Freedom of speech is the air that any thinker breathes; it’s the fuel that ignites the fire of an intellectual’s thoughts.
Many human rights organizations believe that freedom of speech is a basic human right, and they call upon the Arab regimes to reform their policies when it comes to freedom of speech. As a human being, you have the right to express yourself. You have the right to journey wherever your mind wanders and to express the thoughts you come up with along the way. You have the right to believe, and to atone, the same way you have the right to love or to hate. You have the right to be a liberal or to be an Islamist.—Raif Badawi, “1000 Lashes Because I Say What I Think“
If you believe freedom of speech is a precious commodity, “the air” we need to breathe, the most dangerous and assertive act you can perform in the name of that freedom is to keep using it, to keep at it. To keep writing.
Raif Badawi has written things like the quote at the top, and his home nation, Saudi Arabia, arrested him and put him on trial for apostasy. His country has an official religion, and those convicted of renouncing their religion are punished. With death by beheading. Raif was not found guilty of that charge but he was found guilty of “insulting” the home religion.
Badawi is a writer who started a blog entitled “Saudi Arabian Liberals” (it was on WordPress, like this one), then 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 actually comment on his case. Those comments have been disheartening, but Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, continues her remarkable and brave fight for his freedom.
Audacity is not quiet, but Raif Badawi’s essays are quietly audacious. His stand against theism and against the bigotry that of necessity supports theism offends no one who knows that all individuals are free to believe (and to not believe) as they will, but that that particular freedom demands that no one, that no state, may dictate what transpires in another man’s head or heart.
In “Yes! I Will Fight Theists and Religious Thoughts,” Badawi recounts a moment in which a friend asks him how he will react when Hamas “liberates Palestine.” Badawi shocks his friend when he tells him, “I’d be the first to stand and fight Hamas.” He explains to us that although he is against Israel, he is “against replacing Israel with a religious entity built upon its ruins.” He goes on:
Any religion-based state has a mission to limit the minds of its people, to fight the developments of history and logic, and to dumb down its citizens. It’s important to stand in the way of such a mentality, to deny it from continuing its mission to murder the souls of its people, killing them deep within while they are still alive and breathing. …
Look what happened after the European nations managed to remove those clergy from public life and limit them to their churches, denying them any role outside those walls. European countries developed into nations buzzing with civilization, active in building the rights of the individual and exporting knowledge and science to the rest of humanity. …
States that are built on a religious foundation limit their own people in a circle of faith and fear. Abdullah al-Qasemi, the chief proponent of logical thinking in the Arab world [and whose works are banned in Saudi Arabia], agrees that other states celebrate the pleasures of brilliance, creativity, civilization, and life that are forbidden us.
Badawi does not report how his friend reacted to this; it strikes me that there are office-holding and office-pursuing individuals in the United States of America right now who sound like those whom Raif Badawi is writing against.
I made a poster months ago to remind myself that Raif is not a symbol; he is a human, a man, a writer, a blogger who wrote his opinions and published them yet lives in a nation in which writing opinions can be viewed as a crime. Yet his writing is peaceful, calm; he is the least inflammatory blogger in the world, but in this world of flames, that is the most revolutionary thing he could be. This is why his book, 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think, is worth reading. This is the poster:
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This winter, I recorded myself reading one essay from Raif Badawi’s book, “1000 Lashes Because I Say What I Think.” The mic on this laptop is not strong, and my voice … well, there I am holding a copy of the book. Get yourself a copy of the book. I have intentions to record more of his essays.
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The following pieces have appeared in The Gad About Town concerning Raif Badawi:
• January 26, 2016: Raif Badawi’s Hunger Strike
• January 9, 2016: One Year After He Was Flogged, Raif Badawi Remains a Prisoner
• December 16: Badawi’s Absence Is a Presence at Prize Ceremony
• December 11: A Cloud of Uncertainty
• October 29: Winner of the Sakharov Prize
• September 14: Award Raif Badawi the Nobel Peace Prize
• August 18: Tortured
• 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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