Catching Up, Saudi Style

We all let things get ahead of us at times, or we get behind them. I’m never quite sure of how best to describe it, but one way or another, we have to play catch-up.

In football when a team gets behind by three touchdowns, it has to play catch-up.

A grand-slam home run in baseball often has the other team playing catch-up.

In tennis if you lose the first two sets…well, you get the point.

Apparently even countries fall behind. America has remunerated women unfairly for centuries, now it’s playing catch-up by trying to equalize salaries and maybe remove the glass ceiling. Minorities too—catch-up—pretty much the same scenario.

Once we understand that, I think we can be less critical of Saudi Arabia which celebrated the new year by executing 47 people. Apparently 46 were militants with links to Al Qaeda and one was a Shiite cleric. It’s at times like this that I wish I were a little more conversant with what happens in those Middle Eastern countries and why. If I did I’d have a better handle on why Dubai went forward with its legendary New Year’s Eve fireworks exhibition while a few blocks away the biggest fire ever caused by a non-bovine destroyed a luxury hotel.

When questioned about those 47 executions, though, Saudi officials claimed they were carried out as a deterrent. Most observers claim this is hogwash—that the executions were designed to make sure that dissidents kept their dissident opinions to their dissident selves. As I said, I wish I were a little more conversant….

Four of the executions were carried out by firing squads; the rest were beheadings. And unlike most executions that are held in the nation’s public squares, the Happy New Year killings were carried out inside prisons, thereby not distracting citizens from the far less gory but equally entertaining Rose Parade.

Now Iran is angry. Iran, you’ll remember, is the country with whom we just signed a nuclear deal. It’s also a Shiite country and doesn’t take kindly to its clerics being dispatched on January 1 or any other day. Of course this cleric was involved in a pro-democracy group also—maybe a reason why America (a democracy) shouldn’t turn a blind eye either. Believe me, if these killings were were attributable to Islamic State, we’d be outraged: the chicken hawks would be screaming for more “boots on the ground.”

Saudi Arabia finds such comparisons to ISIS quite odious, claiming that the Saudis have rules! The punishments are for serious infractions committed by seriously bad guys! ISIS, they remind us, has no rules; it’s important to have rules! (My exclamation points added.)

But back to catching up: the Saudi government actually executed 157 people last year—about a week’s worth in Texas. And only 90 in 2014. So why 47 in one day? Saudi officials claim it’s not a change in policy, but simply a reaction to a backlog of death sentences that had built up under the previous king.

Catching up.

It’s never easy, is it?




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