Saudia Arabia set to behead 14 for political protests; Trump and Theresa May are silent

It seems that, contrary to Steve Pinker’s thesis, the world is regressing in terms of morality. Authoritarian regimes are coming into power, including that of  Putin, Recep Erdogan, Theresa May, and, of course, Trump. And I know of few Western countries that will speak up to condemn the medieval barbarisms long enacted by some of their allies, most notably Saudi Arabia.  According to the New York Times, our “good friends” the Saudis are about to execute by beheading 14 people, including one arrested at 17 who has been beaten, tortured, and now faces beheading in Riyadh for the horrible crime of taking part in a political protest—six years ago. As the New York Times reports today:

Mujtaba al-Sweikat was a bright 17-year-old student on his way to visit Western Michigan University when he was arrested at King Fahd Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2012. Since then, Mr. Sweikat has been in Saudi custody, subjected to torture, including beatings so severe his shoulder was broken, in order to extract confessions that sealed his fate: condemned to death, likely by beheading. Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has upheld Mr. Sweikat’s June 2016 death sentence, as well as those of 13 other Saudi citizens tried with him — including a disabled man and two who were juveniles when sentenced — after a mass trial that made a mockery of international standards of due process. Now, the only person who can prevent these barbarous executions is King Salman, who must ratify the death sentences.

As was the case with many members of Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority condemned to death in recent years, Mr. Sweikat’s crime was attending political protests in the heady months following the 2011 Arab Spring. The human rights group Reprieve, 116 Western Michigan University faculty and staff members and the American Federation of Teachers are calling on President Trump to intervene with King Salman on behalf of Mr. Sweikat and the other condemned men.

Hope is slim, though. During his trip to Saudi Arabia in May, Mr. Trump basically told the Saudi regime that the United States would look the other way on human rights abuses, saying, “We are not here to lecture.”

Actually, what he said (in Riyadh, where the executions take place) was this:

“We are not here to lecture — we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership — based on shared interests and values — to pursue a better future for us all.”

Sadly, gays, women, and those whose heads are about to be lopped off do not face a better future. This abject cultural relativism is unconscionable, and done solely for material gain of the U.S.

In fact, we SHOULD BE there to lecture when countries deemed our “allies” engage in odious practices like this (stoning and amputation are also Saudi practices, and children over 15 can be legally executed). And I’m not even discussing the execrable way the Saudis treat women and gays, but at the very least we shouldn’t abide by those regulations when our officials visit that country.

According to The Independent, Prime Minister Theresa May hasn’t said anything either, though one minister did condemn Saudi Arabia’s death penalty:

Maya Foa, director of UK-based human rights organisation Reprieve, accused Ms May of a “deafening silence” of the 14 imminent executions.

“This is an extremely worrying move from the increasingly brutal regime in Saudi Arabia.

“Minister Alistair Burt is right to make clear the UK’s opposition to the brutal death penalty in Saudi Arabia, but his words stand in stark contrast to the deafening silence from Theresa May on this issue.

Saudi Arabia has already executed 57 people this year, and it’s barely half over.  Even if we protested, the likelihood that the Saudis would actually do anything seems small, but the least a liberal democracy can do is condemn violations of human rights by our allies. That might tick them off, but are we to be silent while the heads of juveniles roll, merely for protesting a foreign government?

Here’s the young man in question:



  1. kirbmarc
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    It’s not just world leaders who are afraid to “upset” the poor little easily offended Saudi regime.

    So-called “leftists” and “reformers” are also way too accommodating of the Saudi theocracy.

    Case in point:

    (If one isn’t convinced that Sarsour has nothing to do with social progress, maybe this quote

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      Not sure Saudi Arabia qualifies as a “theocracy,” strictly speaking. It’s a corrupt monarchy, run by an effete royal family — one that pumps its petro-dollars (or petro-Ryals, as the case may be) into the madrassas spreading the Wahhabism and Salafism that under-gird so much Sunni terrorism. The Saudi royals have cut this debased deal with the Islamists to keep terrorism outside their own national borders.

      • Mike Cracraft
        Posted August 4, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

        Yeah and the Saudi royals can cruise in their mega yachts to Europe where they can gamble, screw, and get pissed with impunity.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted August 4, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        The Sunnis have control of the courts. The king just has limited veto power.

        There is no formal legal code in the way we understand it. Judgements depend on the judge’s interpretation of Sharia in each case.

        • nicky
          Posted August 5, 2017 at 1:54 am | Permalink

          Heather, iirc you posted a list some time ago that showed that the KSA and IS justice systems were not very different?

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted August 5, 2017 at 6:16 am | Permalink

            Yeah, I did. I’m not somewhere where I can put up a link at the moment, but go to and do a search on Saudi Arabia. I think the post called #SueMeSaudi has the graphic you’re probably referring to.

    • John Crisp
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      May 2017: “The new changes mean women could, in some circumstances, study and access hospital treatment, work in the public and private sector and represent themselves in court without consent of a male guardian, said Maha Akeel, a women’s rights campaigner and a director at Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.” So, paid maternity leave provided that you have had leave from a man to work in the first place.

    • Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      It’s almost like she’s trolling:

      See, they’ll pay their women to have babies, but you’re complaining that they don’t have the legal autonomy to operate a motor vehicle in public by themselves, shame on you!

      When ideology warps the mind into a caricature of rationality, it makes it hard to distinguish the ranting of ideologues from the headlines of the Onion.

    • Craw
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Well Sarsour isn’t really a good example, as she is a shill, and actually supports such repression, so her motive isn’t just moral cowardice. But your point is well taken. (Did you see Obama’s speech about this? Neither did I.) We can, and should, criticize such stuff. Doing so does not commit us to war or invasions or sanctions. But symbols matter.

      I do wonder however how many here recall the reaction from the left to the president calling an evil empire an evil empire?

      • Randy schenck
        Posted August 4, 2017 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

        It does not commit us to anything other than having the decency to say what we think is true. However, that president who called out the evil empire as being Iran, N. Korea and Iraq actually did go to war. I did not think much of that and neither should anyone.

        • Craw
          Posted August 4, 2017 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

          I fear you have confused “evil empire” with “axis of evil”.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted August 4, 2017 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

            That phrase never made any sense anyway, since it would require that the three countries named were somehow linked in a co-ordinated and organised plan.

            Iraq and Iran? Srsly?


    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

      The bit about maternity leave (as an implied comparison with the US) is absolutely true, but only works because the US is behind just about every other country in that respect.

      But it’s cherry-picking and misleading. A quick glance at the table here:
      suggests that, with 10 weeks, Saudi Arabia is *behind* Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi….

      How much of that mandated leave actually manages to happen in third-world countries may be another issue, of course.


      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 4, 2017 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

        P.S. Sarsour is low hanging fruit, anyway.


        • rickflick
          Posted August 4, 2017 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

          Low hanging fruit cake?

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    We here in the US have 2,843 inmates currently on death row. And the shit-fer-brains governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, recently tried to have eight of them offed in 11 days, using chemicals the courts have determined to be unfit for the purpose. So I’m not sure we’ve got much room to talk (though talk, we certainly should).

    End this death-penalty barbarism now.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      I was going to comment that we do not see much condemnation of US from democratic states for killing their criminals or hypocritically torturing their military (albeit often criminal) opposition abroad. “Since the inmates have been detained indefinitely without trial and several inmates were severely tortured, this camp is considered as a major breach of human rights by Amnesty International.[2]” [ ]

      But that just adds poignancy to the whole tragic mess.

    • Rita
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:24 pm | Permalink


    • Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Irrespective of your feelings about the death penalty, are you trying to draw an equivalence between the reasons people are condemned to death in the U.S. and S.A.?

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 4, 2017 at 1:02 pm | Permalink


        • BJ
          Posted August 4, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

          Then the post really doesn’t work. Of course we still have room to talk about the issue. We have plenty of room. While I personally think the death penalty barbaric as you do, we do not carry it out for anything but the most henious forms of murder. Saying that our death penalty for only the most loathsome violence somehow precludes our government from criticizing those who sanction governmental murders for political dissent and supposed crimes against Islam is going very far beyond the bounds of reason.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted August 4, 2017 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

            Hence the parenthetical at the end of my first paragraph (and my criticism of Saudi Arabia in the sub-thread above). My only point here was that it is an embarrassment for a nation that prides itself on being a beacon of hope and freedom to employ a barbarism like the death penalty (and to have such a populous death row). But then, lately, we seem to be sliding from an embarrassment of riches to being rich in embarrassments.

            • nicky
              Posted August 5, 2017 at 1:48 am | Permalink

              There are more areas than death penalty and maternity leave where the US is behind the rest of the ‘civilised’ world. What about asset forfeiture on simple suspicion of crime,where the assets are basically given to the forfeiters ie. the police? What about the violent actions debt collectors are allowed to carry out? Not to mention access to healthcare.

            • Diane G.
              Posted August 5, 2017 at 3:38 am | Permalink

              ” But then, lately, we seem to be sliding from an embarrassment of riches to being rich in embarrassments.”


    • Posted August 4, 2017 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

      There’s two issues here. One is that Saudi Arabia still has the death penalty. The other is that people can get caught up in the legal system just for expressing opinions the government does not like.

      Even if these people were “only” getting put in prison for ten years, this would still be a pretty bad story.

      • Posted September 7, 2017 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        Yes, what happened to Raif Badawi and Waleed Abulkhair is bad enough!

  3. BobTerrace
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink


    • jimroberts
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink


  4. rickflick
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    The only country to stand up to Saudi Arabia lately (2015 at least) is Sweden. SA is not happy and have retaliated.

  5. Sastra
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    It seems that, contrary to Steve Pinker’s thesis, the world is regressing in terms of morality.

    It seems that way, yes. But fortunately for Pinker’s thesis, the moral arc is measured in terms of millennia, centuries, and decades. Just wait and see if it’s not on the whole a bit better in 50 years!

    • Martin Knowles
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Let’s hope so. This historical arc of the decline in violence is welcome but not inevitable.

    • Historian
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      Yes, the decline of violence or the upward slope of the moral arc are not inevitable and there is no guarantee that even in the long run things will get better. But, even if this is the case, Pinker, in correspondence with NYT columnist Thomas Edsall, admits that things can be pretty bad in the short run. He wrote this to Edsall:

      “at times in history the darker forces prevail — the two world wars, the American crime wave from the 1960s to early 1990s, the rise of civil war in the developing world over that same period. These darker forces, moreover, are not just raw instincts, but often rationalized in ideologies.”

      The threat of nuclear, chemical, or biological war, climate change, pandemics, overpopulation and the fragility of democracy would dissuade me from taking the bet that 50 years from now the world will be a better place. It may turn out be the case, but it is far from a sure thing.

      • Matt Jenkins
        Posted August 4, 2017 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

        Assuming that the birth rates among Muslims continue to be higher than among non-Muslims, it is hard to conclude that in fifty years’ time the world will be a more liberal place! The evidence indicates that the opposite is more likely.

        • Posted September 7, 2017 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

          It could be in theory, if Muslims had a rate of conversion to more liberal cultures exceeding their birth rate. Unfortunately, we see more people converting to Islam than out of it. The former is safer!

    • nicky
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 1:51 am | Permalink

      Well, the crime rates in the US have been coming down quite steadily over the last few decades. At any rate Pinkers thesis does not imply the road is not bumpy….

  6. Kevin
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Trump is a coward, never standing up for anything in his life. Sarsour is his bedfellow on this issue…like tiny mice cornered by big men in white robes. Sarsour has zero authority in the Islamic world. Trump has zero authority in places where he might make money.

    • dallos
      Posted August 5, 2017 at 4:35 am | Permalink

      “The Clinton Foundation has accepted tens of millions of dollars from countries that the State Department — before, during and after Mrs. Clinton’s time as secretary — criticized for their records on sex discrimination and other human-rights issues. The countries include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Brunei and Algeria.”

  7. Tom
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    The Alistair Burt mentioned above who did criticise the Saudis is one of the few MP’s I have found worth his pay and I often regret he is not the MP for my constituency
    Regarding the rest of our noble UK government It is having a truly diabolical time handling Brexit and wants no more on its plate.
    Also, Mrs May is uncertain who are her allies since to the international money community the UK appears at its most vulnerable since Harold Wilson was forced to scurry off and tap the Swiss Gnomes for a loan.

  8. craigp
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Theresa May is leading an “Authoritarian regime”? That seems a very loose definition of an authoritarian regime to me. For one thing she doesn’t have enough support, even within her own party, to act in any way authoritarian. Her leadership is hanging by a thread and as soon as the Tories can find a replacement she’ll be unceremoniously booted out from the leader’s position. If you’re looking for authoritarian politicians in the UK you’d do better to look at the Labour Party, the deputy leader in particular.

    • Dave
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      I agree. I have very little time for Theresa May, and none at all for Saudi Arabia, but to describe May’s government as an “authoritarian regime” is (with all due respect, Jerry) grotesquely inaccurate.

      When Mrs May has hundreds of her opponents arrested on trumped-up charges, or one of her critics murdered with Polonium-laden tea, then she might rank with Erdogan and Putin, but until then, no.

      • Tom
        Posted August 4, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

        Yes, the bookmakers are shortening the odds of a quick change at the top.
        There is amongst us peasants at the bottom of the scale a feeling that Brexit may be fudged and guess who will take the blame?

      • Posted August 4, 2017 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

        Are “authoritarian” and “completely paralysed” mutually exclusive?

  9. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Re “It seems that, contrary to Steve Pinker’s thesis, the world is regressing in terms of morality.”

    I am deeply hesitant to pit C.S. Lewis against either Pinker or Coyne, but I am attracted to his notion “Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse”. Perhaps that is the middle ground.

  10. BJ
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Of course, this surprises none of us, but I don’t think (and I hope I’m right here) that this disproves Pinker’s thesis. Until people in Middle Eastern theocracies have the power to think for themselves for a few generations and then, further, have the power and courage to overthrow their oppressors, there’s no chance of these things changing much.

  11. steve beck
    Posted August 4, 2017 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of Pinker’s thesis, Robert Sapolsky, in his book Behaving, expresses doubts whether it is correct.

    • rickflick
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      It’s hard to refute raw statistics. Do you have a page number? I’m reading “Behaving” now.

    • Zach
      Posted August 4, 2017 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

      If he does, it’s possible he misunderstood its thesis. Pinker was certainly not arguing that individuals are becoming inherently less violent (indeed, he devotes a section to non-violent people’s violent fantasies, which is quite revealing). He was, rather, arguing that the institutions of civilization which we’ve painstakingly built and the social relations which they’ve facilitated have allowed us to interact with each other less and less violently over time.

      I haven’t read Behaving, but I have read many reviews of Better Angels trying to take it down. None succeeded, by my comparison, and many just made the reviewer in question look like a historically illiterate fool. I’m not saying that characterizes Sapolsky, but I have learned to take criticisms of Pinker’s book with a very big grain of salt. (Not that this applies to PCC’s first sentence in this post—I read that as more of a rhetorical flourish.)

  12. CNH
    Posted August 5, 2017 at 4:02 am | Permalink

    In what possible way can Theresa May’s government be considered ‘authoritarian’?

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