Monday, April 17, 2006

Saudi Human Rights: A Question of Priorities 

Arab News has a shocking and infuriating story of child abuse, torture and murder that was all but sanctioned by Saudi Arabia's custody laws, and carried out despite pleas for the intervention of Saudi rights groups who are apparently inspired to action only be rights they can claim are violated by Israel.

It seems divorced Saudi husbands -- even those established as abusive -- are granted the absolute right to snatch custody of their children from their ex-wives, and to do whatever they wish to those children even over the objections of the mother and other family. I would quote some of the specifics, but it is so awful I can't bring myself to do it. Go ahead and read it yourself, but be prepared to be angry. I'll settle for passing on a little of what the murdered girl's mother had to say about how the Saudi safety net failed her and her little girl:

The mother and her family blame the police, the social service department and the National Society for Human Rights for not acting quickly during the past year despite efforts to get them involved.
Saudi society puts so much absolute power in the hands of fathers -- even after they've been proven abusive, and even after complaints have been lodged and ignored -- that this sort of thing seems almost inevitable. That is why it is so tragic that the kind of organizations one would expect to be clamoring for change are instead the ones the victim's kin accuse of complacency and consent.

So, a little girl was slowly murdered by her father and step-mother, day by day, all while the mother's desperate pleas for help fell on deaf ears. Meanwhile, what exactly is it that does rouse the Saudi National Society for Human Rights to vigorous action? Ironically, the same issue of Arab News answers that one as well. The Society is quite busy trying to free an allegedly captive Saudi from Israel's cruel clutches:

The National Society for Human Rights has urged Amnesty International to take up the case of a Saudi citizen imprisoned without trial in Israel, a spokesman said yesterday. [...]

The Saudi prisoner, Abdul Rahman Al-Atwi, "should be either put on trial or released," [NSHR’s deputy president] Qahtani said.

He said his group had sent the message to Amnesty a couple of days ago and was awaiting a reply. "According to the information we have compiled, he (Al-Atwi) is on hunger strike and has not been treated well for a long time," Qahtani added. [...]

Al-Qahtani ruled out contacts with Israeli civil society organizations to secure Al-Atwi's release, indicating that NSHR will seek the help of only international human rights organizations in this regard.
Well, maybe that is a more important goal than saving a nine year old girl from unspeakable abuse, horror and death. And it also involves blaming Israel so that's a real win-win, wouldn't you say?

One loose end though. There is scarcely a word of why Israel even bothers holding this man. If you read the whole article, you will learn he has been held for illegally crossing the border, but that doesn't answer the bigger question of why he is still in an Israeli jail. One would ordinarily expect Israel simply to have put him on the first boat or caravan back to Saudi Arabia and been done with it.

For that kind of restricted information, we bloggers have learned to tap into some of the most secretive and clandestine sources of research into Israel's "Capture and Hold the Innocent Saudis Program," namely, MSNBC:

A Saudi man being held in an Israeli jail after illegally entering the Jewish state is seeking asylum in a third country, a United Nations official said on Wednesday.

The man, who is not suspected of any militant activity, has been held at a prison in central Israel for the past 11 months. A Saudi security source named him as Abdulrahman al-Eiteiwi but provided no other details.
So let me get this straight: the captive Saudi is actually an asylum seeker who DOESN'T EVEN WANT TO GO BACK TO SAUDI ARABIA. But that isn't stopping the Saudi National Society for Human Rights from trying to force him back there anyway. Sure beats saving nine year old girls from brutal, painful death.

Still, despite how this must look to the untrained eye, the Society must realize how important it is to prevent this deserter's dastardly flight from tarnishing Saudi Arabia's national honor by making it look like anyone wouldn't want to live there. Surely that is a more noble goal than struggling in vain to save an otherwise anonymous nine year old girl from abuse and death and what-have-you. The Saudi National Society for Human Rights seems to think so.

Obviously, I don't. I don't think you do either. I hope there are a lot of Saudis who feel the same way, but so long as they continue pretending Israel is their primary tormentor, I don't feel optimistic about that.

Addition: I should be clear that I haven't done additional research into this group, and it may turn out they've been very helpful in getting permits for street vendors to sell cotton candy in the public square and other good deeds I just don't know about. But if it looks like a screwdriver, if it screws like a screwdriver, then there's a pretty good chance it's a tool.

If you really, really liked this -- or even really, really hated it -- there's lots more: