How to Be Brave

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 this Friday. 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 change. At trial, he was not given access to the “evidence” amassed against him, in no small part because there was no such evidence. He was convicted, 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 heard his case this summer and that court upheld his guilty verdict and death sentence.

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.

His father spoke with the media this week, after he saw his son in prison. “We were only allowed to see Ali for ten minutes,” Mohamed told US Uncut. “When his mother tried to tell him about the news that the execution order has been issued by the government he interrupted her and told her that he already knew. He told us he had accepted this news with a smile on his face and tried to comfort his parents. Ali turned to me and said, ‘Father, I’m not the only person in the world who has suffered injustice and been falsely prosecuted.’ I was shocked by his response. How could a 20-year-old boy talk like this? It’s unbelievable. To be so unconcerned with his own situation, but be thinking only for others who are suffering … Ali is a beautiful human being.”

A lot of people are working around the clock to stop this execution. The world needs Ali alive, judging from what his father reports that he said. It needs more people like that alive. Ali Mohammed al-Nimr ought to be another anonymous 20-something studying at university, and losing hours to his Xbox. He is brave.

Ensaf Haidar is brave. On Sunday, when the sunset and moonrise coincided in a way to make poets rethink metaphors, she reached for the moon to give it to her love, Raif Badawi. I attempted to do the same for my love, Jen, but she and I were sitting together in her car, so it was easy. I talked and talked and tried to bring it closer. Raif is many miles away in prison, though, also in Saudi Arabia, and she resides with their three children in Canada. She posted this heartwarming and heartbreaking photo:

Raif sits in prison, and every week he waits to hear if part of his sentence will be carried out that week: He is to be flogged 1000 times. On January 9, he was flogged 50 times, and every week since, he has not been flogged. No reasons have been given since January. This is not leniency being shown; each week brings with it the anticipation that this week is the one in which the floggings will resume. He created a website entitled “Saudi Arabian Liberals” (it was here on WordPress) and wrote things in favor of the protests of long-ago 2012. He wrote things like, “Liberalism is based on knowledge and appreciation of a free and good life for all, and this view goes in harmony with religion: both always call for good, love, and peace.” Most (not all) of the candidates for President of the United States would happily speak that sentence in a speech.

Raif is brave. He took a flogging for his words. (In August, Raymond Johansen demonstrated in London just what it means to be caned.)

It is a depressing year, because equal rights—human rights—have been under attack here in the United States of America and in many countries around the world. But it is a hopeful year because human rights defenders are emerging, no more than in any previous year, but thanks to social media, we know their names. We know who the humanitarians are who are working tirelessly against injustice, both corporate and governmental. We know who the opponents of human rights are, too.

The WordPress Daily Prompt for September 30 asks, “Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn but haven’t gotten around to? What is it and what’s stopping you from mastering the skill?”

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Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

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