‘So what’s up with this topic?’ you might be asking yourself. The ethics of an entire country? I know this blog tends to go on a bit, but that’s like a Masters thesis at least right there. And given I made a big point that there is no such thing as a ‘country’ when it comes to ethics, just a lot of communities and individuals in a given area, wouldn’t it be kind of strange for me to try to analyse the ethics of an entire nation? Well normally you’d be right, and while I’ll admit I’ve had this topic bubbling away in the back of my head for a while, I’ve kept it to myself for those exact reasons.
But now that the Saudi Arabian government is threatening to sue anyone that criticizes them, I’m officially throwing my hands up in the air, declaring “fuck it” and giving it to them with both barrels.
A quick disclaimer before I start: unless it isn’t obvious, this rant is directed at the Saudi Arabian government and extended royal family, NOT the thousands of citizens who live under their rule. This rant is NOT racially or religiously motivated, but if you can pick anything in here that you think IS, then please comment and I will explain myself and/or remove it if you’ve got a point. Disclaimer over? Good.
Saudi Arabia for those who are unaware, is a vastly wealthy nation in the middle east thanks initially to huge oil reserves tapped in the 60’s, and subsequently to the commerce and tourism that has followed it. Gently google the place and you’re likely to come up with some crazy, if amazing architectural achievements such as the world’s second tallest building, huge artificial islands, and indoor ski resorts in the middle of the desert. It comes across as a modern day oasis; a land of amazing technological, commercial and industrial achievement in once barren desert.
Phallic and VERY proud of it.
But Google it a little harder (or just hang around with well-informed cynics for a bit) and a different picture emerges. For those of you entranced by the tourist pamphlets, here are a few things you should know about Saudi Arabia before you plan your next holiday or business venture there:
You know all those remarkable architectural achievements? Those were built using what is known as ‘itinerant labour’ or migrant workers – people who travel all the way to Saudi Arabia to make some money working on these massive projects, much the same way that many workers come to Australia on 457 visa, or Australians might get a working visa to fund their visit to the United Kingdom or USA. Difference is, visitors to Australia, the UK or USA don’t generally expect to face exploitation, racism, theft, sexual assault, forced confinement, beatings and death as standard working conditions – much less have the local legal system then blame them for being victims of these crimes and imprison, torture or execute them. To give you an idea of the scale of all this in 2014 there were 38,000 Indonesian workers in Saudi Arabia alone. Of these it is estimated that up to 60% will experience “serious problems … ranging from physical abuse to not being paid, being killed on the job or committing suicide out of despair.” So yeah, less ‘exceptional injustices’ and more ‘standard operating procedure’.
But hey, migrant workers from the third world suffer conditions like this all over the place right? What’s another few drops in that particular bucket of misery? I mean it’s not like these sort of abuses happen to civilized folk like you and me who have strong governments that look after us, right? Well assuming you’re the sort of self-absorbed twat that thinks ‘Fuck you, got mine’ is a solid ethical position (and there certainly are a few out there), then I’ve got some bad news for you; turns out being an glorious westerner isn’t a guarantee of safety.
Meet Stuart Jeffries, a UK citizen imprisoned and tortured for 3 years by Saudi authorities. Why? Because they thought he might have had something to do with a car bombing. He didn’t but that didn’t stop them from torturing a confession out of him and sentencing him to death in a secret trial.
Meet William Sampson, a dual British and Canadian national arrested out of nowhere for terrorism, espionage and murder, imprisoned and tortured for two years and seven months before being suddenly released.
Meet Ron Jones, a citizen of the USA accused of a car bombing that he was actually a victim of, taken from his hospital room, imprisoned and tortured for 3 months.
But as random and senseless as these injustices may appear, surely they are the exceptions to the rule? I mean these guys must have done something to piss off the Saudi authorities, right? I could never happen to you. Well don’t be so sure mate. Westerners may indeed get a much better deal than workers from the developing world, but one look at the Saudi Arabian legal system lays things very bare. Remember that ‘Sharia Law’ thing your racist uncle thinks brown people are secretly conspiring to force on the western world? Well it’s the law of the land in Saudi Arabia (one of our closest allies in the region I might add) and the results are horrifying. Want to kiss your partner in public? No go mate. Female and want to walk down the street on your own? Uh uh. Want to express your extremely natural sexuality in any way shape or form? Enjoy your lashes son. Want to simply be homosexual anywhere in the country? Well good fuckin luck to you because that’s a hanging offense. Want to just go to the god damn movies? Nope! Might provoke ‘immoral behaviour’.
Because if Saudi Arabia stands for anything, it’s ‘moral behaviour’.
For the non-pricks among us, the brutality of this ‘legal system’ is if anything worse for the Saudi people. There’s plenty of examples I could give here, but probably all you need to know is that on more than one occasion a victim of rape has been sentenced for 200 lashings for the crime of ‘adultery’. I usually try to embrace those that disagree with me on here, but if you don’t consider that an utter perversion of justice then you can fuck off this blog right here and now – you’re unsalvageable.
Naturally of course these dictatorial laws are applied completely inconsistently, with the rich and powerful being strangely exempt from many of these ‘moral’ requirements. The Saudi royal family in particular has managed to gain quite the reputation for excess, debauchery and perversion which you’d think would make them prime candidates for a religious purging, but for some reason it never seems to come about. In case the sarcasm wasn’t obvious there, this sort of bullshit is exactly the reason I hate the very idea of royalty – investing power, wealth and privilege into sheltered, born-to-rule children and it’s not just likely that they will abuse their power, it’s basically encouraged.
But all this nastiness so far is generally confined to within Saudi Arabia’s borders, and if that was all they did then perhaps their horrific human rights record might be ignored, if not forgiven. But the Saudis go that one step further and take their shitfest of a culture on to the international stage as the creators and major backers of Wahhabism.
Remember last week how we discussed the ideas that drive ISIS and Islamic terrorism? Well that’s Wahhabism in a nutshell; a radical, ultraconservative interpretation of Islam that encourages its followers to spread the faith by fire and the sword, convert or kill anyone who opposes them and control their followers with an iron fist. From a philosophical point of view it’s the brainless brutality of ‘Might makes right’ with ‘God told me to’ thrown in as a paltry defence. And as usual when someone tries to use religion to justify tyranny, it’s purely a justification to use force to seize power over others – a philosophy by cunts, for cunts, that encourages and rewards cunt-ish behaviour (apologies to all the vagina owners out there by the way, but I needed the strongest swearword we have for that). And second to oil, it’s Saudi Arabia’s major export to the world along with the cash to make those despotic dreams a reality. Ever wonder where nutjobs like ISIS, Al Qaeda and other militant groups get the cash and equipment needed to fight wars and make terrorist strikes possible? Well you can thank Saudi oil money for that and everybody knows it.
Not even trying to hide it, really.
Power is one of those themes that I keep finding myself returning to, over and over because all too often that’ what ethical issues boil down to: how people behave when they get power over other people. As I’ve written before, power isn’t a bad thing – it’s just the means to control your circumstances – but when power centralizes into a small group of people at the expense of others, accountability for the use of that power starts to break down. And when we stop being held accountable for how and why we exercise our power, things start to get ugly really, really fast, if for no other reason than that there’s nothing to stop them from doing so.
Saudi Arabia is a perfect example of this theory in practice: an incredibly small group of people, empowered with riches beyond comprehension acquired through blind luck and zero effort, holding power over millions of people who have absolutely zero ability to hold them accountable for how they use that power. Combine the ludicrous wealth of the Saudi ruling class with the ‘divine authority’ power of religion, and frankly it’s kind of surprising that things haven’t gotten even more out of hand than they are. Perhaps the Saudi’s reliance on trade with other nations keeps them somewhat in check – contrast this against the absolute totalitarianism of North Korea, where a government cut of from all other nations is able to wield near absolute authority over its citizens with zero conscience or consequence.
But this raises a reasonable question: why am I picking on Saudi Arabia specifically? There are no shortage of unenlightened nations out there who abuse their citizens, support horrific armed groups, and abuse their power wholesale – why am I focussing so intently on one specific nation and ignoring all these others? Perhaps this speaks of some lurking bigoted hatred of the Saudi’s in particular?
NOT RACIST BUT
Well dear readers, I’ve written before that the actions of one party are not excused by others acting the same way, but aside from that there are two reasons for this focus:
- They don’t have an excuse.
Look at the profile of most tyrannical, brutal nations and the running theme is clear: poverty, lack of education, destabilization, etc, etc, etc. Hardly surprising that countries in the shitter don’t embody the highest of ideas – what with the whole hierarchy of needs thing and all – but Saudi Arabia is notable for not having any of these excuses. The nation and government are obscenely wealthy, have access to the latest in science, culture and education and all in all have absolutely no excuse for behaving like bronze-age barbarians without the sense of honour.
- We can stop them.
Talk with folks about terrible governments like North Korea, the unstable Thai situation, the Burmese junta or the post-colonial disaster that is much of sub-Saharan Africa and the reaction is usually the same: yes it is indeed terrible and we’d like to help, but what can we do? How exactly can average people like you and me help improve governance in these unstable, often war-torn nations when even institutions like the UN, NATO and international aid groups can’t get a handle on it?
This is a very fair reaction, and while there are obviously ways we can help, progress is tricky and very very slow. But Saudi Arabia? Absolutely piece of cake by comparison.
See the government, royals, and ruling classes of Saudi Arabia have one great big whopping vulnerability: they need the west. Developed nations don’t just support the Saudis, they’re the only thing keeping the entire mess afloat. Stop buying their oil, stop investing in their businesses, stop using their ports and airlines, and most of all stop visiting their barbaric, backwards, suffering pit of a nation as tourists, and the entire catastrophe collapses in on itself.
Obviously such a crash (while pretty god damn satisfying) would be pretty disastrous and not just for the Saudi ruling class – too much international capital is tied up in the place for everyone to just walk away from it, and while workers are indeed abused there, the fact that they keep coming indicates that Saudi Arabia does provide a very necessary source of work for millions. Fortunately there are more options in front of us than simple ‘ignore the problem’ and ‘burn it to the ground’ – in recognizing that the Saudi economy depends so heavily on westerners we recognize that we have control over those that rely on that economy for their power. And if we tell the Saudi government and royalty that the future stability of their thrones relies heavily on how they treat the people under them then we have done what those people could not: we have reintroduced accountability back into the equation.
Much as I hate the state of Saudi Arabia and many of its neighbours right now, and can confidently say the world would be improved by their deaths, such a revolutionary approach fails the key test of ethics: it may be a better option than the status quo, but it is not the best option available. Given the practical realities of the situation, the best option is clear: it is up to those who have the power to control the Saudi establishment to do just that. It is up to you, me and those foreigners upon whom the Saudi’s so heavily rely to turn the screws and make sure they listen. And it is up to us to deny them our business, our tourism and our favour until they do.
If you are an ethical person, a person who cares about justice and wishes to leave this world better than you found it, then your course here is clear: boycott Saudi Arabia and everything it offers you until Saudi Arabia gets its shit together.