Monday, January 4, 2016

Happy Executions Day!

Considering the nature of our times, Saudi Arabia started the New Year in the most honest and appropriate way possible: with murder. Forty seven of them to be exact, including that of a prominent Shia cleric and human rights activists: Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Sheikh Al-Nimr’s stands on human rights were quite balanced, that is, he wasn’t just defending Shia rights in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, but he also stood by the Syrian Revolutionaries, the majority of whom Sunnis, in their fight against the Alawite regime of Syria seen as part of the Sha camp. His death, therefore, is quite a blow, and is bound to further polarize the region along sectarian lines. Most of the other 47 executed were Sunnis who were accused of being extremists, as such the calculations involved in this move had a domestic as well as a regional component.

As Hassan Hassan, associate fellow at Chatham House and co-author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, pointed out in The Guardian, executing Nimr is Saudi’s message “to outsiders and locals alike that no matter what the world says authorities will condemn and execute those who cross the red lines.”

Not to be outdone by its regional rival, Iran started the year in its own no less appropriate way, that is, by resort of hypocrisy. This is how the spokesman for the Mullahs Foreign Ministry condemned the execution:

"The execution of a personality such as Sheikh Nimr who had no means other than speech to pursue his political and religious objectives only shows the depth of imprudence and irresponsibility."

Coming from a country that conducted close to 1,000 executions last year (against criminals and political opponents), and is knee-deep in supporting a regime that had been imprisoning, torturing, raping and liquidating prodemocracy activists and opposition members “who had no means other than speech” to pursue their goals, thus crushing the nonviolent protest movement, and plunging the country into civil war, this condemnation is not just any hypocrisy, it’s the pinnacle to hypocrisy. And when we consider that Iran is no less guilty of executing opponents, including Kurdish and Arab Ahwazi activists, and that it currently has 27 Sunni clerics on death row in its prisons, the term hypocrisy does ring hollow, especially we when also consider that the Ahwazis themselves whose identity and rights are subject to continuous suppression are Shia Arabs, yet Iran is still trying to project itself as a defender of the rights of the Shia Arabs of the region. Also, and with his vocal support of Syria’s revolution, Al-Nimr was taking stands against Iran’s policy of aligning with Assad and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria.

On the other hand, it’s important to bear in mind here as well that the comparison being made is between two ongoing contemporaneous forms of abuse; there is no attempt here to justify the actions taken by one side by claiming that the other side has “started it.” Nor is this an attempt to whitewash one side’s guilt by pointing to the other side’s similar tendencies. Rather, the point is to show how both sides, due to their own ideology, sense of identity and current perception of their interests, are busy perpetration certain quite similar abuses that warrant equal condemnation from those speaking in the name of human rights, as well as serious efforts at containment and redress by the international community, as condemnations by themselves change nothing.   

For the world is duplicitous in all this, because it had recently voted to give Saudi Arabia a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, and because shortly before that it voted to legitimate a deal with Iran over its nuclear program, one that carried the promise of normalization even as Iran was busy supporting systematic mass murder and ethnic cleansing in Syria.

And the world is guilty, because it still fails to apply the standards of human rights evenly, or to even make a serious attempt in this connection, with some states condemning Iran, and others Saudi, on the basis of ideological belongings, material interests and geopolitical calculations, their own discourse, and the actions of these two states notwithstanding.

Indeed, there is enough guilt, blame and duplicity to go round and round and round fueling our current historical descent into the abyss.

Happy New Year Everyone!

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