It’s been a weekend of frustrations for Saleh and me.
On Friday, we decided to go out in the afternoon. Excited to maybe find some interesting things to photograph, I slung my camera over my shoulder and as we prepared to head out, I caught this picture of Gustavo, one of the family cats…the crankiest of the family cats, so I was pretty surprised that he agreed to sit for the photo.
And that’s the only picture I would take that day, as it turns out.
We went to Granada Mall because I was craving a big cup of original Pinkberry frozen yogurt. We went to Extra and picked up some ink for our printer. Then we headed over to Carrefour to do some grocery shopping. We had pulled out a cart and gone through the gates, when a security guard stopped us and told Saleh that he needed to check the shopping bag from Extra at the bag check at the entrance to the store. Irritated, since it was such a tiny bag (all it had in it was a cartridge of printer ink!), Saleh went to check the bag while I stayed with the cart.
When he got back, we started to head into the store again, only to be stopped yet again by the security guard. This time, he pointed to the camera slung over my shoulder, which he hadn’t noticed until that point, apparently. He refused to let us enter the store with the camera on my shoulder. He said that either I could put it in my handbag (which was not big enough to accommodate my camera, so that option was out) or we could check it at the bag check with our shopping bag. This made zero sense to me–so if I’d just carried a bigger purse, I would have been allowed to take the camera in, but just a camera hanging on my shoulder? Nope.
I was irritated, but Saleh was furious. He said, “Come on.” We left the cart, retrieved our shopping bag from the bag check, and left the mall. I searched for a trash can to toss my empty Pinkberry cup in. Saleh said, “Just throw it on the ground. Nobody cares where you throw your trash in this stupid country, as long as you aren’t carrying your camera into the grocery store.” (Despite the encouragement to litter, I did find a trash can in which to dispose of my yogurt cup.)
Besides the camera debacle, we’ve been frustrated by internet issues. Since the beginning of the week, we’ve been trying to reconnect our broadband internet service with Mobily. We pay yearly for the Mobily service, which we only use for our MagicJack (for our computers, we use the family wireless network). Since Tuesday, we’ve been trying to get the service reconnected; it’s not a huge deal, but I can’t call my family in the States (for any long period of time, anyway) without the MagicJack, and I know my mom is having withdrawals.
We tracked down our account number and on Wednesday evening, we went to the Mobily branch in Granada Mall (okay, so this was not the weekend for creative ideas for things to do). We took a number and waited. And waited. And waited. When it became evident that we were going to be waiting hours, we decided to go home and just try to renew the service online.
So that’s what we did. Except when Saleh submitted the payment online, Mobily didn’t receive it. They somehow withdrew the money–Saleh got a text from his bank letting him know that the money had been debited. But our broadband service was not restored.
Mobily, meanwhile, continued to insist that they had not received the payment–although the money was gone from Saleh’s account. Saleh called customer service and they told him to print out something from his bank that showed the money had been debited and take it to a Mobily branch. So on Friday evening, after we got home from the camera squabble, Saleh did just that. He printed out a statement that showed the amount had been debited and then went to one of the main Mobily branches. He explained what had happened, and showed the customer service rep the printout. The guy refused to turn on the service, saying that Saleh had to bring an official statement from his bank.
Ugh. So we’re still without MagicJack, until Saleh can make a trip to the bank and get an official statement and then go back to Mobily and sit for hours. He’s pretty irritated by it, and I don’t blame him.
But of course, these are trivialities. Mere inconveniences compared to other things happening in the world, in my home country, and here in Saudi Arabia.
One of those things is the case of little Lama Al Ghamdi. She was five years old when she died last October. She was abused, tortured, and raped repeatedly by her own father (who, by the way, is a “sheikh” who, prior to murdering his daughter, was a frequent interviewee on religious programs here in Saudi Arabia), and after ten months of languishing in the hospital, she died. The judge handling the case, using flimsy hadith and his own sick interpretation of religion, ruled that the four months that the man has spent in prison, in addition to blood money, were sufficient punishment for his crimes. A few months in jail, a few thousand riyals of blood money (which are supposed to go to the family of the victim, and of course this means it is supposed to go to the male head of the house, which is, of course, himself), and he is, in the eyes of the “law,” good to go.
There is an appeals hearing today. The man remains in prison, but will be released if his mind-bogglingly inappropriate sentence is not overturned (or if his ex-wife, Lama’s mother, chooses to accept the blood money payment).
I am heartbroken and outraged about the situation. It’s all I can think about right now. I want to kill this man myself. I feel violent. I want to inflict upon him the exact same pain and suffering that he caused his daughter–but no matter what earthly punishment is meted out, it will never be as bad as what this man did to his child. This man will never trust the executioner (whom, although I am generally anti-capital punishment, I can’t help but hope that he eventually faces). Lama came into this world trusting her parents. Not only is what happened to her just a vile example of the most heinous pain that can be inflicted on another human being, it is made worse by the fact that it was an indescribably horrible breach of trust. Your parents are supposed to be your safety, your earthly refuge, your home.
When I look into Andy’s and Parker’s eyes, I see trust. If Andy is laying on the smooth tile floor, I can grab his legs and gently pull him toward me to pick him up and he stays as limp as a noodle, relaxed; he knows I will not hurt him, and that I will not abuse the power I have as I hold his little fragile legs in my hands. I often hold him cradled in my arm like a baby, belly-up–many dogs will not allow you to do this, because it puts them in a vulnerable position in which they are unable to defend themselves–and he will fall asleep there. I can open both Andy’s and Parker’s mouths and check their teeth, check their paws, clip their hair when it grows too long, even in the places they are biologically hard-wired to defend. They run to me, and to Saleh, and they stay next to us; they seem to prefer to be close to us. They trust us completely; they know we would never hurt them. I don’t take that lightly, and we aren’t even the same species. That is the same sort of trust that babies enter the world with, the same pure, innocent trust that babies and children have for their parents, and it is the same trust that good parents nurture as those babies grow into children, and then into adults–the knowledge that mom and dad are safety and protection.
Lama was murdered in the most horrible way imaginable, and the trust she came into the world with was violated. She was violated in every other way possible, as well. We can never violate her father’s trust in an equitable way; it’s not possible to apply “an eye for an eye” here.
But oh, how I’d like to try.
To add to that rage, I am frustrated by some of the comments I have been reading from Westerners in regard to this story. Yes, of course, Lama’s story is a horrible, disgusting, vile, tragic one that I hope and pray will be concluded in a way that gives at least some measure of justice to Lama. At the same time, I can’t abide by scornful comments that condemn all Saudis and Saudi culture. This does not help.
This is a perfect storm of all that can go wrong in Saudi Arabia, when sick monsters backed by their warped understanding of religion commit crimes and then face equally sick monsters backed by their own similarly warped understanding of religion. But this is not Saudi Arabia. These men are not all Saudis. Things must change here, for my child, my daughter, for all women and girls, for all people. But as we go about reaching for that goal, we have to remember that these are not all Saudis.
It seems like a no-brainer, really. If we Westerners apply the same standards that we do when hearing of a heinous act committed by one of our own, we would recognize that bad things that are done by bad people (for example, Casey Anthony) are not supported or condoned by the rest of the people of their nationality and/or religion. And yet, I’ve read Saudis being called “a truly sad people” and worse, when in reality, I would venture a guess that the vast majority of Saudis would demand this man’s head for what he did to his daughter–and in fact, that’s exactly what happened back when Lama died, before the sentence was handed down. Saudis, including my husband, were confident that the maximum possible penalty would be handed down to this man. But that’s not how it happened.
Religion goes wrong in the United States every day. Have you read about the American Christian parents who have beaten their children to death because that’s what they think God wants? And yet no one seems to condemning the entirety of the people of the United States for what a few sick, evil individuals have done to their children in the name of their religion.
But Nicole, you might say, this thing in Saudi Arabia is much, much worse! The father’s sentence was handed down by a judge who seemingly supported the actions of this animal, and this indicates a systemic problem, not just a few sick individuals. I agree. One of the major issues in Saudi Arabia that needs to be addressed is that there are really aren’t codified laws or sentences for crimes. Everyone says that women driving is “against the law,” but in reality, there is no actual law against women driving. Really, there isn’t. It’s just an accepted cultural rule that you will be punished for breaking. The justice system runs on the whims of judges.
It’s the same idea here, in the sentencing of Lama’s father/killer. In the States, if you beat your child to death, there is a mandatory sentence, even if your defense is, “Jesus told me to.” A judge may want to go easier on you than he would on someone in a different case because he, too, is a good Christian man who read To Train Up A Child and utilized its principles when raising his own children and they turned out just fine, thank you very much, and he believes that these parents were just trying to do the best with the commands that God gave them and God must have had a reason for taking this child as his parents were in the process of following God’s word. But that doesn’t matter. If he handed down a ridiculously easy sentence, there would be an appeal, and a higher court would, of course, apply at the very least, the minimum sentence required by law for this crime.
There is no such guarantee of any measure of justice here, especially not for women or girls who “belong” to the perpetrator–i.e., their husbands, fathers, brothers, etc. In my observation and opinion, the mahram system and the lack of codified laws can create a perfect storm of injustice–and that’s what happened here. Laws exist at the whims of judges and their interpretation of (sometimes obscure) religious doctrine, and a judge, whether motivated by money, by the defendant’s influence or status, by misogyny, or by all of the above, can dig up an obscure, weak hadith and/or take an ayah of the Qur’an completely out of context and hand down a ridiculous sentence based on his own flimsy interpretation of religion–which is exactly what happened in Lama’s case. And it’s exactly what needs to be stopped.
There is no stopping evil, especially when it is perpetrated in the name of religion. I am proudly Muslim, and I am obviously not anti-religion. But I still think it must be acknowledged that the potentially awful thing about the way humans use religion is that easily becomes a double-edged sword–both edges equally cloaked in the veneer of the idea that this is what God wants. Religion, any religion, has the ability to make evil seem right, or at the very least, excusable. I have no doubt that there are Muslims out there, Saudi or otherwise (a tiny minority, I would guess, but I’m sure they exist nevertheless), who, while horrified by the story of what happened to Lama, would look to the sky, hold up the palms of their hands, say, “May Allah give her jannah, ameen,” and then defend the ridiculous sentence given to her father/killer because it’s based on hadith (no matter how weak the hadith is–“If you start ignoring hadith,” they will basically say, “pretty soon you won’t honor any hadith at all, and then you defying Allah by refusing to follow the sunnah of his Messenger!”). There are people all over the world, in all religions and even outside of religions, who follow their chosen paths blindly, even when that path leads them straight to what their unblemished consciences would hastily identify as evil.
This miscarriage of justice, this ruling that is so inappropriate to the crime that it would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic, is not Islam, and it’s not all Saudis. I want justice for Lama. I want her father to face God sooner rather than later to answer for the enormity of his crimes; as I mentioned before, I’m not generally a capital punishment advocate, but if anyone deserves to have his head chopped off in a public square, it’s this guy. But this man is not all Saudi men, nor is the judge who handed down the ridiculous sentence. When I told my husband about this case yesterday and what is currently happening with it, he said he read about it back when Lama died and, as I mentioned earlier, he remembered thinking confidently that this man would have his head chopped off, but he hadn’t seen anything about it since then. When I told him about the current developments in the case, he was horrified and angry (and went into a graphic description of what he would like to do to this man).
Even though it has a long way to go, Saudis have confidence in the ability of their justice system to do the right thing, because most Saudis want it to do the right thing.
Should the appeals process fail, I want King Abdullah to intercede on behalf of Lama. I want people all over the world, especially Saudis, to rise up an outcry for Lama and all other girls–and women–like her who have fallen prey not only to the sick individuals that harmed them, but also to a system that is only as just as the flawed individual that happens to hear their case, an individual that has the potential to care so little for them. Codified laws don’t make a perfect justice system (the United States is proof of that–and again, look at the Casey Anthony case), but they would help. Reforming the mahram system is a much-needed step forward, as well. I know there are Saudi women who defend and prefer the current mahram system, and I have no problem with them feeling that way. If they choose to let their husbands, fathers, brothers, etc. make all their decisions for them, then that is a choice that should be respected as much as any other. But right now it isn’t a choice–unless, of course, a woman chooses to move to Saudi Arabia and trusts her husband to either not become a tyrant or that all of the decisions he makes for her are the correct ones, regardless of what she wants for herself–and I can’t help but feel that the current system, to some extent, feeds the idea that some men have that they hold the right to choose whether the women and/or girls under their guardianship live or die. Little Lama’s case illustrates this. No man has that right, in any religion. The vast majority of Saudis know this.
We Westerners should certainly demand reform alongside the Saudis. But as we do so, we should take care to not vilify all Saudis, as is so easy to do given the way Saudi Arabia (not to mention Islam, or any Middle Eastern culture) is presented in the media we tend to consume. I do understand the urge to rush to judgment about an entire people when you hear that something this heinous has been allowed to happen. And yes, horrible situations like this happen in Saudi Arabia, as they happen all over the world. And reform would go a long way toward preventing another miscarriage of justice when it does. But although the media portrayals of Saudis and Saudi Arabia make it easy to get sucked into the idea that all Saudis are this way, that all Saudis support this ruling, it’s the wrong thing to do. From talking to the Saudis around me, I’ve found that most don’t even know about it. They have heard about the case, but not about its current state.
I pray that today will bring an outcome that offers at least some measure of justice for Lama. I pray that the Saudis around me will hear and read about the case and will demand justice for her, and justice system reforms that will ensure that men like this monster no longer have the chance to walk away from their crimes, no matter how much blood money they are able to pay. And I pray that Westerners will put aside their fear of The Other long enough to recognize that most Saudis, like everyone else, want to see Lama’s father/rapist/murderer be held truly accountable for the enormity of his crimes.
If nothing else, I take comfort in the fact that no amount of blood money will excuse this man before God. I only wish I could see the punishment that he has coming, sooner or later.