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Since childhood I’ve not only been vexing, at times to others, but also an avid vexillologist.  If you’ve not run across that word before, fret not.  It was ‘created’ not all that many moons ago (1957). It means “the study and collection of information about flags”.

The word combines the Latin vexillum, or flag, plus the Greek ending –ology, meaning, as usual,‘study of….’ whatever.

For example, did you ever notice how many flags are composed of crosses, of one sort or another?

Britain’s Union flag, often called the Union Jack, is a peek-a-boo layer-cake… of flags.
It’s an overlay of flags symbolizing England, Scotland and Ireland.  First,  imagine the red and white standard of St. George, the patron saint of England. St George's flag[St George’s cross]

Atop that, place the blue and white cross saltire of St. Andrew of Scotland.

St Andrew's flag\[St Andrew’s cross]

Atop those two, add the cross saltire of Ireland’s St. Patrick, signifying the union of the parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland.

The result is the flag of the Union.

UK flag[Today’s British flag]

Lots of nations feature crosses on their flags. All the Nordic nations — Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark, plus Bouvet Island, of course! — fit that pattern. Others do as well.

Indeed, there’s one nation which seems to have found a spot for as many crosses as one can imagine. Do you know which one?

If you guessed the modern Republic of Georgia, you’re right.

Republic of Georgia flag

Yes, this is the same Georgia which, under the days of the Soviet Union’s yellow hammer and sickle on a communist red field, produced perhaps any ‘modern’ nation’s most infamous native son.  Who? Ioseb Besarionis Dze Jugashvili, a Georgian who later ‘Russianised’ his name to ‘Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin’ (or, in Cyrllic, Ио́сиф Виссарио́нович Ста́лин) and, finally, the more manageable ‘Joseph Stalin’.

StalinANDFDR[President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Marshal Josef Stalin during World War II]

So, is there any real, modern-day connection between any nation’s flag and how that nation governs her people or behaves, generally?

All the nations with crosses are more or less Christian, or at least they were founded often by local royal families who offered the people a state church based upon Christian precepts.

Alone in all the world, there is one nation which starkly displays a weapon on her flag. Any guesses?

If you guessed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, you’re right.SaudiFlag
The green of the flag represents Islam. The text, in Arabic, is the shahada, the muslim declaration of faith (“There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God”).

The sword stands for the House of Saud, the founding dynasty of the country and the military strength and prowess of Saudi Arabia.

As it happens, in this oil-rich desert nation, the representation of the sword is not mere imagery. To one like me, a university-era now lapsed fencer (using foil, epee, sabre, the works), this is a very pithy distinction.

Only the sabre is a fighting weapon; i.e., meant to draw blood and worse.  The foil and epee?  These are merely training weapons.

Saudi Arabia performs public executions. Current laws allow the death penalty for many violent and non-violent offenses, including: adultery, armed robbery, apostasy (i.e., leaving Islam for any other faith), atheism, drug trafficking, homosexuality, paedophilia,  murder, rape, sexual misconduct (whatever than can mean), and, of course, the real scourge of the 21st Century, witchcraft.

‘Sexual misconduct’ encompasses more than most people who are not on mind- altering chemicals might imagine.  Saudi authorities are worried that letting women drive would encourage them to leave their houses “more often than they need to“, so, women are only allowed to drive in the desert or inside private compounds, with families often having to hire private drivers to get them around.

Several women have been sentenced to lashes after they staged a driving protest to highlight discrimination against women.

Even more bizarre, a Filipino man was sentenced to jail and 75 lashings for bringing two chocolate bars containing alcohol into the country.  He claimed he’d bought the chocolates on a flight stopover and hadn’t realised they were…. alcoholic!

But, chocolate…. to die for?

ChocolateCognacLindtRemember, alcohol is banned in Saudi Arabia.

As Newsweek pointed out: ‘Executions usually take place in the morning, before the oppressive heat of the desert kingdom takes hold, in a public square. Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea and Somalia are the only countries in the world that still execute people in public.

‘People will gather to watch you die. According to British author John R. Bradley, public beheadings are the “only form of public entertainment” in Saudi Arabia, aside from football matches.

‘If you are a prisoner in Riyadh, the capital, you might be taken to the ocher-colored Deera Square, which has acquired a macabre sobriquet: Chop Chop Square. Before you arrive, police and security forces will have prepared the area. It may have been cordoned off to keep curious spectators at a distance, but they will congregate nonetheless.

‘You will be led to the center of the square, on the bare earth. According to one of Saudi Arabia’s state executioners, Mohammed Saad al-Beshi, who was interviewed in the Saudi newspaper Arab News in June 2003, your energy is likely to fade at this point, from sheer exhaustion and fear. You will not fight for your life, nor protest against your restraints.’

There have been some recent updates.  Saudi Arabia has officially identified atheists as terrorists (emphasis mine) in sweeping new laws that threaten up to 20 years in prison for almost any criticism either of the government or of Islam.

The regulations place secular citizens who commit thought crimes in the same category as violent terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch and Saudi Hezbollah. (George Orwell, can you hear our cries?)

Under the new decree by King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia will jail for up to 20 years anyone who fights in conflicts abroad – an apparent move to deter Saudis from joining rebels in Syria.

But the law also applies to any Saudi citizen or a foreigner residing in the kingdom that ‘calls for atheist thought in any form or calls into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.’

The laws have been denounced by human rights groups for making no distinction between religious expression and violent extremism.

‘Saudi authorities have never tolerated criticism of their policies, but these recent laws and regulations turn almost any critical expression or independent association into crimes of terrorism,’ said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

The counter-terrorism measure have also been mocked by Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch which said they would not deter the Islamist group’s fighters and that they proved the kingdom was in the pay of the United States.

Especially if you just happen to know a Saudi male who’s down on his luck, and who’s job-hungry, it seems there’s a whacking (sic) great need to be filled.

(Quote) Saudi Arabia advertises for eight new executioners as beheading rate soars


Jobs classified as ‘religious functionaries’ at lower end of civil service scale
85 reported executed so far this year, rivalling total for whole of 2014

Saudi Arabia is advertising for eight new executioners, recruiting extra staff to carry out an increasing number of death sentences, usually done by public beheading.
No special qualifications are needed for the jobs whose main role is “executing a judgment of death” but also involve performing amputations on those convicted of lesser offences, the advert, posted on the civil service jobs portal, said.

The Islamic kingdom is in the top five countries in the world for putting people to death, rights groups say. It ranked third in 2014, after China and Iran, and ahead of Iraq and the United States, according to Amnesty International figures.

A man beheaded on Sunday was the 85th person this year whose execution was recorded by the official Saudi Press Agency, compared to 88 in the whole of 2014, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). Amnesty said there were at least 90 executions last year.

Most were executed for murder, but 38 had committed drugs offences, HRW said. About half were Saudi and the others were from Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, India, Indonesia, Burma, Chad, Eritrea the Philippines and Sudan.

Saudi authorities have not said why the number of executions has increased so rapidly, but diplomats have speculated it may be because more judges have been appointed, allowing a backlog of appeal cases to be heard.

Political analysts say it might also reflect a tough response by the judiciary to regional turbulence.

A downloadable pdf application form for the executioner jobs, available on the website carrying Monday’s date, said the jobs were classified as “religious functionaries” and that they would be at the lower end of the civil service pay scale. (End Quote)

Isn’t this high-tech verve just so special? PDFs? All info downloadable from the internet? All are tasks which are so very modern for some job which is, arguably, at least, beyond medieval.

Surely, some antidote of sanity must be quickly had? Hold your horses.

Mr. Raif Badawi is a young kindred spirit of mine. He’s happily wed, a Dad with lovely children, and the Saudi author of a blog.

Mr. Badawi has been sentenced and is now serving a sentence of 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes.

Why? For championing free speech in his postings on his blog, Free Saudi Liberals.
Current British press reports reveal he may be re-tried, not only for daring to exercise his free speech, but also for apostasy, or one’s allegedly ‘leaving’ Islam.

The Koran’s punishment?  Apostates shall be killed.  Indeed, they are to suffer beheading, by sword.

Welcome now to the ‘As-Kafkaesque-As-Conjurable’ Department.  Saudi Arabia is making a bid to head (sic)….yes,  the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (HRC) after 2016.

Along with those other progressive human rights advocates Russia, China, and Cuba, Saudi Arabia, has been a member of the U.N.’s top human rights body since 2014.

“U.N. Watch… disclosed Saudi Arabia’s intentions in a recent report and urged the United States to fight against it, describing the move as “the final nail in the coffin for the credibility” of the HRC.”

Some nail.  Some coffin.

There is nil in this sad tale which even so as much verges upon the humane or humanity.  This is especially the case since only days ago the Saudis upheld Mr. Badawi’s conviction.  His wife expects the sentence to be carried out at any time.

Let’s stop the madness.  Someone needs the gonadal fortitude to tell the Saudis their barbarous medievalism is centuries out of place, not seen indeed since….yes, that Georgian, Josef Stalin.

This young man deserves to be a father to his children and a husband to his wife.

BadawiWithHisChildren[Dad & his beautiful children in happier times]

Why is it I am confident Canadians and loving parents and spouses everywhere share my view:  Let him be, let him live. Bring him home, now… to his family.

If this does not play, my apologies. Please click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tI4jb-Aca9M

All now agreed that flags do indeed tell us quite a lot, much of which is very vexing indeed?

North American Vexillological Association /Association nord-américaine de vexillologie, https://nava.org/

The Flag Institute, HQS Wellington, Victoria Embankment, London WC2R 2PN3, England

Newsweek http://www.newsweek.com/2014/10/24/when-it-comes-beheadings-isis-has-nothing-over-saudi-arabia-277385.html

The Guardian (London), http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/18/saudi-arabia-advertises-eight-new-executioners-beheadings-soar

Washington Free Beacon, “Saudi Arabia Seeks Top Spot on U.N. Human Rights Council”. http://freebeacon.com/issues/saudi-arabia-seeks-top-spot-on-u-n-human-rights-council/

Daily Mail (London) “Saudi Arabia’s supreme court upholds sentence of 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes against blogger for insulting Islam”  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3114419/Saudi-Arabia-s-supreme-court-upholds-sentence-10-years-jail-1-000-lashes-against-blogger-insulting-Islam.html

Georgia National Tourism Administration, http://georgia.travel/, Twitter: @Tourismgeorgia

Saudi Tourism, http://sauditourism.sa/en/Pages/default.aspx

Mr Alfie Boe http://alfie-boe.com/ Twitter: @AlfieBoe