HERNDON, Va., Sept. 3 (UPI) -- Only time will tell, but a 5-year-old Saudi girl may eventually prove to have wielded more influence over her people during her short, tragic life than did the country's conservative religious leaders touting twisted "virtues" of Islam satisfying their own perversions.
In Saudi Arabia last year, 5-year-old Lama al-Ghamdil was killed by her father -- Islamic religious leader and popular TV personality Imam Fayhan al-Ghamdi -- after he became incensed she had lost her virginity. Even more shocking, however, is the person to whom her virginity was lost and the initial punishment he was given.
Most societies seek to protect the one asset perpetuating their future existence: children. Where child protection laws have been passed but ignored society expects responsible citizens to report an adult's abusive treatment and that the justice system will then ensure children are protected from an abuser.
Ghamdi confessed to torturing and killing his daughter. The girl's body showed evidence of a fractured skull, brain damage, repeated rapes, burns, beatings with whips and an iron, electrical shocks, a broken back, ribs and arm. Reportedly, he also had sadistically sought to burn Lama's rectum closed.
For 10 months, Lama lingered in the hospital before succumbing in October 2012 to her massive injuries. One cannot imagine the thoughts going through this defenseless child's mind as she tried to understand the pain and suffering she was forced to endure at the hands of her own father.
Ghamdi was arrested and jailed in November.
The abuse inflicted upon Lama was justified by the father as she no longer was a virgin. That would have been sad enough but evidence suggests the father was the rapist.
Obviously, any parent should be outraged by such sadistic brutality. While too late to help Lama, one would hope Saudi's justice system would put the father away so his two other children avoided similar abuse.
But a Saudi judge ruled Ghamdi need only pay his ex-wife $50,000 in "blood money" for having abused and killed their daughter (had the child been male the fine would be double), stating the few months he had already spent in prison was sufficient punishment!
The ruling was based on Islamic or "Sharia" law prohibiting a father from being executed for killing his child (or wife) if compensation is paid.
Ghamdi also was allowed to retain custody (the parents are divorced) of his two surviving children.
The initial response by the Saudi government to this case was only to establish a 24-hour hotline to report child abuse.
While it is bad enough any human being could abuse his own child like this, it is even more frightening the person doing so was a religious leader who believed he could so act with impunity.
Any religious law dictating one who tortures or murders a child avoids commensurate punishment can only be labeled diabolical. Any one supporting Ghamdi's meager punishment for his horrific crime is incapable of salvation by any religion. Any imam accepting such an interpretation is incapable of understanding Islamic beliefs have been poisoned by mindless fanatics.
Like a vine, Sharia has slowly been creeping into Western cultures, choking existing victim protection laws.
Already taking root on a large scale in the United Kingdom, Sharia creep has entered the United States as well where victims' rights are beginning to be ignored as Muslim defendants plead "the Koran made me do it!"
Fortunately, the international outcry over Ghamdi's light punishment prompted the Saudi royal family to intervene. He was returned to prison. And, despite Sharia's prohibition, some Saudi activists are demanding his execution.
Sadly, it wasn't the brutality of Ghamdi's actions that caused the royal family's intervention -- it was the public outrage triggered by his light sentence.
But the outrage did result in the government's first anti-domestic abuse advertisement -- one depicting a woman in a hijab with only her eyes visible, one eye blackened and bloodshot.
The outcry caused by Lama's tragic death strips Sharia of its dark side in a supposedly "moderate" Saudi Arabia. It also led to an historic development with the country recognizing domestic violence against women and children for the first time by banning it. While violation of the ban imposes only one year in prison and minimal compensation, activists consider it a start in the right direction in a society where male control of women trumps basic human rights.
Any effort to change an abusive attitude toward Muslim women and children runs counter to a male mindset, first promoted by Prophet Muhammad that has permeated the region for centuries.
The Saudi ban, however, takes on special significance due to the role Riyadh's plays in Islam. The royal family is the guardian of the religion's holiest cities -- Mecca and Medina. As such, it is the protector of Islam and its beliefs codified in the Koran. That is a book that conveys a far different message about women and children than does Riyadh's recent ban.
If the Saudi ban is successfully implemented, 5-year-old Lama -- in death -- will have reversed, after 13 centuries, a brutal male mindset, improving life for generations of Muslim women to come.
(A retired U.S. Marine, Lt. Col. James Zumwalt served in the Vietnam War, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War. He has written "Bare Feet, Iron Will -- Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran -- The Clock is Ticking.")
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)