Witchcraft, magic, and sorcery have been concerns of mankind around the world and, apparently, for most of human history. In some cultures, ‘witches’ were honored, as shamans or folk medical practitioners of a sort. In others, they were feared and condemned. Over time, however, cultures affected by the Age of Reason realized that there was something wrong in criminalizing acts and beliefs that could not be clearly defined, could not even be clearly identified. And so, anti-sorcery laws fell by the wayside.
Not so in Saudi Arabia. Several recent cases of ‘sorcerers’ being identified, tried, and condemned to death have been making news, as this release from Human Rights Watch notes:
(Kuwait City) – The cassation court in Mecca should overturn the death sentence imposed on Ali Sabat by a lower court in Medina on November 9 for practicing witchcraft, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called on the Saudi government to cease its increasing use of charges of “witchcraft” which remains vaguely defined and arbitrarily used.
Ali Sibat’s death sentence apparently resulted from advice and predictions he gave on Lebanese television. According to Saudi media, in addition to Sibat, Saudi religious police have arrested at least two others for witchcraft in the past month alone.
“Saudi courts are sanctioning a literal witch hunt by the religious police,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The crime of ‘witchcraft’ is being used against all sorts of behavior, with the cruel threat of state-sanctioned executions.”
The release points out the problems here: there is no clear definition or description of what constitutes sorcery or black magic; that determination is left to judges who are free to use their own judgments—or imaginations—to decide. When the judges’ power includes that of condemning someone to death, that is discretion without limit.
I’m confident that many heads in Saudi Arabia would explode—or at least see it as proof that the US is Satan’s own—in realizing that American law protects self-described witches. Not always and not under all circumstances, but still…