In some ways I feel relatable to Raif Badawi. I’m no Saudi-Arabian writer or activist but like him I set up my own blog and whilst it’s not entitled Free Saudi Liberals, I know for a fact that my forum in which I unashamedly lay bare my ex-Muslim familial roots, while publishing posts of persecuted Christians at the hands of mostly militant, fanatic followers of Islam; would undoubtedly label me as an offense to Islam – more than I already am. Like Raif.
At this point, very little that is new is to be said of Badawi – his treatment and the danger his family have escaped in fleeing to Canada. Nor will terms such as ‘unfair’ and ‘unjust’ be branded about here. I have learnt from an early age that many people are inflicted with injustice at some stage, sometimes a lifetime of it and I simply don’t believe in the concept of ‘just’. I am merely writing from the perspective of another blogger. My very decision to name my platform to speak my mind with ‘infidelsareus’ would be enough to have me flogged, locked away and perhaps ‘mysteriously’ disappear. I’m truly convinced of this.
Saudi Arabia’s form of political Islam, its purist wing of Sunni-Islam, its Wahhabism has severely curtailed the rights of its citizens and most prominently its non-Saudi, non-Muslim population. Saudi Arabia is a nation where its religious police are rife, on-hand like clockwork to enforce inhabitants to maintain an Islamic way of life. Or so they claim. Recently, a friend of mine returned to Saudi during the semester break. During the call to prayer he was spotted by the religious police, sitting on the curb of a pavement and chatting among a group of friends. They were approached and questioned why they were not praying and despite their vying with the authorities in claiming they had already prayed, they were carted to a nearby police car and escorted to the nearest Mosque. With the police bent over them in observation, the group were forced to pray all over again. Saudi is a stranger to freedom, its women prohibited from driving and dressed to the teeth in the abaya, a nation where the barring of males clad in shorts from entering public places such as shopping malls is enforced. Despite being in Malaysia as of last October my friend refuses to wear shorts above the knee in spite of the daily tropical heat.
What else should we expect then of Saudi when its authorities deem a man to be a heretic, an offence, a slap in the face to Islam? One charge of apostasy meets the criteria of an automatic death sentence and despite the recent regime ‘change’, Raif Badawi’s life continues to hang in the balance. What we should expect instead is an efficacious international outcry, a genuine commitment of world leaders rallying together to shame and pressure the Saudi regime into seeing how ridiculous, how draconian their government policies regarding civilian and religious rights are and to push for the release of this father of 3.
Badawi was initially arrested on the basis of ‘insulting Islam’ in 2012 and eventually sentenced to 1000 lashes, 10 years prison sentence and a fine in 2014. Such a senseless act towards a man whose only crime entails a mentality in opposition to those plaguing the country as opposed to ruling it. It is about time that Saudi realises that its politicised Islam is an insult to the world, as I along with many others cannot comprehend the justification Saudi authorities use to create and further exacerbate its sectarian divide, tear apart families on a long-term or permanent basis and refuse to allow civilians to even offer a contradictory opinion – whether through Facebook pages, Twitter accounts or blogs. Fundamentally through any form of freedom of expression and conscience.
Which is exactly why this man is battered and bruised, separated from his family indefinitely, not knowing if he will live or die. All because he dared to enact a sense of conscience, an opinion: an unequivocal, undeniable right stripped from him under the banner of ‘insulting Islam’, rendering him depraved and treated as a common animal who is expected to dance with the strings of his puppeteer. Too many people within Saudi Arabia are hurting, lives wrenched apart and yet the international community while fully aware of this by now -given that the Saudi regime continues to wash its dirty laundry in public- continues to recline in silence. This political game of Realpolitik, of political realism, a silence due to seeing nothing of tangible benefit or gain to them continues to allow the treatment of Raif and similar global figures to continue. The longer this plays out the longer this Saudi father’s health will continue to deteriorate. He is already known to have hypertension, a condition where blood pressure is elevated in the arteries and given the first 50 of 1000 lashes administered on January 9, 2015, his health should be a further concern to the international community. At present there seems to be a hiatus in the subsequent administration of lashes but should they resume, as
Badawi’s wife asserts, there is a very high likelihood that he may be unable to survive them.
With the possible resumption of state-issued flagellation, a death sentence on charges of apostasy or even the slow deterioration of health due to beatings and perilous prison conditions, the world is on stand-by, hoping against hope for insurmountable international pressure to pile onto this detrimental regime. Raif Badawi stands as an example, a recipient of a brutal system. Who knows how many people, unknown to the world and represented by nobody, are locked away, suffering while blindfolded and gagged?
All for exercising their right to speak out against the atrocities people are facing. Raif’s blog was no insult to Islam. Raif’s blog courageously and compassionately aimed to be a voice for the voiceless, aimed to express solidarity against oppression and the obliteration of freedom, whilst under oppression himself and a freedom he no longer has, if he ever had it.
Why can’t the world reciprocate?