The Muslim Issue

By Janine di Giovanni / Newsweek

saudi beheading
Saudi police ready a square for public floggings in the Saudi city of Khobar September 28, 2009. Zaki Ghawass/Reuters

The escalation of the war against the Islamic State was triggered by widespread revulsion at the gruesome beheading of two American journalists, relayed on YouTube. Since then, two British aid workers have met a similar grisly fate. And another American has been named as next in line by his terrorist captors.

Yet, for all the outrage these executions have engendered the world over, decapitations are routine in Saudi Arabia, America’s closest Arab ally, for crimes including political dissent—and the international press hardly seems to notice. In fact, since January, 59 people have had their heads lopped off in the kingdom, where “punishment by the sword” has been practiced for centuries.

The Saudi legal system is based on Islam’s Sharia law. Some countries that use Sharia…

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