Raif Badawi was not flogged today, August 14. Official reasons were not given. Hope exists this week that his case and his sentence is being reviewed once again by the Saudi Arabian judicial system.
Raif Badawi is a writer who started a blog entitled “Saudi Arabian Liberals,” was arrested in 2012 and charged with “insulting Islam” and with apostasy for his writings, was found guilty of insulting Islam, and was given the fearsome sentence of 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes. On January 9, he was whipped in public for the first time; 50 lashes were delivered. He has not been whipped in public since; he has also not been seen in public since. The international outcry has been enormous—Amnesty International has revealed that Raif Badawi’s story has received more signatures supporting his release than any other in its history. Bono has spoken about the case in U2 concerts. Saudi Arabia has been forced to break its typical silence and comment on his case. Those comments have been disheartening, but Raif Badwi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, continues her remarkable and brave fight.
In June, the Saudi judicial system revealed that it had reviewed his case and it upheld his sentence. Despite that, the whippings have not resumed.
This week, we learned that Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court is once again reviewing Raif Badawi’s sentence. It is not known what this means, but Ensaf Haidar remains steadfast in her cautious optimism.
She told a reporter for the Independent that she received confirmation from a source inside the Saudi Ministry of Justice. Even though the news was “‘clouded with secrecy and ambiguity,’ and that she was still extremely worried for her husband’s welfare. ‘I do hope that it will be a beginning to correct the course of Raif’s case–I repeat, I am hoping,’ she said.”
Ensaf told the Independent, “I cannot say that this is good news, just that I hope it is a good sign. I expect that the flogging could still happen at any time, especially as the court could confirm the verdict then return for more deliberation, and all of this is done in complete secrecy. We do not know even on what basis the court is making its decisions.”
An official with Amnesty International, Karen Middleton, is quoted in the article as also being cautiously optimistic about the news. “We’re now hearing rumours that there may be a further review of some kind under way. We can’t confirm this and need to be cautious, but if indeed Raif’s case is still before the courts then this does at least provide a chink of light. It’s a complete disgrace that Raif is still languishing in a Jeddah jail, and we want to see the Saudi authorities moving quickly to quash his sentence and release him.”
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Raif Badawi matters. Not just for me, a fellow writer lucky enough to be born when and where I was born. Not just for his wife and three young children. He matters to fellow citizens of his country who also know in their hearts and minds that oppression always fails. He matters as one more writer contributing to the long history of dissent, as one more honored writer who is helping build the future shape of intellectual freedom.
Dissent matters. Every child is a dissident for at least a moment. The child notices that there are special rules just for him or her that the adults do not seem to obey. (“Why do I have to go to bed early?!?”) This inconsistency strikes some of them as untrustworthy, as a hypocrisy. We must celebrate this (I am not yet a parent) because the children who hold onto that disdain for the hypocrisy that surrounds them often become the bravest adults, the dissidents in the countries that need them.
Freedom needs dissidents in oppressive nations. It needed Andrei Sakharov and the samizdat writers in the USSR. It needs Noam Chomsky in the U.S. now. It needs the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. of 2015.
It needs Raif Badawi. It especially needs his fellow citizens in Saudi Arabia to know his words and to share his words. He is necessary.
Luckily, the internet makes the potential dissemination of samizdat-type writers somewhat easier than surreptitiously handing an envelope containing pages with forbidden sentences and paragraphs on a surveilled street corner to another reader. Despite the efforts of almost every government to contain the dissent within its borders, to baffle the internet, dissent and passion about fighting hypocrisy continue. Activism is thriving because there is much official hypocrisy and official cruelty to fight.
Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, an Iraqi writer who lives in the U.S. (full disclosure, we follow each other on social media), wrote an exceptional article about Raif Badawi and why he is important to Saudi Arabia’s future. “Why Raif Badawi Matters” appeared in Free Inquiry this summer, and in it he explains some of the history of Saudi Arabia and the Wahhabi-Sunni Islam that currently prevails in that country and the vital importance of secular activism, of which Raif Badawi is the single most important example in that country’s history. Raif Badawi stands out “because he challenged it not from the outside but from the inside.”
Dissent is one of the most optimistic public acts imaginable. That is where its importance resides. Dissent is a communication of optimism. It is a belief that there is an as-yet unseen better future and better world and that we can all build it by declaring our personal freedom to speak, to write, to believe, and to love. To fight for these freedoms with one’s body, even when one is a young man, a young husband and father? That is bravery in the name of optimism.
In May, I wrote that Raif’s and Ensaf’s story, “Is a love story at heart. Love of truth. Love of fairness, of justice. The love of a young couple with young children. Love is optimism, you see. Love can build a world that has truth and fairness in it. Building a family is perhaps the most optimistic act possible; fighting for a better country and world demands vigilance in the name of that optimism.”
Love takes many different shapes and travels many different roads. Love of family. Love between two who believe each to be the other’s everything. Love of truth and of truth-telling, no matter the price.
There are individuals around the world who are in prison cells right now, or are being secretly executed right now, because they told the truth about the power arrangements in their nation and told the world that they live in a country that believes in punishing and sometimes killing those who have revealed these things. And yet they have gone ahead and written these things anyway at the risk of joining the ranks of the punished, joining the silent brigades of the killed. This is a love for the truth that I sincerely believe will never be tested in my heart in my lifetime, so I have no clue if I will ever have an opportunity to display the matchless courage that Raif Badawi, his powerhouse wife Ensaf Haidar, his brother-in-law and lawyer Waleed Abulkhair, or Waleed’s wife (and Raif’s sister) Samar Badawi display every damn day that Raif spends in jail and Waleed spends in jail (more than a year now).
Raif and Waleed are in jail; their wives work every day to keep their names in the public square.
This is why I continue to write about this young man’s story.
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Since January, I have written and published 13 features about Raif Badawi. In order from most recent, they are:
• June 17: Three Years in Prison for Blogging
• June 10: An Urgent Need for Action
• June 7: A Sense of Injustice
• June 1: Speak out for Those Who Can’t
• May 7: Ignite the Light
• April 3: We Want Life
• March 13: Raif Badawi and Official Cruelty
• March 6: Raif Badawi Remains a Prisoner
• February 20: 1000 Days
• February 6: #FreeRaif, Week 5
• January 31: Raif Badawi, Week 3
• January 22: An Update about Raif Badawi
• January 12: For Raif Badawi
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