Raymond Johansen allowed himself to be tortured one year ago today, August 16, 2015, in solidarity with Saudi writer Raif Badawi.
Johansen was hit 50 times by a friend, Tony Clenaghan, with a thin cane, a switch, in Trafalgar Square, where corporal punishments once upon a time were held in public and frequently, but not since the 1830s. Johansen had difficulty walking afterward and even expressed confusion as to where he was upon speaking with a reporter. (Video below.)
When a caning is administered it sometimes does not look as severe as one thinks a beating would look; even one of the words we employ minimizes the severity: “lashes.” In writing about the Saudi Arabian writer Raif Badawi, who was sentenced by Saudi Arabia in 2014 to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison, I have run into the shallow poverty of available analogies. All language is analogy, metaphor, and I have wanted the words to be sufficient to convey the pain of judicial corporal punishment, but they do not. They can not. Raymond Johansen’s action last year pumped life into the analogies, however.