Jun 20, 2012

Pagan Kerfuffle Down the Beliefnet Memory Hole

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

I was reading this ghastly story this morning about a man who was recently executed for witchcraft in Saudi Arabia.

According to SPA, the Saudi state news agency, Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri, a man "found in possession of books and talismans" was beheaded in the southern province of Najran.

The BBC reported that the execution was carried out after al-Asiri's sentence was upheld by the Middle Eastern monarchy's highest courts, and that "no details were given of what he was found guilty of beyond the charges of witchcraft and sorcery."

Although Amnesty International stated that the country does not consider it a capital offense, executions on charges of sorcery and witchcraft have occurred in Saudi Arabia in recent years. 

Books and talismans... sigh...

So, I was trying to remember what exactly Rob Kerby had said about Saudi Arabia's proactive response to the witch and djinn (genie) problem. I seem to remember he was fairly laudatory. But when I clicked on the link to the original post, I found that it was gone. I ran some searches on the site. I can't find it. I seem to remember that the response to that piece by Beliefnet's Pagan blogger Gus DiZerega linked to a different version of the same story on that site, so I clicked the link to DiZerega's post. Also gone.

I guess disposing of comments was not enough. Beliefnet has flushed the entire episode and still seems to be trying to profit from its pre-existing brand as a religiously tolerant site. Gus DiZerega has not posted anything since, however, so I'm assuming he and the Pagan community never got that requested apology.

They could not, however, remove all traces of Kerby's diatribe. An extant version can still be found on The Blaze, so I was able to refresh my memory.

In September, Abdul Hamid Bin Hussain Bin Moustafa al-Fakki, a Sudanese national, was beheaded in Medina after being convicted of casting a spell involving jinni designed to reconcile a divorced couple.

“Saudi law does not clearly outlaw sorcery,” reports Cecily Hilleary of Middle East Voices, a Voice of America website, “but the country’s legal system is based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law.”

According to the Understanding Islam website, belief in magic is integral to the Islamic tradition. Many Saudis say their belief in sorcery and jinni is an integral part of Islam.

Anyone Muslim denies their existence is not a true believer, according to Christoph Wilcke, Senior Researcher for the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch.

“I recall a meeting with the highest adviser to the Minister of Justice in Saudi Arabia a few years ago,” Wilcke told the Middle East Voices, a Voice of America website. “I asked him, ‘How do you prove sorcery or witchcraft in court?’ And the answer he gave me, after looking a little bit stupefied, was to point to the American justice system – how do Americans know what is pornography?

“He basically said, ‘I know it when I see it.’”

Witchcraft is a profitable business in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Muslim world, he said.

“The poor, the ailing and the heartsick, believing in magic, turn to fortune tellers and herbalists for help,” writes Hilleary.

In the west, witchcraft is trivialized with children’s books such as Harry Potter and Disney movies and TV shows that present it as harmless.

I know it when I see it... and then off with their heads. And this is what Kerby holds up as a model for taking the dangers of Harry Potter seriously. Wow. It's even worse than I'd remembered.

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