There is no such thing as ESP. There is no way for a human being to see into the future. The dead do not talk to the living (other than through books and writings they leave behind them). Psychics are either liars or actors. At best, they are entertainers and a reasonable audience knows that what is going on is an act, fiction, offered only for enjoyment and not to be taken seriously. Some psychics, however, intentionally deceive people -- often people at emotionally vulnerable points in their lives, such as when they are grieving the death of a loved one or suffering the heartbreak of a failed relationship, or people who are just plain ignorant and credulous -- into transferring money to the psychic in exchange for a "service" of some sort. Psychics of this category are charlatans, theives, and frauds. The penalty for being such a charlatan ought to be refunding the money duped out of one's victims, accompanied by a healthy dose of public humiliation.
It ought not to be death.
That's why it is utterly barbaric, and all people of all faith views including those based on doubt and skepticism, ought to join me in condemning the government of Saudi Arabia for the way it is treating Ali Hussein Sibat. Mr. Sibat was the host of a call-in television show in Lebanon in which he claimed to predict the future for on-air guests and call-in audience members. In May of 2009, he undertook the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca, which is a supplement to the more famous Hajj pilgrimage. Following the dictates of his religion turned out to be a big mistake. Sibat was arrested by the Mutawa'een -- the religious police of Saudi Arabia -- and charged with "sorcery," a practice forbidden by (I think) the Koran. And under the criminal justice laws prevailing in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the sentence for "sorcery" is death by beheading.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has confirmed that it intends to carry out that sentence, tomorrow. The Lebanese equivalent of John Edward or James van Praagh, a 46-year-old man with five children, is going to be decapitated for the "crime" of fortune-telling. It's not even clear to me that Sibat portrays himself as a "real" psychic and therefore is an actual charlatan, or whether he portrays himself in a way that would be generally understood by his audience to be an act and therefore an innocuous entertainer.
But even assuming the worst I can about Sibat, justice requires that the punishment for a crime be proportional to the crime. Posing as a psychic is silly entertainment at best, morally questionable most of the time, and mere thievery at worst. As I said before, the proper penalty for the most malignant instances of this kind of thing is a requirement to make reparations and a healthy dose of public humiliation. It is not a capital crime. It is the sort of thing society can tolerate and deal with in ways that do not require bloodshed.
Shame on you, Saudi Arabia. You're acting like it's the ninth century, not the twenty-first. Let Mr. Sibat go home to his family.
It seems particulary poigniant that the officials who feel morally justified in this particular act of judicial murder base that justification on their own version of fairy tales and scarcely-credible fiction. Mr. Sibat claims to be in contact with "spirits" no more real than the djinni of your ancient culture or the imaginary friend you call "Allah" today.
The Saudi Embassy in the United States can be reached at (202) 337-4076 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers, why don't you send them a message and let them know that you think they're behaving like superstitious barbarians and don't deserve a seat at the table of modern civilization.