This column was revisited one year later, in August 2016, here: “One Year Ago: A Public Torture.”
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The cane broke. Isn’t that all we need to know? The switch broke.
Raymond Johansen allowed himself to be tortured yesterday in solidarity with Saudi writer Raif Badawi. He was hit 50 times with a cane in Trafalgar Square, where public corporal punishments were once seen regularly but not since the 1830s. He had difficulty walking after and even expressed confusion as to where he was upon speaking with a reporter.
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 use minimizes the severity: lashes. In writing about the Saudi Arabian writer Raif Badawi, who was sentenced last year to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison, I have run into this weakness of language. All language is analogy, and I have wanted the analogy to convey the pain of judicial corporal punishment. Few do. Perhaps none do. Raymond Johansen’s action pumped life into the analogies.