Brave in the Face of Evil

Bravery is a skill. I do not know if I have cultivated it in myself.

A young man sits today in a prison, awaiting a death sentence to be carried out, possibly tomorrow. Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 when he was 16 or 17 years of age (both ages have been reported), making him a juvenile at the time of his arrest. He was arrested at a protest. His country is Saudi Arabia, and the protests in 2012 in other autocratic nations in that region had been effective in fostering No government likes protest; his government is violently allergic to it.

At trial, Ali was not given access to the “evidence” amassed against him, in no small part because there was no such evidence. A “confession” was extracted from him. He was convicted, and this is no joke, of stealing every gun and every uniform from a local police station, single-handed.

He was convicted and sentenced to death. Without informing him, an appeals court reviewed his case this summer and that court upheld his guilty verdict and death sentence. He and his family did not know about this until it was announced. He never mounted a defense. His country announced yesterday that this is an internal matter. (It is not, as his nation’s actions and threats of action contravene international agreements concerning human rights that it has signed, as well as simple decency.)

He is to be beheaded, and then his body is to be crucified and displayed to show the world, well, what official cruelty looks like. Of course, one doubts the crucifixion will be publicized, as even Saudi Arabia knows such a punishment is uncommon in the rest of the civilized world. But the display will communicate what a bloodthirsty, autocratic regime wants it to communicate … and to whom it wants it to communicate: future protesters.
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Anger from the Saudi Embassy

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia just now (noon EST, just an hour ago) gave an official response to international criticism of its sentence of death by beheading followed by crucifixion for a young protester, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a response for Amnesty International, Reprieve, Jeremy Corbyn, David Cameron, Margaret Ferrier. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia delivered a response to the millions of petition creators and signers around the world, the tens of thousands who have marched against beheading a child for being at a protest. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has something it wants the activists working within Anonymous to know. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia gave a reply to the cries of anguish from a father and mother.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wants us to know that it is angry about the criticism, does not like it even one bit, and would like us all to mind our own business. In more diplomatic language, it released an anonymous but official statement on Twitter that said in part: “#SaudiArabia rejects any form of interference in its internal affairs. #AliAlNimr” That closing hashtag is sickening. That closing hashtag says more than the preceding sentence does. Below the fold is the full Tweet:
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A Prize for Raif Badawi

BREAKING NEWS: Raif Badawi was named on Tuesday as the International Writer of Courage and PEN Pinter Prize co-recipient for 2015 by English PEN, the human rights and freedom of expression organization. The poet James Fenton was named the winner in June, but the tradition has been that the winner select a co-winner. Fenton selected Raif Badawi.
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Down with Renoir!

Yesterday at noon, protesters began to chant: “Rosy cheeks are for clowns / Do your job, take them down.” Another: “God hates Renoir! God hates Renoir!” The number of people attending the protest in front of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts numbered in the middle-to-high single digits, according to reports.

Max Geller, a political organizer, hates Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the Impressionist painter who died in 1919 and never used anything but pastels in any of his several many famous and gigantic works. If one could type a sentence that used air quotes and then took them away and then replaced them again, one might perhaps begin to convey a sense of how completely almost serious and almost mocking and yet earnestly this hatred is felt.

Protest is important. In a free country, one ought to be able to protest anything and everything. This happens to be a free country, and the display of Renoir’s frenetically-dabbed pastel pastorals is as good an object of protest as many. (Not “any,” but many.) Two of his works have fetched more than $70 million at auction in the last quarter-century, so the received perceived wisdom in both the art world and the world world is that Renoir’s many giant works are good and valuable.
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More Saudi Youths Sentenced to Die

What is known is that as of today, October 5, ‪Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, a 20-year-old Saudi sentenced to death by beheading, has not been beheaded. His body has not been crucified and then displayed, which is also a horrifying part of his sentence. Because corporal and capital sentences are usually carried out on Fridays—after public prayers—dread accompanies the approach of each Friday for friends and family of those sentenced, and then with the absence of any word from Ali’s family, a tense non-relief follows. But he is not the only under-age prisoner in Saudi Arabia who has been sentenced to death by beheading.

The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) has been publicizing three stories: Ali al-Nimr’s and those of Dawood Hussain Almarhoon and Abedallah al-Zaher. All three were arrested before they were 18 years of age, all three have been held in prison since the arrests (each young man was arrested in 2012), and all three have been almost certainly tortured.
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Thoughts on Raif Badawi & the Nobel Peace Prize

The name of the winner of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, October 9. That is 11:00 a.m. in Oslo, Norway, which is … well, really very early in the morning in Goshen, New York, time. (5:00 a.m. EST, in case you want to know.) I hope to be tuning in at that time, and I hope to hear one name in particular: Raif Badawi, a 31-year-old writer and activist from Saudi Arabia who sits in a Saudi prison as a result of his writing. He was convicted of “insulting” his nation’s religion in his writings.

If his name is spoken on Friday morning in Oslo, that does not mean the fight has been won for Raif Badawi, his wife and family, or his many supporters around the world, as he still is in prison and most likely will not be allowed to leave his prison cell or his country to collect the medallion. He also faces 19 more sessions with a whip, as his prison sentence of 10 years includes 1000 lashes with a cane.
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A Memory Salad

The child has few memories, so those he has are detailed.

We were in my hometown for some reason one summer Sunday afternoon a couple years ago and I said to my girlfriend that I wanted to show her where I grew up. (As if I have.) We drove down roads I used to bike on, walk on. I grew up in the suburbs, in upstate New York, in the 1970s and ’80s, a neighborhood without sidewalks, with kids biking across their neighbors’ lawns (well, I did) without fear of criticism. I remembered knowing which houses had dogs that were poorly restrained (avoid those lawns or find a new speed in my pumping little legs) and which houses were simply scary for reasons no one could explain but everyone knew which houses simply seemed scary.

(Years later, in high school, I was fundraising or campaigning for something and I dared, out of my OCD-ish sense-need to knock on every door, I knocked on the door of one of the houses that I always thought was scary. The owner was friendly and nice as could be. I felt like I had discovered something.)
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