The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has shocked and enraged much of the world by deliberately broadcasting videos of the beheadings of American and British journalists.
Likewise, it's apparent that much of the US government's motivation for pursuing these terrorists is a direct product of these gruesome scenes.
Jim Foley was the first American journalist beheaded by ISIS, this is how Secretary of State John Kerry reacted on Twitter:
Jim Foley went to the darkest of places to shine the light of truth/he was brave and bold/no masked coward can ever steal his legacy — John Kerry (@JohnKerry) August 20, 2014
There is evil in this world. ISIL = ugly, savage, inexplicable, nihilistic, valueless evil. — John Kerry (@JohnKerry) August 20, 2014
ISIL must be destroyed/will be crushed. — John Kerry (@JohnKerry) August 20, 2014
Correspondingly, after the beheading of a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff, Obama pledged to "degrade and destroy" ISIS.
In August, the United States began targeting ISIS with limited airstrikes, which have expanded into a much wider campaign and the formation of an anti-ISIS coalition. More than 60 nations are now contributing to the fight in some way or another.
Saudi Arabia is part of this coalition, and is America's closest Muslim ally in this conflict. As Ishaan Tharoor notes for the Washington Post:
The active cooperation of Saudi Arabia, with its vast oil wealth, its well-equipped military and its broader influence among the Middle East's Sunni states, is key to any extended U.S. war effort in Iraq and Syria.
Yet, almost no one is discussing the fact that it is guilty of the same act that drove the US towards this fight: beheadings.
Saudi Arabia Beheads People In Public: Punishment By The Sword
The legal system in Saudi Arabia is derived from Sharia law, which permits beheadings as a form of execution. Sharia law is based on the Koran, Islam's holy book. There are other countries that adhere to the same system, such as Iran, but Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that still beheads people.
So far, there have been four people in the beheading videos released by ISIS, half as many as Saudi Arabia decapitated in just one month.
This year alone, Saudi Arabia has beheaded 59 people, at least eight of these executions were carried out in August. At least one person under 18 was also executed this year.
All of these executions are carried out in public, usually a square, where an executioner paid by the government uses a sword for the decapitations.
People come out to watch the spectacle, and after the head is chopped off, the corpse is sometimes put on display and crucified.
The only other countries that carry out public executions are Iran, North Korea and Somalia.
Saudi Arabians are typically sentenced to death for political dissent, rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking. In August, however, at least one person was executed for "sorcery."
Said Boumedouha is the Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. As he puts it:
The execution of people accused of petty crimes and on the basis of ‘confessions’ extracted through torture has become shamefully common in Saudi Arabia. It is absolutely shocking to witness the Kingdom’s authorities' callous disregard to fundamental human rights. The use of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia is so far removed from any kind of legal parameters that it is almost hard to believe
Simply put, Saudi Arabia's legal system is exceptionally barbaric and anachronistic. Despite that fact, this country still sits on the UN Human Rights Council.
Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia will likely continue to enjoy its current position and prestige as a key ally in the fight against ISIS.
Likewise, while it's true that the US government doesn't behead people, condemning Saudi Arabia would also mean opening up the controversial conversation about its own use of capital punishment.
The US And Global Death Penalty Statistics
The United States is among the five biggest executioners in the world, which also includes Saudi Arabia, China, Iran and Iraq. In 2013, the US carried out 39 executions, 41 percent of which occurred in Texas.
While it's true the US uses very different means of execution than Saudi Arabia, for example, it's worth noting that more than two-thirds of all the world's countries have abolished the death penalty.
Likewise, the US is the only country in all of the Americas that still exercises capital punishment.
A majority of Americans still support this practice, but that number is dwindling.
By retaining the death penalty, the US is in the same class as some of the worst human rights violators in the world. Accordingly, those who are still in favor of it might want to reassess their convictions.
A majority of the world has abolished capital punishment, perhaps it's finally time for the United States to join them.
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