Pressure Mounts For Saudi Arabia To #FreeRaif

badawi

Meet brave and outspoken Saudi Arabian blogger, Raif Badawi. Years ago he created a site, the Saudi Free Liberals Forum, to champion free speech in his country. It was shut down in 2012 after Badawi was arrested for “insulting Islam” with his writings.

Badawi’s sentence was 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, the first 50 of which were handed out to him this week. He was publicly flogged outside a mosque in Jeddah after morning prayers, and is scheduled to receive 50 more every Friday until he reaches his total.

“Raif raised his head toward the sky, closing his eyes and arching his back,” Amnesty International quoted a witness as saying.

Want to know what this handsome scribe did to warrant such treatment? Take a look at a blog post from 2010, where he reflects on the role of the Muslim religious establishment and warns of stifling creativity.

“As soon as a thinker starts to reveal his ideas, you will find hundreds of fatwas that accused him of being an infidel just because he had the courage to discuss some sacred topics. I’m really worried that Arab thinkers will migrate in search of fresh air and to escape the sword of the religious authorities.”

Shortly before his arrest, Badawi spoke on the theory of “liberalism.”

“For me, liberalism simply means, live and let live. This is a splendid slogan. However, the nature of liberalism – particularly the Saudi version – needs to be clarified. It is even more important to sketch the features and parameters of liberalism, to which the other faction, controlling and claiming exclusive monopoly of the truth, is so hostile that they are driven to discredit it without discussion or fully understanding what the word actually means. They have succeeded in planting hostility to liberalism in the minds of the public and turning people against it, lest the carpet be pulled out from under their feet. But their hold over people’s minds and society shall vanish like dust carried off in the wind.”

One of Saudi Arabia’s well-known allies is the United States. Their relationship is akin to say, Regina George and Gretchen Wieners from Mean Girls: one of convenience, lies, distrust and feigned respect. The US has officially remained silent on the subject of Badawi’s sentence, likely because we practice our own form of extreme “justice” here (need I remind you of 16-year-old Ivins Rosier in Florida, recently given a staggering 23 years in prison for shooting a retired police dog).

Here are five small ways you can try and help #FreeRaif before his next lashing (which sadly is tomorrow).

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Why I’m Learning More About “Boko Haram”

Somalia Al Shabab

My social media timeline is filled with intelligent, like-minded people (*mental note: as painful as it might be, I must start following those with differing viewpoints) and there’s been constant chatter regarding mainstream media’s coverage of Paris’s Charlie Hebdo attack compared to the massacre of 2000 people in Baga, Nigeria.

Being of Arabic descent, I understood the “Haram” part of Boko Haram implied what they believe they’re fighting against is considered forbidden or sinful. This turns out to be true. Boko Haram (founded in 2002) means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language that’s spoken in northern Nigeria and surrounding countries. Declared a terrorist group by the United States in 2013, it was years earlier in 2009 that the organization first launched military operations to create an Islamic state (taking their initial stance against Western education to a whole new level).

Numerous current-day African countries have stark differences in their northern and southern regions. Nigeria is one of them, with Boko Haram prevalent in the country’s north (known to have some of the world’s worst health and economic statistics). Twelve states there are under Sharia Islamic law and “regional solidarity” has always been a focal value.

Some three million people have been affected by Boko Haram thus far, with Western attention finally piqued just eight months ago via the #BringBackOurGirls campaign centered on the 219 female students abducted by the group in the northeastern village of Chibok. The girls are still missing, with the only consistent voice protesting their return being the demonstrators who rally daily in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital; cries which are sadly falling on deaf ears. I shudder to think of the atrocities they’re experiencing throughout this traumatic time.

Women react during a protest demanding security forces to search harder for 200 abducted schoolgirls, outside Nigeria's parliament in Abuja

As BBC News reports, it’s tough to find out exactly how many innocent people died in this latest Boko Haram massacre in Baga as it’s far too dangerous for anyone to stick around for a body count. Embattled Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan felt comfortable making an official statement condemning the Paris attacks, but is yet to speak at length on his own people’s tragic misfortune.

The most recent update on Boko Haram is they’ve seized a military base in neighboring Cameroon, signaling expansion efforts. While the Nigerian government released a statement earlier this week saying “the number of people who lost their lives during the Baga attack has so far not exceeded about 150,” the ability for anyone to “audit” this figure (and know the truth, whether it’s 150, 2000 or even more) is next to impossible.

Be it one or one million, too many lives are being lost to senseless violence in Nigeria and across the world. Those of us watching, feeling helpless must continue to pray for peace (if that’s your thing) and continue to spread awareness.