The Queen of Hearts had a pretty simple solution to whatever was troubling her. “Off with her head!” would reverberate across Wonderland and the ax-men would stagger forward to do their duty. Fortunately the Queen was easily distracted and her terrible sentences were seldom if ever carried out. The determined beheaders of the Middle East are not so easily swayed.
They routinely drag out their prisoners to a public square and behead them while broadcasting the death on video. The numbers are on the rise with more executions planned every month.
I’m not talking about our terrorist enemy, ISIL. I’m talking about our terrorist friends, Saudi Arabia. They recently advertised for eight new executioners to keep up with the demand of the Royal Family and the state that springs, quite literally, from their loins. They don’t simply behead murderers or those convicted of treason. The list of victims is long and includes crimes — like apostasy — that have long been removed from criminal codes in western countries. The executioners also cut off the hands of thieves.
The Saudis are, of course, our closest allies in the Middle East — after Israel of course — as can be readily seen by the recent massive sale of arms by Canada to their government. Of course, our support pales beside that of the US government who have long been hand in hand — again quite literally — with the Saudi regime.
The reasons are quite clear. The Saudis have oil and, more importantly, represent one of the most stable countries in the region; they are the bulwark of pan-Arab movements, such that they exist and provide air bases for all sorts of American incursions into less friendly countries. This is the old ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ idea and there is no doubt that the Saudis qualify as friends on that basis as they dislike both the secular government of Syria and the religious fanatics of ISIL. (Their complex relationship with Israel is another matter) However, the Saudis have their own radicals in their midst. Osama Bin Laden and many other Al Qaeda leaders were of Saudi origin, the disaffected younger sons of third or fourth wives — provided with money and a kind of education but no reason to embrace the west or even the ruling Royal family.
We all know where that goes. But the Saudis are compliant and don’t create problems for the Western alliance — or at least so we are told. Recently they have even begun to use their substantial military to fight against… people in Yemen who may or may not be radicals but who do oppose Saudi interference in their affairs. Meanwhile, they seem to be half-hearted in opposing more immediate threats, counting on America and its allies to provide air support to seriously out-gunned and out-trained Iraqi and Kurdish militias.
The conflicts in the Middle East are largely due to the aftermath of 19th century colonialism and western interventions in the aftermath of World War I. The solutions don’t lie in western hands — but can the Saudis really be relied on to be the architects of a lasting solution?
After all, they can’t cut everyone’s head off.
But that’s ten minutes.