Raif Badawi Matters

Who is Raif Badawi?

What follows is an up-to-date list of the articles and columns I have written concerning Raif Badawi. Each one was first published here, in The Gad About Town website; several were subsequently linked to and quoted in other media outlets, including the Raif Badawi Foundation’s website itself. (I am not an impartial reporter, so it was an honor to see my work there.)

The photo-quote at the top is one I created in August 2015.

Who is Raif Badawi? Badawi is a writer from Saudi Arabia who started a blog entitled “Saudi Arabian Liberals,” then was arrested in 2012 and charged with “insulting Islam” and with apostasy for his writings. In Saudi Arabia and many countries, apostasy, the abandonment of a belief—in this case, belief in Islam—is as grave an offense as murder. A conviction on either charge, apostasy or murder, will lead to the same result: state-ordained capital execution. In Saudi Arabia, execution is conducted by beheading in a public square.

This is the sort of paragraph that got Badawi in trouble with Saudi Arabia’s ruling classes, the House of Saud and the religious clerics:

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 (boldface emphasis mine).

Raif Badawi was found guilty of insulting Islam, and was given the fearsome sentence of 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes. On January 9, 2015, 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 since then has been enormous—Amnesty International has revealed that Raif Badawi’s story 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. I have written several columns about her courage; this website was cited once in the international press (The Guardian) in an article about her.

Raif Badawi is a symbol; for much of the world, his is the face of the Arab Spring. In his essays, he compares the Arab Spring to the French Revolution, and his comparison is not extreme. His ongoing imprisonment—and the sight of him being whipped last January 9, 2015—is the image of what certain governments want to do with the Arab Spring.

Raif wrote in his introduction to his book of seeing a bit of graffiti in his prison’s filthy group lavatory: it surprised and delighted him because it read: “Secularism is the solution!” He wrote, “The sentence stood alone among the dozens of obscenities that were written in so many Arabic dialects. This discovery could only mean one thing. There was at least one other person here who understood me, who understood the reasons I was jailed.”

The ongoing diplomatic silence regarding Raif Badawi is perplexing in the face of the global outcry. Last November, Yves Rossier, Switzerland’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, told a Swiss newspaper, La Liberté, that Raif Badawi’s sentence has been suspended.

“A royal pardon is in the works thanks to the head of state, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud,” Rossier informed the world. No one has pursued an update from M. Rossier about this claim. It was soon after M. Rossier shared this that Raif Badawi was moved to his current location, however. Whether the pardon is real or will be a reality is unknown. What is known is that Raif Badawi remains a prisoner and the threat of continued lashings remains as well. Every week, the possibility that the punishment by whipping him for his words, for his thoughts, will resume remains.

Is Raif Badawi’s future freedom a game piece in a contest between Saudi Arabia and its global reputation? Is there a perfect moment for the country to release him that I am as deaf to as all the others covering the Raif Badawi story? Is a man’s freedom a game piece between Saudi Arabia and several countries with imminent elections?

There are several issues that possibly rank ahead of human rights—and one man’s awful corporal punishment, a whipping, and his individual freedom—on the list of concerns that complicate the relationship between Saudi Arabia and other nations. The ongoing war in Yemen, in which Saudi Arabia is backing the government in a fight against rebels, is notorious, is leading to brutal atrocities, and is in danger of becoming Saudi Arabia’s version of America’s involvement in Vietnam. That is one complication. Saudi Arabia’s use of the so-called “fight against terrorism and ISIS” as an excuse to round up those it declares to be dissidents is another.

What is one man’s freedom worth, after all?

* * * *
Last winter, I recorded myself reading one essay from Raif Badawi’s book, 1000 Lashes Because I Say What I Think. It is the entire chapter, “Is Liberalism Against Religion?” Get yourself a copy of the book. I have intentions to record more of his essays.


* * * *
Here is the list. “Secularism is the solution,” that line that Raif Badawi said he saw in a prison lavatory, is the guiding thesis inside each of my articles (this list corrects errors I created in earlier presentations of this list):

 June 16, 2016: A Wife’s Lonely Fight for Her Husband
 May 12, 2016: Secularism Is the Solution
 April 17, 2016: Inside Raif Badawi’s Prison Cell
 April 11, 2016: A New Prize for Raif Badawi
 March 25, 2016: #ReadRaif: Now More than Ever
 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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