It is difficult to imagine a father hurting one of his own. It is even more difficult to imagine someone who has abused his family member getting off lightly. The behavior of Saudi Arabian preacher Fayhan al-Ghamdi does not reflect the actions of a good father, nor any respectable man, for that matter: al-Ghamdi raped, beat and tortured his own 5-year-old daughter, Lama, to death. But his punishment? Just eight years in prison and 800 lashes.
Though many have cried out against the leniency of his consequences, which the Court of Riyadh levied on Oct. 8, few have questioned the Saudi Arabian law that allows al-Ghamdi to go scot-free. This law, according to the Agence France Presse, asserts that “a father cannot be executed for murdering his children, nor can husbands be executed for murdering their wives” even though other acts of rape and murder can be punished by death.
This policy proves that the Saudi Arabian government does not recognize women as human beings — wives and children are seen as the property of a man, as dispensable as material goods.
This mentality is ludicrous. Some actions are simply immoral, regardless of who they are carried out by. It is inexcusable for a country to impose the death penalty upon robbers and adulterers but not upon rapists and murderers for the sole reason that the perpetrator is related to his victims. The enforcement of this policy entitles all married men in Saudi Arabia to carry out senseless murders without serious enough ramifications.
Just this year, human rights activists celebrated a ban on domestic violence as a “landmark decision in Saudi Arabia,” according to CNN. A Washington Post headline read, “Saudi Arabia launches powerful ad campaign against domestic violence.”
And Bandar al-Aiban, president of Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission, told CNN, “this shows the kingdom is really moving forward with enacting laws that protect its citizens and residents and to make sure the kingdom is now in accordance with international obligations and international standards regarding human rights.”
But Lama’s death demonstrates that the international community has fallen prey to Saudi Arabia’s smoke and mirrors. These campaigns do not rectify the true problem, which is a blatant disregard for the rights of all women in Saudi Arabia. And these newly created domestic violence laws, though hailed as a step in the right direction, are a minuscule step in the big picture.
The Saudi Arabian government might appear sympathetic to the needs of women, but do not be fooled — these statements and laws only mask the presence of more complex human rights problems. Saudi Arabia is still mired in issues relating to the mistreatment of women and the global society cannot consent to the irrationality of Sharia law.
For one, women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive without a male companion. They cannot travel alone, participate in athletic activities or work in some industries. Though the international community is obligated to pressure Saudi Arabia to implement harsher domestic violence laws, until the misogynistic culture changes within the country, it is difficult to expect progress.
Cases of rape against daughters or sons are not unique to Saudi Arabia. Most recently, the Jersey Journal reported how a New Jersey man “faces multiple counts of child abuse, endangering the welfare of a child, aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault by contact” for the raping his two daughters.
Evidently, the fundamental difference between the United States and Saudi Arabia is the concept of justice. American citizens can depend on their judicial system to act fairly, handing down appropriate punishments. But in the case of Lama, whose life was stolen by the man who gave it to her, justice was not served.
Rini Sampath is a sophomore majoring in international relations (global business). She is also the Editorial Director of the Daily Trojan.
Follow Rini on Twitter @RiniSampath