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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Battle for Mosul: will this be the end of Islamic State?

The militant group's grip on power is slipping but it has proved resilient in the past.

The battle for Mosul is the latest stage in the long struggle to defeat Islamic State. The group has been around since the late 1990s in one form or another, constantly mutating in response to its environment. Undoubtedly its ejection from Mosul will be a significant moment in the group’s history, but it is unlikely to be its final chapter. The destruction of the group will only be complete when some fundamental changes occur within Iraq and the war in Syria comes to an end.

IS’s roots go back to a training camp established by the militant Islamist Abu Musab al Zarqawi in the late 1990s in Herat, Afghanistan. Founded as an army to overthrow the apostate regimes of the Levant, it fled to northern Iraq in the wake of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan post-9/11 where it re-established itself as a force alongside Ansar al Shariah, a hardline Salafi jihadi organisation.

As American attention shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq, the group was ideally placed to become one of the leading lights in the post-Saddam Iraqi insurgency. Brutally announcing itself to the world in August 2003 with successive attacks on the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad, the UN headquarters and a Shia shrine in Najaf — the latter being the deadliest attack in Iraq that year with a death toll of 95 — the group grew to assume the mantle of al-Qaeda in Iraq. By 2006 this brand had become somewhat damaged through the brutal sectarian campaign the group waged, and when its founder, Zarqawi, died it sought to reinvent itself as the Mujahedeen Shura Council. This incarnation did not last long either, and eventually it assumed the title of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), alongside a more Iraqi leadership.

This was the start of a diffcult period in the group's history. Its excesses in Iraq (including indiscriminate slaughter of Shia Muslims to stir sectarian hatred and filmed decapitations of prisoners) lost it local support and led to the tribes in Sunni Iraq rising up and supporting the government in Baghdad's fight back against the group. By 2009, when the west abruptly stopped paying attention and withdrew from Iraq the group was largely perceived as in decline, with the Shia Muslim-led Iraqi government appearing to slowly assert itself more effectively across the country.

The terrorist attacks by the group continued. And the new government started to advance an increasingly sectarian agenda. These two played off each other in a downward spiral that was given a fresh boost of blood when the civil war in Syria erupted in 2011. Drawing on its existing networks (that were leftovers from when Syria was used as a staging point by the organisation to launch attacks into Iraq), the leadership sent a cell to Syria to explore what opportunities existed within the emerging fight there. This cell became the seed that grew into Jabhat al Nusrah and ultimately IS – a label the group adopted when in June 2013 IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi decided it was time to reveal this link between his Iraqi group and Jabhat al Nusrah. This led to divisions and the breaking up of the two organisations.

For IS, however, it was the beginning of an upward trajectory, building on this division to grow itself substantially in Syria (with Raqqa as its capital) and in 2014 taking over Iraq’s second biggest city of Mosul. We then reach the apex of IS’s success and the biggest expansion of the group yet.

It now seems that this growth had a shelf life of just two-and-a-half years. As the group appears to be losing Mosul, it is likely that we will see the beginning of a period of retraction. But this will not be its end – rather, it will flee back to the hills and the ungoverned spaces in Iraq and Syria from where it will continue a persistent terrorist strategy in both countries. Here it will bide its time until the moment presents itself to rise up. Waiting until the governance in Iraq and Syria fails its people again, the group can paint itself as the protector of Sunnis and once more build on that group's disenfranchisement to win supporters and occupy a space vacated by local governments.

IS's grip on power might currently be slipping but as history has shown, it has waxed and waned depending on the context it is operating in. We are now going to see a period of withdrawal, but unless attention is paid by the global community, it will expand again in the future.

Raffaello Pantucci is Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Visit his website at