The crane that collapsed in Mecca’s Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia last week killed at least 107 worshippers and injured over 200 more. In the face of such a large-scale tragedy, we expected to hear an explanation from the Saudi Binladin Group, the construction conglomerate responsible, or at the very least an apology.
Instead, strong winds were blamed for the collapse, and an engineer for the construction project described it as an “act of God.” This unsatisfactory response is particularly frightening because the Saudi Binladin Group has a close relationship with the Saudi government and currently holds $27 billion worth of government construction contracts in Mecca. An investigation into the collapse found that the Saudi Binladin Group had not erected the crane in accordance with manufacturer instructions.
Tragic accidents happen in every country, but what makes the crane collapse so frustrating is that it could have been avoided if better safety precautions had been taken. For this, the Saudi Arabian rule of law is partly to blame. Saudi Arabia has no civil penal code that lays out the sentencing rules for an incident like this. The Islamic practice of diyya allows wealthy defendants to pay their victims “blood money” in order to escape punishment. Under Islamic Sharia law, the lives of Muslim women are worth half those of Muslim men. Non-Muslims are worth just a small fraction of that. This means that even the worst crimes can be forgiven with a simple payment to the victim or the victim’s family.
What incentive does the Saudi Binladin Group have to spend money on safety precautions when the consequences for a catastrophe are so minimal?
Laws influence behavior, and when a legal code is weak or vague, it allows wealthy individuals and corporations to exploit it. Those of us fortunate enough to live in the United States are accustomed to an environment where victims are protected by our laws. We trust that if we find ourselves the victim of a tragedy, we will be compensated for our losses, while the guilty party is appropriately punished. This is a trust founded on logical and transparent personal injury laws that encourage safe behavior, something Saudi Arabia is sorely in need of right now.
Sources: Al-Nahhas, Lynne, “Muslims Flock to Hajj Despite Deadly Crane Collapse,” Yahoo News, 18 September 2015.
Norimine, Hayat, “Four Things to Know About the Saudi Binladin Group,” Albawaba, 16 September 2015.