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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Donald Trump ushers in a new era of kakistocracy: government by the worst people

Trump will lead the whitest, most male cabinet in memory – a bizarre melange of the unqualified and the unhinged.

“What fills me with doubt and dismay is the degradation of the moral tone,” wrote the American poet James Russell Lowell in 1876, in a letter to his fellow poet Joel Benton. “Is it or is it not a result of democracy? Is ours a ‘government of the people by the people for the people’, or a kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?”

Is there a better, more apt description of the incoming Trump administration than “kakistocracy”, which translates from the Greek literally as government by the worst people? The new US president, as Barack Obama remarked on the campaign trail, is “uniquely unqualified” to be commander-in-chief. There is no historical analogy for a President Trump. He combines in a single person some of the worst qualities of some of the worst US presidents: the Donald makes Nixon look honest, Clinton look chaste, Bush look smart.

Trump began his tenure as president-elect in November by agreeing to pay out $25m to settle fraud claims brought against the now defunct Trump University by dozens of former students; he began the new year being deposed as part of his lawsuit against a celebrity chef. On 10 January, the Federal Election Commission sent the Trump campaign a 250-page letter outlining a series of potentially illegal campaign contributions. A day later, the head of the non-partisan US Office of Government Ethics slammed Trump’s plan to step back from running his businesses as “meaningless from a conflict-of-interest perspective”.

It cannot be repeated often enough: none of this is normal. There is no precedent for such behaviour, and while kakistocracy may be a term unfamiliar to most of us, this is what it looks like. Forget 1876: be prepared for four years of epic misgovernance and brazen corruption. Despite claiming in his convention speech, “I alone can fix it,” the former reality TV star won’t be governing on his own. He will be in charge of the richest, whitest, most male cabinet in living memory; a bizarre melange of the unqualified and the unhinged.

There has been much discussion about the lack of experience of many of Trump’s appointees (think of the incoming secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who has no background in diplomacy or foreign affairs) and their alleged bigotry (the Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, denied a role as a federal judge in the 1980s following claims of racial discrimination, is on course to be confirmed as attorney general). Yet what should equally worry the average American is that Trump has picked people who, in the words of the historian Meg Jacobs, “are downright hostile to the mission of the agency they are appointed to run”. With their new Republican president’s blessing, they want to roll back support for the poorest, most vulnerable members of society and don’t give a damn how much damage they do in the process.

Take Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general selected to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt describes himself on his LinkedIn page as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” and has claimed that the debate over climate change is “far from settled”.

The former neurosurgeon Ben Carson is Trump’s pick for housing and urban development, a department with a $49bn budget that helps low-income families own homes and pay the rent. Carson has no background in housing policy, is an anti-welfare ideologue and ruled himself out of a cabinet job shortly after the election. “Dr Carson feels he has no government experience,” his spokesman said at the time. “He’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”

The fast-food mogul Andrew Puzder, who was tapped to run the department of labour, doesn’t like . . . well . . . labour. He prefers robots, telling Business Insider in March 2016: “They’re always polite . . . They never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”

The billionaire Republican donor Betsy DeVos, nominated to run the department of education, did not attend state school and neither did any of her four children. She has never been a teacher, has no background in education and is a champion of school vouchers and privatisation. To quote the education historian Diane Ravitch: “If confirmed, DeVos will be the first education secretary who is actively hostile to public education.”

The former Texas governor Rick Perry, nominated for the role of energy secretary by Trump, promised to abolish the department that he has been asked to run while trying to secure his party’s presidential nomination in 2011. Compare and contrast Perry, who has an undergraduate degree in animal science but failed a chemistry course in college, with his two predecessors under President Obama: Dr Ernest Moniz, the former head of MIT’s physics department, and Dr Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist from Berkeley. In many ways, Perry, who spent the latter half of 2016 as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, is the ultimate kakistocratic appointment.

“Do Trump’s cabinet picks want to run the government – or dismantle it?” asked a headline in the Chicago Tribune in December. That’s one rather polite way of putting it. Another would be to note, as the Online Etymology Dictionary does, that kakistocracy comes from kakistos, the Greek word for “worst”, which is a superlative of kakos, or “bad”, which “is related to the general Indo-European word for ‘defecate’”.

Mehdi Hasan has rejoined the New Statesman as a contributing editor and will write a fortnightly column on US politics

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era