necessarily. While certainly there are Arabs who believe magic and witchcraft are real (just as there are everywhere in the world), that isn’t necessarily the reason behind this execution. We have this stereotype that people only kill witches because they think they’re literally in league with Satan and can turn you into a newt, mostly because of the Salem Witch Trials. But historically, the truth has been more complex. In this case, the religious courts who sentenced this man to death are more concerned with mandated proper halal (Islamically lawful) behavior than they are with punishing magic-users. Whether or not his magic is real is probably not important; all that’s important is that he *claims* it is. In fact, they might consider him more at fault if he’s *not* magical, because then he is lying to entrap people into belief in a nonexistant supernatural force which isn’t God.

    And that’s what it gets down to — that this guy is promoting a force other than God. Whether or not magic is real is unimportant to the sharia courts, I suspect. What’s important is that he’s trying to trick people into believing in a power other than God, and to them, that is a pretty serious form of apostasy, whether the other power exists or not.

    Religious courts, throughout history, have always held that the gravest crime of all was to renounce the authority upon which the courts are built.

  28. #28 jre
    April 1, 2010

    You see one of these and you will NEVER want to commit a crime…now that’s effective law enforcement!

    This is bullshit, motivated by sadism, and masquerading as pragmatism.
    Saudi Arabia
    executed 484 people from 2005 to 2008 inclusively. That’s an average of 121 executions annually in a country with fewer than 29 million inhabitants. In comparison, the state of Texas with a population just under 25 million executed 87 people over those same four years, giving it an annual rate of 22 executions annually — and that is the US state with the highest execution rate in the nation. The Saudi’s fondness for public bloodletting has not deterred crime in the slightest. According to the Daily Telegraph,

    A spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s National Society for Human Rights has said that numbers of executions are rising because crime rates are rising, that prisoners are treated humanely, and that the beheadings deter crime, saying, “”Allah, our creator, knows best what’s good for his people…Should we just think of and preserve the rights of the murderer and not think of the rights of others?”

    No; you should stop being superstitious, bloodthirsty, sadistic scumbags.

  29. #29 Phil
    April 1, 2010

    Is this an April fool’s joke?

    I’m not western by descent, but I know what I like. I like a society built on rationalism, philosophy, democracy respecting the rights of minorities. I don’t like societies rum by dogma and submission to authority.
    And I particularly don’t like a society where you can execute a man for something that doesn’t even exist.

  30. #30 Zeteic
    April 1, 2010

    @ Phil:

    Is this an April fool’s joke?

    Apparently not. The story has been circulating before April 1st and has been repeated by other news outlets before April 1st. Also such cases have been heard of before in some Middle Eastern countries. Islam being one of the Abrahamic religions has many prohibitions against “witchcraft” and predicting the future (outside of prophecy in favor of the Abrahamic deity in question of course).

  31. #31 WTF
    April 1, 2010

    What a great idea! Kudos to our friends in the Middle East.

    I say we adopt this in the US and start lining up chiropractors, psychics, acupuncturists, homeopaths, and liars of all stripes (I’m looking at you Fox News) for beheadings.

    It’d make for awesome TV!

  32. #32 llewelly
    April 1, 2010

    Becca Stareyes | April 1, 2010 3:03 PM:

    Yes, because lethal injections and the electric chair are just so much more civilized.

    What is the difference between barbarism and civilization? It is not intelligence; hunter-gatherers show the same range of intelligence as city dwellers. It is not morals; again, hunter-gatherers show the same variations in morality. It is technology. Technology is the difference between barbarism and civilization. Therefor, the lethal injection and the electric chair are indeed more civilized ways to execute people. Now if only we could use the Large Hadron Collider to execute people, that would really be civilized!

    (And making condemned criminals vanish into a black hole would be too cool for words.)

  33. #33 Zetetic
    April 1, 2010

    llewelly @ #32:

    (And making condemned criminals vanish into a black hole would be too cool for words.)

    LOL!

    Hate to be a party-pooper on your suggestion, but since such a method of death (considering the size of a black hole that could be produced by the LHC) would probably take about a trillion years before it killed him, I think that death by either radiation (from the LHC) or old age are more likely!
    ;-)

  34. #34 Ian
    April 1, 2010

    Technology is the difference between barbarism and civilization

    Don’t tell that to the Amish. Seriously, just don’t tell them. They won’t read it here.

    I think the existence of a centralized political system and the rule of law are better criteria for ‘civilization’ than the existence of technology (especially when you look at the root word ‘civil’). Under your definition, societies with more advanced technology are more civilized than those with less sophisticated gadgetry. Not to mention the fact that hunter/gatherers use technology too…

    But yes, black hole annihilation would be quite a thing to see.

  35. #35 Zetetic
    April 1, 2010

    Apparently the execution has now been delayed, not overturned just delayed.

    Condemned ‘sorcerer’ won’t die Friday, lawyer says

  36. #36 History Punk
    April 1, 2010

    Yes, because lethal injections and the electric chair are just so much more civilized.

    You do realize that lethal injection, much less the electric chair, are rarely used in the West. Outside Texas, they are barely used in the United States.

    Seriously, you are aware there are many places in the world that:

    1. Are not typically considered part of Western Civilization.
    2. Do not behead people for sorcery.

    Yes, but many of those places are Western, but Western civilization is not based on skin color or racial features, but on a specific set of ideas. So places civilized by the American military after the Second World War, say Japan and places that comprisedits empire, like South Korea, are Western, even without the Christianity or pale skin. :)

  37. #37 carrot eater
    April 1, 2010

    I agree with passerby. It’d be bad enough if Saudi Arabia did this to its own citizen, residing in the country.

    But this is a person from another country, doing business in another country, and he just happened to visit Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage.

    Do they keep a list of all the people on earth, and what they’ve done wrong in Saudi eyes? Perhaps they should publish this list, so I know not to visit, if I’m on their list.

  38. #38 David N. Brown
    April 1, 2010

    I was puzzled by what the religious rationale would be, as it has been my understanding that Islam takes a more benign view of magic than Judeo-Christian traditions. I found this link of interest: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_%28paranormal%29#In_Islam

    It appears that, within “consensus” tradition of Islam, putting someone to death would require establishing that
    a)he called on forces other than God or the angels and/or
    b) that he intended harm to someone else. In both situations (particularly the later), some punishment could be justified regardless of whether the “magic” worked. It looks like this action is driven by members of the Wahabi “fundamentalist” group, I suspect to set an example and precedent against practices closer to home.

  39. #39 David N. Brown
    April 1, 2010

    An additional comment: A major issue in the acceptance or disapproval of “magic” practices is the willingness to accept “neutral” agencies within the supernatural realm. As a “Christian Fortean”, I have discussed this question, and usually get negative responses from coreligionists.

  40. #40 Basiorana
    April 1, 2010

    “Yes, because lethal injections and the electric chair are just so much more civilized.”

    Well, remember, when you are beheaded, you feel everything and remain conscious for a few seconds with your head detached. Personally after drowning I think it would be the most horrifying way to die. In a lethal injection, at least, it’s painless. I don’t know about civilized, but both options are certainly more humane, and the lethal injection is probably the most humane way to kill something if you absolutely have to kill.

    “Yeah, it’s weird how severity of punishment doesn’t have anywhere near the magnitude of deterrent effect that we intuitively feel like it ought. I guess it makes sense when you think about it: Who commits a crime thinking they are going to get caught? And people who are good at planning for contingencies don’t typically end up engaging in petty theft…”

    I read a study that said that the best determinant of crime rates was not the punishments imposed, but the perceived likelihood a given criminal has that he will get caught. So in other words, criminals don’t care if the penalty is 2 years or death, they just care if they’ll get caught period. That’s why just having police officers can lower the crime rate, but increasing punishment won’t– making the penalty for murder two years and training a few thousand police officers is MUCH more effective deterrent than the death penalty.

    I support the death penalty in the sense that I believe some people are just so awful, so horrific, so morally bankrupt that it is better to kill them than try to keep them alive in solitary confinement for their natural life (you know, people like Mengele). More humane, too– and most prisoners agree with me, preferring the death penalty to life in supermax prisons. That said, I hate charlatans but they don’t deserve to die for it.

  41. #41 mad the swine
    April 1, 2010

    To be fair, if the TV program for which Sibat was condemned was aired in Saudi Arabia, or on a station accessible within Saudi Arabia, the Saudis would have standing to try Sibat for breaking Saudi law. It’s fairly standard in international law: consider British libel law (which has occasionally been a topic on this blog) or the Google executives sentenced to six months in prison in Italy because of a video hosted on Youtube – or, for that matter, any of the ‘terrorists’ in Gitmo, whose ‘crimes’ were committed well outside the jurisdiction of the United States. Sibat’s situation is grotesque and horrible, but it’s grotesque and horrible because of the inherent barbarity of Islamic law, not because Sibat was outside Saudi borders when he committed his ‘crime’.

  42. #42 Brad K.
    April 2, 2010

    I am surprised at a comment that horrific punishment deters crime. If it did – why does Saudi Arabia still find someone needing beheading?

    Back in about 1967, if I recall, I was on our high school debate team. The topic was capital punishment – does it work.

    One of the few solid facts was that when Great Britain discontinued public executions – the murder rate dropped.

    Among those outside the law, there is a certain cache to more strenuous punishments. They almost measure their self worth by the amount of hate from society. Go figure.

    I have to wonder at the sorcerer dude, though. If he wasn’t stupid, he knew his life’s work was abhorred by his faith. Yet he believed enough to go on pilgrimage. That doesn’t sound really well thought out.

    Saudi Arabia must really want something in the news to offset declining oil production reports as they empty their fields. Else, why pluck this pilgrim, and not the adulterers and thieves and drunks that were also surely on pilgrimage?

  43. #43 Jen M
    April 2, 2010

    I wonder if this will encourage more pilgrimage? Come to Saudi Arabia and get arrested for anything they think is wrong that you have ever done anywhere.

  44. #44 James Sweet
    April 2, 2010

    In a lethal injection, at least, it’s painless.

    You’d think that, wouldn’t you? But it’s not necessarily the case. Lethal injections are done by a cocktail of three drugs: One to anesthetize you, one to immobilize you (because even if the condemned doesn’t feel anything, it creeps out the audience if his or her body is spasming during the death process), and one to actually kill you. It turns out that the last one is extremely painful if administered without sufficient anesthetic… but because of the second one, even if not enough anesthetic is administered to numb the pain, we’ll have no idea. The condemned will be in unbearable agony, but unable to move.

    Lethal injection is painless when it works right, but it’s difficult to tell whether or not it really was painless, and recent evidence has suggested that it is screwed up more often than we would like to think.

    Not that this changes the discussion… lethal injection is still less shitty than beheading (because that’s always painful and horrific), and getting rid of capital punishment altogether is preferred IMO.

    I read a study that said that the best determinant of crime rates was not the punishments imposed, but the perceived likelihood a given criminal has that he will get caught.

    This is my understanding as well. Turns out the same principle applies in raising children… it’s not so much the method of discipline/positive reinforcement you use (although that matters too), but far more important is being consistent with expectations.

    I support the death penalty in the sense that I believe some people are just so awful, so horrific, so morally bankrupt that it is better to kill them than try to keep them alive in solitary confinement for their natural life (you know, people like Mengele). More humane, too– and most prisoners agree with me, preferring the death penalty to life in supermax prisons.

    I agree with the sentiment, but there are two major problems with that in practice.

    The first is execution of the innocent — nobody has yet figured out a way to operate a system of justice on a large scale that doesn’t have a scary number of false convictions. It’s bad enough for an innocent person to rot in jail for ten years, but at least you can let them out again.

    The second problem in practice is that too many jurisdictions will misapply it. It’s a little bit like censorship of speech… deciding what is and is not okay to say is too important and too complicated to assume that all local and state governments will get it right. Much safer to just not have the government get into that business.

  45. #45 Basiorana
    April 2, 2010

    Well, let me rephrase then. At least when a state allows lethal injection, they are saying, “we intend to pick the way of killing prisoners that is least likely to cause them pain and suffering.” They pick beheadings, especially public ones like Saudi Arabia prefers, they’re saying, “we intend to make prisoners suffer as much as possible and make a bloody spectacle of it.” Regardless, lethal injection is still more “civilized” if by that we mean humane. That doesn’t make it objectively so.

    I believe the process of execution should be reserved for those who are so overtly murderous that there is never any question of their guilt, and mostly should be reserved for those who orchestrate and order the commitment of genocide– I don’t think simply being a serial killer is enough. I would support allowing the international community to confer and determine when a general or world leader had orchestrated and ordered the commitment of genocide, then execute that person. Which is what is currently done for genocide. I feel that’s an appropriate response.

    I also believe that persons in prison for life with clear evidence supporting their guilt should have the option of euthanasia if they prefer it, and if they don’t change their mind for a couple years and with much counseling. Particularly if they’re over 65 and have been in prison more than 20 years. I think it’s far more humane to allow them the option of taking a pill than to force an old man to grow old in prison. Of course, I support that for everyone who is old and/or ill, but it would be easier to convince the religious people to let prisoners kill themselves than the rest of us.

  46. #46 David N. Brown
    April 3, 2010

    Beheading isn’t particularly inhumane. (Ironically, the victim is likely to be dead or fatally injured significantly earlier than when outright decapitation is achieved.) My pick for three worst are drawing and quartering, impalement and crucifixion. Impalement was the historic practice of the Ottomans, so I suppose the Saudis could say their progressively humane.

    A very dark joke I have thought up: “We never burnt a witch! Our witches were humanely hanged!”

  47. #47 TomSwift
    April 3, 2010

    Regarding the “death penalty” debate. Japan has the death penalty and one of the lowest crime rates, while South Africa doesn’t and has the highest crime rate in the world. This does not mean that one causes the other, however, and American states that have the death penalty also have more crime. I’m just saying that any effect is to small to measure.

    In general, I don’t believe that the death penalty ‘works’ in the sense that it reduces the murder rate, however, this is only one aspect of criminal justice.

    I do not respect teachers because they never punished those who disrupted their classes. I’d be willing to bet that people in “death penalty states” have a greater respect for police/corrections officers than the ones that do not.

  48. #48 Basiorana
    April 3, 2010

    “I’d be willing to bet that people in “death penalty states” have a greater respect for police/corrections officers than the ones that do not.”

    Well, no. They don’t. Heck, that doesn’t even make sense– the cops and COs don’t even decide if you get the death penalty, that’s the courts. People DO respect law enforcement if the cops catch criminals almost all the time and provide regular patrols that discourage crime.

    “Beheading isn’t particularly inhumane.”

    Imagine your last thought, the last image seared into your brain, as looking at your own body, your own severed neck, from several feet away. I’ve read stories of people who were in car accidents where the other rider was beheaded; they describe this moment of shock, then a horrific dawning comprehension on the face of the decapitated head as the person realizes what has happened, before they finally die. It is INCREDIBLY inhumane compared to most other ways that modern societies execute people.

    That said, yes, if they’re beaten to near unconsciousness first it would be better for them. But at least with crucifixion and drawing and quartering you usually die of suffocation, intact. Painful, yes. Inhumane, certainly. But at least the last thought is searing pain, not searing pain combined with three seconds of staring at your body thinking “oh shit, oh shit, let me die already!”

    Personally, I think if we MUST execute someone, we should inject them with a massive overdose of heroin. Two advantages: one, we get to teach children that heroin is a way to die, not to get high, and two, it’s pretty much the most painless death you can possibly imagine, like falling asleep in a total state of bliss.

  49. #49 David N. Brown
    April 3, 2010

    “Imagine your last thought, the last image seared into your brain, as looking at your own body, your own severed neck, from several feet away.”
    I suspect this is something of a myth. The impression I get from every detailed account I have read (see esp. Yukio Mishima) is that decapitation using only handheld edged weapons takes a substantial amount of time and effort. From the Saudis, I would expect a scimitar, and two or three strokes minimum, and getting it halfway done would of course be enough to finish the victim.
    In short, apart from the use of a guillotine or maybe a very large axe or broadsword, what you describe is very unlikely to happen.

  50. #50 Basiorana
    April 4, 2010

    I’ve seen clips of them doing it, and while I’m sure sometimes it’s poorly done, it is possible and happens quite often that they get a sharp enough blade and a strong enough executioner that it happens in one blow. Saudi executioners pride themselves on keeping their swords heavy enough and sharp enough to do it in one blow– these aren’t normal weapons of war, they are specifically designed for this purpose and maintained accordingly. Executioners also undergo specialized training on how to bring the sword around precisely to remove the head in a single blow.

    Yukio Mishima’s student used a normal sword, not a specifically designed decapitation weapon, and was not trained in decapitation. That is commonly the problem with historical and modern accounts– when one uses a normal sword, it can be very difficult, as most swords are not specifically designed for that purpose.

  51. #51 David N. Brown
    April 4, 2010

    With Mishima, there were actually two students involved, though apparently they didn’t try it at the same time (as was my previous understanding). Another potential factor is that the traditional katana is lighter than European or Middle Eastern swords. I think we can all agree that fantasy and martial arts portrayals of beheadings in actual combat is preposterous (even within the context), and also a sign of how much it resonates as a “meme” independent of reality.

    Much definitely depends on the strength, skill and temperament of the executioner. A historic example I read about recently was Jack Ketch, who either was a sadist or simply wasn’t very good at his job. An especially surreal aspect of his story is a report that, after one of his most notorious beheadings, he wrote a letter of apology (wiki leaves a striking gap in explaining to whom!)

  52. #52 Seb30
    April 4, 2010

    @ Basiorana 48 and before

    [Imagine your last thought, the last image seared into your brain, as looking at your own body...]
    I’m sorry, but this is BS.
    I agree seeing a human body dismembered could be very traumatic for the onlookers. I hope it was an experience you were spared.

    But lethal injection more humane than beheading, solely because you don’t have to watch your own beheaded body? This is your only concern?
    Whatever method you are selecting, you still have to pick the condemned from his cell, walk him to the execution room, and prepare him for the execution. This preparation includes a medical examination (very intimate, I heard), attaching the prisonner on some contraption, and connecting him to the death-delivering apparatus.
    With lethal injection, you need 30-45 minutes at least for the preparation itself.
    It’s way much longer than the 5 seconds you alledgelly spent looking at your beheaded body.
    And sometimes, the appeal the condemned sent to the governor will arrive when the guy is already strapped to the injection device. So you have to unhook the prisonner, bring him back to his cell. And both of you know that six months after, the same process will start again.
    Ask veterans about battleshock. The 1st time you face a potentially lethal situation, you are merely frightened. The second time, you are hellishly scared, because you know what’s going to happen.
    I am sorry, but this is not humane. This is sadism.
    No matter what the condemned did, no matter how monstrous he is, this is sadism. The willfull infliction of pain on someone else.
    If someone slaughtered my parents, I would wish him dead. But walking through this? Hell not. Give me a pistol, or give him a life sentence, but not this.
    And don’t even start me on anesthesis failure during lethal injection. Because, even if lethal injection was more humane on the paper, if you fudge it up on a regular basis, it’s not humane anymore. Again, it’s sadism.

    It’s funny. As a French, I tend to favor decapitation (well, using guillotine, a contraption invented for the sole purpose to render the process less dependent on the swordskill of the executionner)
    Apparently, American peoples swear by the electric chair or the lethal injection. Much less messy, I agree.
    I read once a story from a Russian executionner. They shot a bullet in the back of the head of the condemned, as he is walking toward the execution room. Fast and efficient. He was claiming his method was more humane than any western high-tech method, and you know what? I tend to believe him.

  53. #53 Calli Arcale
    April 5, 2010

    There are plenty of apocryphal tales of beheaded people showing expressions of horror as they realized what had happened to them — but considering that you lose consciousness almost instantly if you are shot in the heart, how is the head supposed to remain conscious for several seconds when all venous and arterial connections have been abruptly severed? It seems extremely implausible to me. I can believe involuntary muscle twitches, which a person horrified by what they have witnessed could interpret as an expression of shock or pain, but consciousness at all post-beheading is very improbable to me.

    Regarding katanas….

    A proper katana (not a practice blade or one of the reproductions you see sold for suspiciously low prices) should have absolutely no difficulty decapitating a person in one blow. (Also heavier than you might think.) Not designed as an instrument of execution, true. It was a weapon of war. And though the point does give you a good thrust, it’s designed for hack-and-slash. Properly aimed and with adequate follow through, it will cut off a head in a single blow. Or a limb. War was pretty gruesome in the sword days.

    Modern katana training, like ancient katana training, revolves heavily around hacking strokes. They practice chopping things quite a bit. (Most famous is probably the rolled tatami mats. Won’t dull the blade too badly.) According to legend, ancient katanas were actually tested on condemned prisoners, with the blade’s quality measured in the number it could decapitate with a single stroke….or perhaps simply before sharpening was required.

    Actually, most swords from the pre-firearm era were pretty effective at decapitation or amputation. Indeed, warriors would be trained to do just that, as it is a quite effective way of eliminating your opponent. Stabbing works too, but then you have to free the blade from their corpse, which means their buddy may have just killed *you*. And if you were planning on doing a lot of stabbing, why didn’t you just get a pike? Once firearms were introduced, things changed. Armor got heavier to stop bullets, and so swords had to get lighter. Also, the knight class became less and less useful; the old pikemen became riflemen and thus the mainstay of the army. They couldn’t carry a rifle and a sword; the best they could do was carry a bayonet to turn the rifle back into a pike. You can slash with a bayonet, but it’s mainly a stabbing weapon. Swords, meanwhile, became more ceremonial, used more for dueling than for war, and for that, you really want a stabbing instrument.

    You can still remove limbs with a sabre, which became the blade of the nobility. The middle eastern scimitar is more effective. And that is the blade still used today for executions in Saudi Arabia. It’s heavy, it’s curved, and it’s made *exclusively* for hacking and slashing.

    I believe decapitation to be a very humane method of execution. It’s quite gory, however, and disfigures the body. This will be distressing to the family of the deceased, and you have to decide for yourself whether or not that matters. In my opinion, it does. However, all forms of execution are ugly. Even lethal injection. And it’s awfully hard to correct if a mistake has been made.

  54. #54 Antaeus Feldspar
    April 5, 2010

    And that’s what it gets down to — that this guy is promoting a force other than God. Whether or not magic is real is unimportant to the sharia courts, I suspect. What’s important is that he’s trying to trick people into believing in a power other than God, and to them, that is a pretty serious form of apostasy, whether the other power exists or not.

    Religious courts, throughout history, have always held that the gravest crime of all was to renounce the authority upon which the courts are built.

    The first paragraph might accurately describe the rationale being followed by the sharia court which sentenced this man, but I think the general picture is a bit more complex than your second paragraph suggests.

    Yes, religious courts did take the offense of renouncing the relevant religion very seriously, but if they regarded it as “the gravest crime of all” (and regarded the attempt to practice witchcraft as automatically renouncing the relevant religion) you would not find the penalty for witchcraft being sentenced to fast on bread and water for 12 months. There’s a really interesting article (which unfortunately seems to change web locations every time I go to look it up) that explains how much of what we think we know about the witch panics isn’t true, and I do recommend it. Right now it can be found at http://draeconin.com/database/witchhunt.htm .

  55. #55 Virgett
    April 6, 2010

    This is my forecast for Saudi Arabia:
    THE WRATH OF LORD GOD OF HEAVEN is on Saudi Arabia.
    The Judgment by the Creator Holy God of the Universe is on
    the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia!

  56. #56 Virgett
    April 7, 2010

    Saudi Arabia is in the Holy Bible listed in Revelations
    Chapter 9:11 And they had a King over them, which is the Angel of the Bottomless Pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue
    is Abaddon,but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.

    Please Note: the Terrorist Attack on 911 most came from
    Saudi Arabia.

  57. #57 Celestial Being
    April 7, 2010

    WARNING TO THE WORLD OF PLANET EARTH:
    My forecast:
    Saudi Arabia wants Absolute Power over all the Human Beings on Planet Earth not just Saudi Arabia.
    Saudi Arabia wants the World of Nations to have recognition
    of Saudi Arabia’s Absolute Power to be able to kill anyone,
    from any Nation for any misdeed, that is not a felony.
    Saudi Arabia is a World Court of Law with Absolute Power to kill whenever, for whatever, whoever the Kingdom wants !

  58. #58 Random Capitals
    April 7, 2010

    Please Note:

    There are Certain Indicators which Say to People Who are Sane, “You might be Dealing With people Who Are not As Sane.”

    One Such Indicator is addressing The Whole of PLANET EARTH at Once.

    Another Indicator is Putting Capitals on words That Should Not Get Capitals. English has Rules about Capital Letters; you Cannot Simply put them Wherever You Like.

  59. #59 JohnV
    April 7, 2010

    My forecast for Saudi Arabia:

    Hot, mostly sunny.

    Come on, someone had to do it.

  60. #60 John
    April 11, 2010

    Much as I love the US, I can’t help but be amused at some of the blinkered comments by some of its citizens on here. How can anyone there, with a straight face, complain about another country being run by crazy theists? Both the previous and present presidents in the US believed that they have a magic invisible friend in the sky that tells them what’s good and bad.

    And how can people complain about punishments or beatings in custody when we all know what has happened at Guantanamo?

    Then we come to the “barbarity” of executing people for their crimes, as though the US does not do this?

    Seriously people, just think before posting this sort of stuff. Don’t mock another country for doing something that our own does too.

  61. #61 Luna_the_cat
    April 11, 2010

    John, if you paid any attention, you might notice that quite a lot of bloggers and commenters on SB level a LOT of criticism at the US for the same thing. Are you seriously saying that no-one is entitled to complain about anything another country or culture does until their own is absolutely beyond reproach? Wow, no-one will ever be entitled to criticise anyone!

    Seriously, it’s not a zero-sum game, people here are perfectly capable of being outraged at gross miscarriages of justice in other countries as well as their own; and more to the point, absolutely no-one here is claiming that it’s ok for the US to have a theocracy and to use the death penalty (especially on innocent people). Gross abuses of reason are gross abuses of reason, regardless of location, and if you did much reading here at all you would quickly see that it all comes under fire.

    And one other thing — international outrage was the only thing which had any chance of saving that poor schmuck’s life. What would you suggest, in your high moral dudgeon over our supposed hypocrisy, that we just keep mum and abandon him to his fate because we are not entitled to criticise?

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!