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.

 

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?

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

Hannah Buchanan is a blogger with a specific interest in LGBT, disability, and feminist issues and the potential crossover between them. Follow her @HannahBoo3131

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"We are not going to change": Barcelona defies terror with a return to normality

After a attack which killed 14 and injured scores more, shock gives way to defiance and unity.

A perfect summer afternoon in Barcelona suddenly turned into a nightmare on Thursday evening, a nightmare that has become far too common in Europe in recent years. 

“I was having a coffee here [in Plaça Catalunya] and was about to go and walk down there like everyday, because I live just off the Ramblas”, says 26-year-old Eneko de Marcos, pointing down the promenade. “I stayed because I was waiting for a friend, and when she came we heard a big noise and then everyone was running."

Thousands of people, most of them tourists, had been ambling casually along the Ramblas, the most iconic of Barcelona boulevards, which descends from Plaça Catalunya to the old port and the sea, when a white van had mounted the pedestrianised centre of the walk and began driving into people. 

Even after the van came to a stop, leaving a trail of dead and injured in its wake, De Marcos and hundreds of others were trapped for hours inside bars, shops and hotels while the police cordoned off the area and investigated the scene.

Seeing the Ramblas and the surrounding areas completely empty of people following the attack is, for anyone used to the area, unreal and the first reaction for most has been shock. Barcelona had felt safe both to locals and tourists, which had been coming to the city in increasing numbers since last year, many perhaps trying to avoid other destinations in Europe seen as more at risk of attack. 

Shock gave way to confusion and fear during the evening. The van driver was still at large and a series of ugly images, videos and unconfirmed rumours about other attacks spread across social media and the news. The number of victims increased steadily to 13 dead and more than 80 injured of many different nationalities.

At 11pm the city centre and its surroundings were eerily quiet and dark. Few people were venturing on to the streets, and the bar terraces which would normally be packed with people enjoying the late dinners Spaniards are famous for were half empty.

The next morning Barcelona woke up to the news that after 1am that night the Police had stopped a second attack in the touristic beach town of Cambrils, an hour and a half away to the south. What was going on? The streets of Barcelona were still quiet, far too quiet in a city usually noisy and crowded, and again the terraces, so symptomatic of the Barcelona’s mood, were unusually empty.

“I always said something like this would never happen in Barcelona”, says Joaquín Alegre, 76, walking through Plaça de Catalunya the morning after with his friend, Juan Pastor, 74, who nods and agrees: “I always felt safe.”

But slowly fear had given way to defiance. “Afraid? No, no, no”, insists Joaquín. “We’re going to carry on like normal, respecting the victims and condemning the attack, but we are not going to change”, says Juan.

Little by little the Ramblas and the whole area started to fill up during the day. People came from all directions, all kinds of people, speaking all kinds of language. The day was beautiful, the sky was blue, there are no clouds in sight and it got hotter by the minute. It began to look like Barcelona again.

“It’s important not to show fear, that’s what (the terrorists) want”, says Emily, an 18-year-old from Dresden, in Germany, who landed yesterday at Barcelona airport with her mother a few minutes after the attack. She says people were checking their phones while still on the plane and then one girl said aloud there’d been a terrorist attack in Barcelona. “It’s important to come here (to Plaça Catalunya) at this time”, says her mother, Anna, 42, both of them sitting on a low wall at the square.

Next to them, where the Ramblas begins, people once again filled the boulevard full of shops and hotels, which many locals also see as a symbol of how tourism has gone wrong in Barcelona. But Catalans, Spaniards from elsewhere and foreigners mingled happily, feeling united against a common enemy. Many left flowers and lit candles at the feet of a big ornamental lamppost on top of the Ramblas, many others did the same next to the famous Canaletes fountain a little down the promenade. 

“We the people have to respond to this by getting out and taking the streets”, says Albert Roca, a 54 year old publicist, who’s decided to come against the wishes of his girlfriend, who told him he was crazy. “I took a picture of the Ramblas and sent it to her and wrote, ‘Look how many crazy people there are’.”

Just before noon the Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau visited the Plaça Catalunya with her retinue. She is a very popular figure who comes from civil society in a country where many citizens don’t feel properly represented by traditional politicians. Many people followed her carrying roses, a symbol of Barcelona, while they made their way into the square.

Shortly after, around 100,000 people packed Plaça Catalunya and its adjacent streets for a minute of silence begins for the victims. Only the flapping of pigeon’s wings overhead can be heard. And then an applause and a loud chant break the silence: “I am not afraid! I am not afraid!”, sang the people in Catalan.

Along with Colau in the centre of the square there was Carles Puigdemont, the head of the Catalan regional government and leader of the independence movement that has called for a referendum on 1 October, and along side them, King Felipe as the head of State, and Mariano Rajoy, the Prime Minister of Spain and a bitter political rival of Puigdemont. Seeing them standing together presents an image that until yesterday afternoon would’ve seemed impossible.

Very slowly people start emptying the square, where many still remain singing defiantly. “The attacks yesterday were a disgrace”, says a doorman just outside the city centre as Barcelona began returning to normality, “but we are going to carry on, what else can we do?”