Kristof, Bruni and Collins

In “Sentenced to be Crucified” Mr. Kristof says  Western governments bite their tongues as Saudi Arabia legitimizes fundamentalism and intolerance in the Islamic world.  No shit…  Mr. Bruni says “Ben Carson and Donald Trump Lack Electricity in a Charged Debate,” and that it’s Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz with the biggest moments in the third meeting of Republican contenders.  Which was still a comedy show.  Ms. Collins, in “Oh, Those Debating Republicans,” says one of these candidates is going to be the nominee for president. Really.  I know, Gail — it’s terrifying.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Any day now, our Saudi Arabian allies may behead and crucify a young man named Ali al-Nimr.

His appeals following his court sentence for this grisly execution have been exhausted, so guards may lead Nimr to a public square and hack off his head with a sword as onlookers jeer. Then, following Saudi protocol for crucifixion, they would hang his body as a warning to others.

Nimr’s offense? He was arrested at age 17 for participating in anti-government protests. The government has said he attacked police officers and rioted, but the only known evidence is a confession apparently extracted under torture that left him a bloody mess.

“When I visited my son for the first time I didn’t recognize him,” his mother, Nusra al-Ahmed,told The Guardian. “I didn’t know whether this really was my son Ali or not.”

Nimr was recently moved to solitary confinement in preparation for execution. In Britain, where the sentence has received attention, the foreign secretary says he does “not expect” it to be carried out. But Nimr’s family fears execution could come any day.

Saudi Arabia’s medieval criminal justice system also executes “witches,” and flogs and imprisons gay people.

It’s time for a frank discussion about our ally Saudi Arabia and its role legitimizing fundamentalism and intolerance in the Islamic world. Western governments have tended to bite their tongues because they see Saudi Arabia as a pillar of stability in a turbulent region — but I’m not sure that’s right.

Saudi Arabia has supported Wahhabi madrasas in poor countries in Africa and Asia, exporting extremism and intolerance. Saudi Arabia also exports instability with its brutal war in Yemen, intended to check what it sees as Iranian influence. Saudi airstrikes have killed thousands, and theblockading of ports has been even more devastating. Some Yemeni children are starving, and 80 percent of Yemenis now need assistance.

There’s also an underlying hypocrisy in Saudi behavior. This is a country that sentenced a 74-year-old British man to 350 lashes for possessing alcohol (some British reports say he may be allowed to leave Saudi Arabia following international outrage), yet I’ve rarely seen as much hard liquor as at Riyadh parties attended by government officials.

A Saudi prince, Majed Abdulaziz al-Saud, was just arrested in Los Angeles in a $37 million mansion he had rented, after allegedly drinking heavily, hiring escorts, using cocaine, terrorizing women and threatening to kill people.

“I am a prince,” he declared, according to an account in The Los Angeles Times. “And I do what I want.”

Saudi Arabia isn’t the enemy, but it is a problem. It could make so much positive difference in the Islamic world if it used its status to soothe Sunni-Shiite tensions and encourage tolerance. For a time, under King Abdullah, it seemed that the country was trying to reform, but now under King Salman it has stalled.

In effect, Saudi Arabia legitimizes fundamentalism, religious discrimination, intolerance and the oppression of women. Saudi women not only can’t drive, but are also told by some clerics that they mustn’t wear seatbelts for fear of showing the outlines of their bodies. Saudi Arabia inflames the Sunni-Shiite divide and sets a pernicious example of intolerance by banning churches.

Even Iran lately has mocked Saudi Arabia for mistreating women — and when misogynistic Iranian hard-liners can claim the high ground on women’s rights, you’ve got a problem.

I’ve defended Islam from critics like Bill Maher who, as I see it, demonize a diverse faith of 1.6 billion Muslims because a small percentage are violent extremists. But it’s incumbent on those of us who object to this demonization to speak up against genuine extremism. Sadly, Saudi Arabia is a gift to Islamophobes; it does far more damage to the reputation of Islam than any blaspheming cartoonists.

Granted, many Saudis are pushing for reform. One bright young writer,Raif Badawi, 31, called eloquently for women’s rights, education reform and freedom of thought, and Saudi Arabia has sentenced him to 10 years in prison, a $267,000 fine and a flogging of 1,000 lashes (50 at a time, with one session administered so far). His wife, Ensaf Haidar, tells me that his flogging is to resume soon after a long suspension, and that she fears he will not survive the entire lashing.

The United States government has largely averted its eyes from all this, at least in public, merely expressing deep concern about the crucifixion sentence even as it provides weaponry to enable the Saudi assault on Yemen.

That’s realpolitik. Saudi Arabia has oil and influence, and the Obama administration needed to cuddle with Saudi Arabia to win the Iranian nuclear deal. But now that that deal has been achieved, should we still be silent?

We do neither ourselves nor the Saudi people any favors when we wink at an ally that crucifies its people.

Well, we’ve decided that it’s just fine and dandy to torture people, so…  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

What a curious, fascinating spectacle: The two men in the lead got lost in the pack.

Coming into Wednesday night, much of the talk about the third Republican debate focused on Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who were trading places at the top of the polls, two outsiders with no business running for president and significantly more support from Republican voters than any of the conventional candidates could muster.

Which of the two would stand out?

Neither.

Would either of the two seal the deal?

Nope.

For the first hour of the debate, which was staged by CNBC, Trump largely disappeared. His rivals and the moderators demonstrated less interest in him than they had in the past, and a Trump without attention is like a petunia without water and light. It fades. It droops.

And while that presented a window of opportunity for Carson, he lacked the pep to get through a window or, for that matter, an extremely wide set of sliding doors. His eyelids sometimes went to half-mast as he swayed through an answer, making a sluggish voyage to an uncertain destination.

What is it that his supporters see in him?

That was John Kasich’s question, or rather his rant, and he started the evening with it, deciding to put all of his few remaining chips on the role of alarmed, truth-telling adult in a sandbox of delusional toddlers.

He made specific references to Trump’s promises to deport millions of immigrants and to Carson’s musings about eviscerating entitlement programs. He lambasted various opponents’ proposals for huge tax cuts.

“This stuff is fantasy,” he said, striving so hard for urgency that he practically yelped. “Folks, we gotta wake up. We cannot elect somebody that doesn’t know how to do the job.”

Trump knew full well that Kasich had him in mind, and noted that Kasich hadn’t talked this way months ago.

“Then his poll numbers tanked,” Trump said, “and he got nasty. So you know what? You can have him.”

Before the debate began, there was some worry—misplaced, as it turns out—that its fiscal focus would create a tame yawner of a night.

It did lead to an inordinate amount of chatter about flat taxes and shrunken tax policies and miniaturized tax returns. Carly Fiorina said that she’d collapse the whole tax code to three pages. Ted Cruz said that he’d enable Americans to file their tax returns on postcards.

I half expected Rand Paul to one-up them both by pledging to present all of his tax ideas in a single haiku. But he was too busy using his minimal speaking time to complain about his minimal speaking time.

Tempers flared. Voices rose. The economy-centered debate on the money-centered network packed ample emotion, in part because it strayed to such issues as gay rights and gun rights and in part because it came at a crucial moment for many of the debaters.

More so than during the first or second meeting of these candidates, participants acted as if this was the pivot point that would determine whether they’d be steaming forward or fading out. It was the time for meticulously plotted fury. It was the vessel for the best jokes, rejoinders and soliloquies they had. It was the cause for attack.

The defining exchange came early, when Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio banished any memory of their mentor-mentee relationship, which has been obliterated by their head-to-head competition to become level-headed Republicans’ answer to Trump and Carson.

Bush slammed Rubio for all the votes he had missed in the Senate as he concentrated on his presidential bid.

“When you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work,” Bush admonished him. “I mean, literally, the Senate—what is it, like a French work week? You get, like, three days where you have to show up?”

He sharpened the dagger by addressing Rubio not as “Senator” but as “Marco.”

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One Response to “Kristof, Bruni and Collins”

  1. Life With Father Says:

    Way to speak up M. Kristof. Now what? More weapons for the Royal Family? You should retire your false sense of grief as if this is the first time the Arabs have precipitated devastation on humanity. How ’bout some crocodile tears for Hamas? Oh the poor monarchs! What can we do to boost their wealth? Does everybody at the Times get paid to insult Americans?

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