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The Saudi paralysis case: do two wrongs make a right?

The reported sentencing of paralysis for a Saudi man as punishment for paralysing another man is grotesque. What we do not need is a person with a needless disability.

New Statesman
Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall arrives at the Saudi Arabian Parliament during a recent official visit to the country. Photograph: Getty Images

 

As a person with a disability, I have been known to exclaim in frustration or anger “I wish they could be disabled for a while to see what it’s like” or “I bet they wouldn’t want to swap places with me” when I see someone using a disabled toilet or using a derogatory slur like “spastic” or “retard”.

That is true. They probably wouldn’t want to change places with me. Of course I’m not really wishing disability on anyone, merely advocating a higher standard of education, awareness and empathy around the subject.

When I was younger people used to jump in and out of my wheelchair with impunity, treating it like a toy while I did physiotherapy. Conversely, I knew that, despite the novelty factor, this toy would be with me for a lifetime.

Having lived in a hostel for physically disabled adults prior to moving some years ago into the bungalow where I now live, I have also seen the pain that acquired disability can cause, whether that be through brain injuries, strokes, or degenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

I have seen disability destroy confidence, body, and identity. For some, even the basic dignity of vocal communication is stolen from them.

Mercifully though, we can view disability through the prism of UK democracy. There are systems in place and dedicated forms of therapy and intervention to help people regain control and some measure of normalcy and dignity in their lives.

Given all that, imagine my shock, disdain and outrage when I saw the hash tag “Saudi paralysis” on Twitter. When I clicked on it, my anger morphed into fury.

I read that a man who had committed the crime of paralysing someone when he was 14 was now due to be paralysed too at the behest of the Saudi Arabian Government.

You see, in my dreams, I often walk. To imagine that it is somebody’s intent to wilfully paralyse an individual, or if that if I was able bodied, somebody would paralyse me intentionally is a really challenging and emotive notion.

Someone who shares my outrage and frustration at this development is the former MP turned Unfashionista and Sun columnist Louise Mensch.

She gave an interview to Nicky Campbell on BBC Radio 5 Live which you can listen to here. In it, she reserves her ire for the human rights record of the Saudi Arabian Government, as well as excoriating William Hague for “saying nothing about this [while] posing with Angelina Jolie in the Democratic Republic of Congo for Twitter.”

Saudi Arabia is a country with an already appalling human rights record. It is country where women are denied the right to vote and drive. Women are routinely flogged.

The Hippocratic oath includes the phrase “First, do no harm”. Where does the practice of wilful paralysis interweave with medical ethics, I ask any sane human being?

I fear too, that all it would achieve is the creation of another victim, a martyr, giving rise to a macabre fascination with “the world’s first artificially paralysed man”. We do not need another victim.

What we need though are humane Muslims, who believe in the compassion of Allah to speak out. What we need is a better human rights record in Saudi Arabia, and an end to the vile misogyny meted out to the women of Saudi Arabia. We need our Government to speak out against this atrocious behaviour in Saudi Arabia.

What we do not need is a person with a needless disability.

And yes, let it not be forgotten that at the age of 14 the original perpetrator committed a heinous crime in maliciously paralysing another.

But how is the state legitimated cutting off of someone’s spinal cord any better? As someone who was born with cerebral palsy in all four limbs, I know what I think.

Two wrongs do not make a right, do they?