Someone asked me the other day if I supported Israel. Specifically they asked “Would you say you are a supporter of Israel or not?” This implies it is a binary issue. My interlocutor thinks you are either fully in support of the country or against it. I may be misinterpreting his intentions, but that was my reading of the question.
My answer was that I had no strong feelings about Israel, but I wished them the best. I have the same emotional response as I would if the topic were Canada or Lichtenstein. Israel is a country with interests, just like any other country. Where her interests coincide with the interest of my country, I expect my government to work with Israel. Where our interests collide, I expect my government to put our interests first.
That’s a cutesy pie answer that is not entirely honest. I’m a human being born into a culture and therefore I have a cultural outlook. Like any normal American, for example, I don’t care for the French. They could be building the paleo-conservative utopia over there and I would have a tough time cheering for them. On the other hand, I’ll always root for the Brits, even when they are doing stupid things.
The reason, of course, is that the Brits are a lot like Americans. Familiarity and a commonly held sensibility makes it easy for Brits and Americans to get along. That’s where I come down on Israel and the Middle East. I’ve known a lot of Jews and I’ve done business with Israelis. They are familiar to me and I have some insight into their world view. Arabs are inscrutable and their ways strike my western mind as barbaric.
A young Saudi Arabian Shi’a activist, who was sentenced to death last year, has lost his final appeal for justice and is due to be executed by beheading, followed by the mounting of his headless body onto a crucifix for public viewing.
Human rights groups and Saudi critics are appalled by both the nature of the execution and the flimsy case against Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, though neither of these factors are unusual in today’s Saudi Arabia.
Al-Nimr was arrested in 2012, at age 17, in the predominantly Shia province of Qatif, and accused of participating in anti-government protests and possessing illegal firearms. He has repeatedly denied the latter charge, although he was reportedly tortured into confessing the offenses after his arrest. According to Amnesty International, al-Nimr spent a short time in a juvenile detention facility before being transferred to prison when he turned 18, and was sentenced to death in 2014.
Al-Nimr was likely targeted because he is the nephew of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimra, a prominent Shi’a cleric who was also sentenced to death in 2014. Al-Nimr’s father is also a political activist.
“Ali was a vulnerable child when he was arrested and this ordeal began,” said Maya Foa of the legal charity Reprieve, in a statement. “His execution—based apparently on the authorities’ dislike for his uncle, and his involvement in anti-government protests—would violate international law and the most basic standards of decency. It must be stopped.”
US talk show host Bill Maher raised al-Nimr’s situation on television a few days ago, encouraging viewers to stop fretting about the American Muslim who was arrested for bringing a clock to school and instead show some concern for the Saudi who’s going to be crucified for attending a protest. “If you haven’t used up all your heroism hashtagging for the clock kid, maybe do it for this guy,” Maher said.
I’ll stipulate that the bias here probably excludes the very real crimes committed by this guy. I’ll also stipulate that the death penalty is seen as a reasonable punishment by most people. I’ll even go so far as to accept beheading as humane, assuming it is swift like the guillotine. As a matter of science, there can be no more humane way of killing someone than the swift removal of their head.
Where I draw the line is on displaying the corpse. The story calls it crucifixion in order to elicit strong feelings from their intended audience. The use of the wælsteng went out of fashion in Europe about 1500 years ago. The last guy to make regular use of this practice was Vlad the Impaler and that was 600 years ago. He has been remembered for his outlandish cruelty. In other words, we are well past this sort of barbarism.
Israel is a country that is much more similar to what I know than are the Muslim countries around her. Given the choice, I’ll root for the Israelis, because to do so is to root for civilization, my civilization. Israel is not perfect and there are plenty of bad Israelis. But, the Palestinians, for example, are nuts. The Saudis are stuck in the fifth century and most of the Near East is populated with people I never want to see in my neighborhood.