A Posting of No Great Value

It’s raining in Alexandria today. The last few days have been fairly busy — in the mornings editing Saudi Gazette, and then in the afternoons at Big Wheel Bikes in Alexandria, mostly doing tune-ups, small repairs and a few assemblies. Yesterday, I put together a lightweight aluminum racing bike. Taiwanese made, a mail-order job that seems to be fairly popular, a Motobecane Vent Noir. I’d never assembled a high-end bike before, and it was fairly nice and easy to build. Beautiful bike.

Several interesting pieces I edited/re-wrote for the Saudi Gazette this morning. The first was the best interview I’ve seen of late with an executioner, a man by the name of Abdullah Sa’id Al-Bishi, who describes in fair detail to the Arabic daily Al-Hayat the nature of his work (he talks a fair amount about the swords he uses to behead people), assisting his father (who was an executioner as well), the fact he gets regular death threats, and why he has no moral problems doing his job (he’s following both Islamic and state law).

What was most interesting, however, is what he described as the role of the executioner in trying to move the family of the victim — the person murdered by the convict awaiting execution — to pardon the condemned. In Islamic law, at least the Hanbalite flavor that governs in Saudi Arabia, the family of the victim may, at any time, pardon the accused/convicted/condemned:

The job of the executioner is not only to carry out the death sentence, Al-Bishi said. The swordsman is also a kind-of counselor, sometimes approaching relatives of a murder victim and reminding them they can pardon the convicted up until the very last moment. Al-Bishi related an incident when his father was an executioner and was preparing to carry out a death sentence on a young expatriate awaiting execution for killing a friend, who was an only son. The mother of the victim repeatedly declined to pardon the killer of her child.

“My father had a hunch that the heart of this bereaved mother could soften up,” Al-Bishi said. “[My father] walked up to her, with his sword in his hand, and told her that the head of the young man awaiting execution would separate from his body in a few seconds’ time, but that she could raise her hand any time before that if she decided to pardon the killer.”

“She was adamant still and as my father lifted the sword for the last time to go through with the execution, the mother of the victim raised her hand to motion to my father that she had pardoned the murderer,” Al-Bishi continued. “The crowd rushed towards her, cheering and saying that God the Almighty is great, and prayed for her to rest in paradise as a reward for her forgiveness.”

Three times, he’s been able to convince families of victims to pardon the murderers after everything was ready for the execution.

“I can tell from the expression on the faces of the victims’ family members if they are considering pardon,” Al-Bishi explained.

Whatever argument one can make about the brutality of beheding people as a form of capital punishment (whenever the state takes life, can it ever NOT be done cruelly and inhumanely?), the idea that the victim’s family can pardon the condemned at any point during legal procedings is amazing to behold. I like the idea of taking the state out of “justice,” because without the inclusion of mercy and forgiveness, you don’t have justice, you simply have vengeance. Perhaps vegneance has its place, but so does mercy.

And here’s another nice little story, about an explosion in the southwest of Saudi Arabia near the city of Jizan. Sounds more like a rocket than an artillery shell, but it is likely Yemeni tribesmen — who are outside the formal law of the state most of the time anyway — playing with their weapons. Which tribal folk are inclined to do, wherever they are, anyway.

Security officials are still investigating the source of a mysterious artillery shell that fell near a border village, said Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, Security Spokesman for the Ministry of Interior. He said sufficient information is not available and when investigations are completed a statement will be issued on the subject, the Arabic-language daily Okaz reported.

A high-level security source said that the shell was fired from the Saudi-Yemeni border area, according to the ground survey and a study of the dimensions of the crater the shell left, as well as the direction that the shell came.

The source said that the round is more than a meter long and that it was found stuck in the ground surrounded by fragments, sparking rumors that more than one shell had been fired. However, the Interior Ministry said only one round had fallen.

For its part, an Army Engineering Support Unit has begun an investigation, the Interior Ministry and Defense Ministry have formed a joint committee to oversee the probe.

The round itself has been sent to the General Organization for Military Industries in Al-Kharj in order to determine what type of munition it is.

An 18-year-old Yemeni shepherd named Mohammad Ali was not injured when the shell fell a few meters from a sheep pen to the east of Al-Qarn village in Al-Tuwal Governorate near the border. The explosion threw him on the ground without injuring him.

“After finishing Isha prayer, I returned to my house to relax, but I remembered that the water tank for watering the sheep was empty so I came back to fill it. However, I noticed a burning object in the sky coming towards me, so I left whatever was in my hand and ran away fast,” Ali explained, still shaken from the incident.

Other eyewitnesses said they heard a rumbling sound like thunder when the object flew over their homes. Then it fell on the ground with a loud explosion the like of which they had never heard before, and residents of villages as far away as nine kilometers reportedly heard the explosion.

Security officials have cordoned off the area.