Monday, June 25, 2012

Can we make sense of Saudi beheadings on witchcraft charges?

by Salman Hameed

This is total lunacy! A man has been beheaded in Saudi Arabia after being convicted of practicing witchcraft and sorcery. From BBC:
The man, Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri, was found in possession of books and talismans, SPA said. He had also admitted adultery with two women, it said.
The execution took place in the southern Najran province, SPA reported.

This is not the first beheading for such charges. Just this past year, two people were executed on sorcery charges, including a 60 year old woman.

And these are the cases that we know of. It is hard to catch up on the killings of women and men during the European witch-hunts a few centuries ago, but Saudi Arabia is certainly making a valiant effort to match that record.

The fact that this is despicable is not in question. But we have to move beyond that. Since this is an official court decision, upheld by the Kingdom's highest court, we have to assume that they are following some specific system of logic (however screwed up that might be). What kind of evidence do they use in the court? How do they determine the efficacy of sorcery and witchcraft? After all, these questions may also tell us something about how they view science and the workings of the natural world. And how do they distinguish one pseudoscience from another?

I doubt that we can have access to court transcripts, but that will make a useful project. In the mean time, we can only hope that some sort of sanity will prevail and Saudi courts will stop this ignorant medieval behavior.

Here are couple of earlier posts about other witchcraft beheadings (sigh!):

Execution based on sorcery charges
Still no sense from Saudi Arabia on sorcery death sentence
Sorcery Charges: Saudi Arabia boldly marches into the 15th century

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

May be Saudis could benefit from the sorcerer's expertise to avail the alien/Djinn technology of teleportation to make possible the journey to exoplanetary systems :-)

Annie said...

21st century's most inhumane, cruel and irrational nation!One of our family friends lived in KSA in the late 70s...curiosity took their chef to the chop chop sqaure one day despite our uncle's warning...the poor chef spent thr rest of lis life in a mental hospital!

Tomas Rees said...

Throughout most of human history, this kind of behaviour (and much worse) has been the norm, rather than an exception. So perhaps the question is why doesn't everybody else do the same ;)

More seriously, you only have to look to European history to find examples of sober, sane people order executions for similar reasons. All it takes is a conviction that magic and witchcraft are real.

Salman Hameed said...

"More seriously, you only have to look to European history to find examples of sober, sane people order executions for similar reasons. All it takes is a conviction that magic and witchcraft are real."

Oh absolutely. But today, they are surrounded by the products of modernity, and yet they are making medieval decisions. It is this combination that is both interesting (academically) and revolting (from human rights perspective).