On October 18, 2016, Saudi Arabia executed a member of the royal family for committing murder during a brawl. Prince Turki bin Saud bin Turki bin Saud al-Kabeer was put to death most likely by beheading in a public square—as this was the usual method at the time. As horrific as such an execution is, the point that law applies to everyone is laudable—especially “on point” for countries in which the rich can “get away with murder” by hiring the best (and most expensive) lawyers. The atrocious means of execution coupled with the dictum that the law really does apply to everyone renders this case particularly difficult to analyze from an ethical perspective.
“The greatest thing is that the citizen sees the law applied to everyone, and that there are not big people and other small people,” Abdul-Rahman al-Lahim, a prominent Saudi lawyer wrote. In other words, the verdict and sentence sent the message that no one is above the law. To be sure, thousands of people are in the Saudi royal family enjoying perks not available to the rest of Saudi Arabia’s 20 million people; yet that the member executed was from a prestigious arm of the family sufficiently makes the point that no one is above the law.
This lesson is a valuable one for the United States, as financiers got away with fraudulently mislabeling the risk of sub-prime mortgage-based bonds before the financial crisis of 2008. Yet, interestingly, the Saudis could look to the United States for a lesson on how to execute people humanely. I submit that this combination of lessons demonstrates that a country can be very ethical in one sense yet abysmal in another. This point in turn impedes claims that some countries are more humane, or advanced ethically, than others. Within a culture, insistence on justice in one sense can coexist with toleration for injustice in another sense. Put another way, the human mind seems able to compartmentalize justice, without realizing the cognitive dissidence involved.
1. Ben Hubbard, “Saudi Prince Is Executed for Murder,” The New York Times, October 19, 2016.