I recently raised concerns on PBS Newshour about a lawsuit by Israelis who are suing in the United States to force Facebook to take down violent, anti-Jewish sites. While I believe Facebook can and should take down the sites, the use of the government to close such sites raise serious free speech questions in where to draw the line on such censorship or regulation of speech. I noted that such lawsuits like the recent successful action against Twitter by Jewish students are part of a comprehensive attack on free speech that uses such civil actions as a form of speech regulation or retaliation. Saudi Arabia has again stepped forward to make this point more powerfully that I could ever hope to. The Saudi justice ministry has announced that it will sue a Twitter user who compared the death sentence handed down on Friday to a Palestinian poet to the punishments meted out by Islamic State. I have drawn the same obvious comparison in the case of Ashraf Fayadh as have readers on this site and other sites. Rather than stop acting like ISIS (which would require a greater recognition of due process and human rights in the Kingdom), Saudi Arabia is seeking to threaten people to stop them from making the analogy. However, the beheadings of nonbelievers will continue. For many, the Saudi Foreign Ministry sounds like it is putting out the word “if you say we are like ISIS again, we will behead you.”
We have another outrage against women in Afghanistan where Shirin Gul, 26, was reportedly flogged to death in the Shahrak district of Ghor after being accused of running away from home. What is fascinating is how the greatest concern is not that a woman can be publicly flogged but whether the flogging proved too excessive under Islamic law. Recently, a 19-year-old woman was stoned to death in Ghor.
The Obama Administration has responded critically to the decision from an Israeli court to give an Israeli border police officer just community service for his entirely unjustified attack on an American teenager. Tariq Khdeir, 15, a Palestinian-American, was beaten by the officer, whose name has been withheld by the courts to avoid any further repercussions for him or his family. The beating was filmed after the officer caught the teenager near a riot in East Jerusalem in July 2014. Despite this evidence (and no evidence of just cause) the Israeli court gave the officer just 45 days of community service and a suspended prison term of four months.
We have long discussed our close alliance with Saudi Arabia despite that country’s denial of the most fundamental human rights for women, non-Muslims, journalists, and political dissidents. While the State Department continues to vaguely reference “reforms” in the Kingdom, the Saudi Sharia courts and religious police continue to generate shocking medieval cases where people are flogged or executed for exercising free thought or associations. The latest outrage is the death sentence given Ashraf Fayadh, a Palestinian poet and leading member of Saudi Arabia’s contemporary art scene. He has been sentenced to death for renouncing Islam, being an atheist (which he denies) and insulting Saudi Arabia. Many view his real offense as being his embarrassment of the infamous religious police (mutaween) in Abha after he posted a video of their lashing a man in public. As is often the case in the pseudo, “courts” of Saudi Arabia, he was denied counsel and any real opportunity to present a defense.
It appears that the Obama Administrations is not alone in pursuing journalists in the search for whistleblowers and leakers. Emiliano Fittipaldi has revealed that he has been interrogated and faces charges from Holy See prosecutors. He was given a Vatican summons to appear to answer questions about his recently published book “Avarice.”
Usually moments of silence are solemn and dignified events that can help heal wounds left in the aftermath of tragedies. Two such occasions this week however show how they can leave troubled feelings in their wake. The first blown event was G-20 Moment of Silence for the victims in Paris. The problem is that it turned out to be a G-19 Moment of Silence because President Obama walked in late. While one would hope that this deeply symbolic moment would be sufficiently important to get the President there on time, problems can occur. Yet, this President has been criticized for years for being consistently late to events, which shows a lack of respect as well as organization. This is one of the worst such failures in a long line of delayed arrivals. The second incident was far more disturbing in Turkey.
Dov Lior, the chief rabbi of the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba, appears to have rushed to show that extremists can be found on every side of a massacre. After the Paris attacks, Lior rushed forward to tell the world that the attacks were actually directed by God as payment for what Europeans “did to our people 70 years ago.” It does not seem to matter to Lior that France was one of the first to fight against Germany and was left in ruins by the Nazis. It does not even matter that this view of God would make the almighty as morally bankrupt and vicious as ISIS. In Lior’s twisted mind, murderous Islamic extremists were used by God to kill innocent people for the treatment of Jews in the 1940s. Makes perfect sense. It is truly impressive that extremists like Lior cannot resist seeing divine purpose in every act, even using ISIS as a vehicle for divine justice for Jews.