King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has died, and his half-brother King Salman has ascended the Saudi Throne. A lot of controversy has been caused by the lowering of flags on UK government buildings to half mast, in a gesture of respect, given the Saudi approach to what we in the West call “human rights”.
I certainly think that the lowering of flags in the UK was the correct thing to do. Saudi Arabia is a state that is friendly to Britain, in a region that is probably the most volatile in the world. What we must remember is that places like Saudi Arabia are a totally different world from the West, and it is impossible to apply Western standards to life there. Saudi Arabian society has a different set of priorities to us in the West, and it is not for us to tell the Saudis how to run their internal affairs. Saudi Arabia is accused of barbarity because they have flogging as a punishment. I wonder just how many Britons would be happy to see antisocial yobs get a birching instead of an ASBO? Saudi Arabia also has capital punishment, which is carried out in public. Many States in the US have capital punishment, which a number of people are invited to witness, and recent executions have resulted in the condemned person taking a long time to die because they can no longer get the usual drugs (quite why they don’t just give them a massive heroin overdose is beyond me? Enough druggies kill themselves that way every year). A public execution by beheading in Saudi Arabia may be undignified and messy, but the condemned person dies pretty quickly.
Have all the whingeing do-gooders not learned anything from recent events? The Arab Spring was hailed as the Arab peoples freeing themselves from oppressive regimes, however just look at how that has turned out. Many of the Arab states are now worse off than they were under the previous regimes, and the only people to have benefited are the Islamic extremists, who seem to be running much of the show now. It is debatable whether Iraq and Syria were better off under Saddam Hussein and Bashir Al Assad than they are now, but in Iraq’s case they only have Saddam to blame because none of this would have happened if he had not invaded Kuwait.
It is certainly desirable that Saudi Arabia moves towards the Western ideal of human rights eventually, but if it were to happen overnight it would result in a disaster even worse that what the Arab Spring has turned into. It is particularly important to move slowly when a society is based on religion, as Saudi Arabian society is. It is important for the West to maintain normal relations with places like Saudi Arabia, and to try and persuade them to gradually reform whilst respecting their way of life, as the Saudi rulers respect our way of life (many younger Saudis enjoy a bit of Western decadence once in a while!). Now would be a good opportunity for the new King Salman to show clemency to Raif Badawi by giving him a pardon, or at least sparing him the lashes. Such an act would indicate an intention to reform.
The world is not perfect, and we have to live in the world as it is, not how we would like it to be.