by Valtin | 2/21/2008 01:26:00 PM
It is over 300 years since the famous Salem witchcraft trials, which ended in the hanging of over nineteen men and women at Gallows Hill. The last execution for so-called witchcraft in England was in 1684. The last woman put to death for the "crime" of sorcery was Anna Göldi, beheaded in Switzerland in 1782. The last execution for "sorcery" in Saudi Arabia was in... 2007!

Now its 2008, and staunch U.S. ally Saudi Arabia is about to do it again. Saudi law courts have sentenced Fawza Fahli for "witchcraft, recourse to jinn [supernatural beings], and slaughter of animals." Held in Quraiyat Prison, she is to be beheaded. Arrested in May 2005 by the mutaween (religious police from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice), her conviction in April 2006 was based on a coerced confession (later retracted), and on the statements of her supposed "bewitched" victims, including a man who claimed she made him impotent.

The Saudi rulers aren't posturing here. In November 2007, they decapitated by sword Egyptian pharmacist Mustafa Ibrahim in Riyadh, found "guilty" of supposedly trying to separate a married couple by use of "sorcery."

Ibrahim had been accused by another foreign resident of using magic to separate him from his wife. The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) then reported that "evidence" had been retrieved from Mustapha Ibrahim's home. This included black magic books, a candle emblazoned with the words "to summon devils" and "foul-smelling herbs". SPA stated that Ibrahim "confessed to adultery with a woman and desecrating the Koran by placing it in the bathroom."
An appeals court in Saudi Arabia initially put a stay to Fahli's execution, because she had retracted her confession, but a different court reinstated the death sentence. Human Rights First, which has written a letter to King Abdullah bin Abd al-’Aziz Al Saud calling for a halt Fahli's execution, notes:
The legal basis for this decision includes the statement that witches “are not given the opportunity to repent, because witchcraft is not eradicable by penitence"....

...the accused was unable to challenge any of the witnesses against her: the witnesses did not testify in court, but gave written statements, and the judge kept her in the waiting room during sessions when evidence was presented....

Fawza Falih spent 35 days in detention at the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) after her arrest on May 4, 2005 (25/3/1426). Her detention there violated a 1981 royal decree prohibiting the CPVPV from holding and interrogating suspects at their centers. She asserted in her appeal that she was beaten during her interrogation, naming one official of the governorate. Her appeal states that she lost consciousness during one beating and was treated at the hospital. She asserts that fellow female prisoners bandaged her wounds. Human Rights Watch spoke to a relative who was allowed to visit her for the first time after about 20 days in CPVPV detention, following her hospital treatment, and saw marks from beatings on her back. There would thus have been ample evidence to indicate that her confession was coerced.
The medieval, feudalist rulers of Saudi Arabia are major allies to the U.S. in its purported "war on terror." But the impossibly rich sheiks of that country are steeped in a fundamentalist version of Islam called Wahabism. Awash in dollars and euros, the Saudi royal family has financed madrassas and mosques around the world to spread their form of Islam, which treats women as second class citizens chattel slaves and believes in "witchcraft," among other things. Yet, their so-called orthodox form of Islam does not stop them from violating Islamic law and utilizing torture, as this story from a recently released Briton jailed in Saudi Arabia describes:
Paul Moss, who was arrested in December 2000, described how he was treated while in the custody of the interior ministry at a facility in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, where he said he was held in solitary confinement for seven weeks. “I did not have a name: I was just addressed as a number throughout by an interrogator who was obviously well-educated. Every time I was taken from the windowless cell two floors up for interrogation I was blindfolded and shackled.” He told the Guardian that he was deprived of sleep, and beaten on four separate occasions: “They hit me in the testicles with a stick. Then they hit me on the chin each time as I went down.” Moss also alleged that he was intimidated and threatened: “They took me on the roof and said they would throw me off and say I'd been trying to escape. They said they'd done that before. They threatened to plant drugs in my house to get my wife and child beheaded.”
The U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia is based on oil and geopolitical realpolitik. The planned execution of the illiterate Fawza Fahli -- she was forced to place her fingerprint upon her "confession," a confession she could not even read -- is the fruit of the deeply cynical and selfish foreign policy of the United States, which props up the most degenerate and reactionary regimes if it serves U.S. "interests."

The American people must condemn this sick policy, and force its leaders to break with the decades-long policy of support to anti-democratic, anti-women, totalitarian regimes, of both the religious and the secular varieties (like Egypt). The embrace of Wahabi fundamentalism proves the lie behind Bush's stance of promoting "democracy" in the Middle East.

I leave it to my readers to decide what it means in 2008 that to save an innocent woman's life one must write to a King. If you do write to HRH King Abdullah bin Abd al-’Aziz Al Saud, at Royal Court, Riyadh 11111, Saudi Arabia, please be polite and save your political points for elsewhere. Ask for justice and mercy.

Later, as you reflect upon the state of our world, pray to whatever god you like for the same upon all of us. Upon one innocent woman's head lies the destiny of us all.

Also posted at Invictus.

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Blogger Winter Rabbit on 2/21/2008 2:09 PM:

I'm just horrified and speechless Valtin except to say thankyou for posting this and to say that this is closer to home than some might realize.

In 1998, a controversy broke out over Christian reconstructionist advocacy for stoning as a legal penalty for a range of infractions listed in the Old Testament. This scandal is more timely now because, at the time the controversy erupted, a key adviser who was working to get Mike Huckabee re-elected as Arkansas Governor had also just started contributing articles to a leading reconstructionist website and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has endorsed that man's latest (reconstructionist-linked) political endeavor.

Herrick's article contains a series of grid boxes that delineate various offenses, per the Old Testament, that are described in the Old Testament as punishable by stoning to death. the "crimes" demanding communal stoning to death according to Herrick are:

Idol Worship



Cursing the Lord

Violating the Sabbath

Enticing to Idolatry

Women who marry but are not virgins



Blogger Valtin on 2/21/2008 2:37 PM:

Winter Rabbit, reactionary ideologies and their supporters are a growing threat. Their barbaric practices as close to us as the next newpaper/blog story.


Blogger Winter Rabbit on 2/21/2008 5:16 PM:

Especially since one of our would be presidents has attracted

Republicans who hold these views

"Why? Is it because he isn't progressive? No, it's because of his message. He inspires. Don't discount words. I am pro-life and anti-gay marraige. But what is more important to me, is bringing this nation together with a message of shared responsibility. WE can do this. Not just Progressives. Not just Democrats. Not just Independants. We ALL can do this. We are the hope we have been waiting for."

There's no middle ground on Roe vs. Wade, ect.

Some of those same ones are the Christian reconstructionists.

In fairness, I have a friend who considers themself an Independent Republican who is in no way like that.

So the growing threat seems to be in how many of the type I mentioned are pulled in, because if they continue to gain political influence, we know what their motives are.

Furthermore, there's no way to know if or how many, or even if the author I posted is a Christian reconstructionist.

Just thinking out loud, but I think this element needs to be pointed out. There aren't any compromises that can be made in those cases and they've made a lot of ground so far and have been underestimated.

Growing threat indeed. I'd disguise myself as a more moderate Republican if I thought my party was going to lose the presidency and vote accordingly, wouldn't you?


Blogger mark on 2/21/2008 5:21 PM:

"The U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia is based on oil and geopolitical realpolitik. The planned execution of the illiterate Fawza Fahli -- she was forced to place her fingerprint upon her "confession," a confession she could not even read -- is the fruit of the deeply cynical and selfish foreign policy of the United States"

We're responsible for other culture's ancient folk superstition and religious bigotry now? What about the anti-American Islamic states where women are oppressed and ppl believe in djinn ?


Blogger Unknown on 2/21/2008 11:20 PM:

Mark, we don't sanction those countries. We do sanction the Saudis. See the difference?


Blogger Ralph Brauer on 2/21/2008 11:28 PM:

The last paragraph is a gem.

Thank you also for bringing to our attention this despicable action.

What the short-sighted U.S, does not realize is that bin Ladens are being raised every day in this environment.

Surprised you did not mention the Carlisle Group whose main liaison with the Saudis has been one George H. W. Bush.


Blogger Ahistoricality on 2/22/2008 2:10 AM:

Witchcraft trials and executions seem to still be happening in Africa as well: I wonder how much influence is moving northwards at this point.

Traditionally, the influence has moved the other way -- from Arab Islamic communities to African -- and has been only partially successful at imposing Arabian practices.

Generally, witchcraft trials are evidence of deep-rooted anxiety -- witness the witchcraft trials in England during WWII!


Blogger Unknown on 2/22/2008 7:04 AM:

Wait, what? It doesn't happen often any more with regard to twentieth-century history, but you just absolutely floored me. Witchcraft trials in England during WWII? Would you mind giving me a link for that? Not that I don't believe you, but I need something to help me scoop my jaw up off the floor.


Blogger mark on 2/22/2008 5:57 PM:

No Jeremy, what I see here is an absurd grasping at straws in order to find a reason to condemn the U.S. While horrible and irrational there's no connection in Saudi witch trials to U.S. policy here whatsoever.


Blogger Unknown on 2/22/2008 6:32 PM:

Mark, I still don't see what the comprehension gap is. In my opinion, the US should not be allied with a country that conducts witch trials and metes out capital punishment to the guilty parties. I simply think that's a stand we should take in the name of freedom. The current US policy is that national strategic interests trump such concerns, and I disagree with that, and I think the author of the post does too. You can agree or disagree with our position, but there's no grasping at straws involved. The anti-American Islamic states are irrelevant because, by definition, we are not allied with anti-American states.


Blogger mark on 2/22/2008 8:14 PM:

The problem is that there is no connection between the two. An adversarial relationship between the US and the KSA is not going to change Arab-Islamic folk beliefs about djinn. Nor will changing KSA to a democracy, at least in the short term where some rather nightmarish Ikhwan nostalgia will be uncorked that will make the al Saud look like postmodern liberals.

Jeremy, does Progressive Historians intend to consistently apply this litmus test across the greater part of the Third World that has substantial, illiterate, rural populations who believe in and act on this kind of pre-modern obscurantist crap ?


Blogger Ahistoricality on 2/22/2008 11:35 PM:


It's one of those tidbits you pick up when you do World History, I think. The two names I've run across are Helen Duncan and Jane Rebecca Yorke (the former is often cited by psychic believers for her supposed accuracy, but we know a lot more about how you test these people now).

Mark: We -- the collective, national "we" -- often comment on internal affairs of our allies; there's no "prime directive" suggesting that we shouldn't interfere, by example or word or active (non-violent) participation in the affairs of the rest of the world. We have a responsibility to ourselves to be honest about the regimes we are dealing with and honest to ourselves about the degree to which our dealings lend support to those regimes.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander: oppressive regimes deserve to be overthrown, and if they are replaced with new oppressors, overthrown again. As Tom Lehrer said, "They've got to be protected, all their rights respected, 'til somebody we like can be elected."


Blogger Unknown on 2/23/2008 10:11 AM:

Ahistoricality, thanks for the links. That's just astounding.

Mark, ProgressiveHistorians is not a monolith; it just so happens that I and the author agree about this particular issue, but I publish plenty of things I don't agree with (Lisa's recent post on Obama, for starters). I do believe that we should speak out against any GOVERNMENT that executes its citizens as witches, as is happening here. If a rural part of a population over which a government has no control does something like this -- I'm thinking of the Karzai government in Afghanistan, for instance -- then no, we can't hold Karzai responsible for what he can't control.


Blogger Ralph Brauer on 2/24/2008 12:59 AM:

AH, You floor me again. I, too, did know know of the incidents in the UK.

This entire thread is what keeps me coming back to this site. While another site I frequent is arguing over the use of a vulgar four-letter word, this discussion has no four-letter words, but a great deal to make you think.

AH's point about the anxiety factor reminds me of some research (which I cannot cite this late at night) that was done on high profile child abuse cases and children-on-the milk-carton cases. If my memory is right, a couple of the researchers pointed to the fact the cases arose in communities with a great deal of internal tension. The parallels even extended to the use of so-called "repressed memories" brought back under hypnosis--a concept which has been debunked since.

I bring this up because the point made about cultural relativism is interesting given our own contemporary failings in which "faith" was placed in methods we now regard as "primitive."

In the end the central issue is values. I found it interesting that the debate seemed to center on "American" vs "Saudi" values and yet no one invoked the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. To quote Article 2:

Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

The Declaration goes on to list those rights which the Saudis are clearly violating in this case. These include: torture, arbitrary arrest, a fair trial, and the two key articles--18 and 19--which guarantee freedom of thought and freedom of religion.

The realities of trying to enforce the Declaration have been as difficult as those of our own Bill of Rights, but to me the Declaration still stands as one of the human race's more crowning moments.