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).