“There is nothing more genuine than breaking away from the chorus to learn the sound of your own voice.”– Po Bronson.
The 31-year-old Raif Badawi has been at the centre of international attention for quite some time now. Hailing from Saudi Arabia, an autocratic kingdom, this man had dared to break away from the chorus of the masses to speak his mind. As a result, Raif has been held guilty for setting up a website called the Free Saudi Liberals Forum in 2008, an online space that spoke of secularism and questioned Saudi Arabia’s extremely rigid religious establishment. Having been charged with “disobedience towards Islam”, he was first arrested by the Saudi authorities in 2012. The state has since then been awfully inhuman towards Raif by sentencing him to serve 10 years in prison along with 1000 lashes and a hefty fine.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been put under international pressure to immediately halt Raif’s flogging. Given the extremely heated international environment, it is imperative that we take a closer look at Badawi. So what were his blogs all about? Did his writings deserve the outrageous punishment that he has been bestowed with, at all? The blog that he started off was taken down shortly after his arrest in 2012. However, Ian Black, a Middle East Editor took it upon himself to analyze a few published writings of the convict. Here are a few excerpts:
- August 12, 2010- Raif wrote on the shackles of religion that stifled one’s creativity. He expressed his thoughts writing, “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.”
- September 28, 2010- Raif advocated for the separation of religion from the state underlining the importance of secularism. He wrote thus, “Secularism respects everyone and does not offend anyone … Secularism … is the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the third world and into the first world.”
- February 2011- Raif discussed the Egyptian Revolution and connected it to the state of his own country. He stated that, “It is a revolution, led by students and the marginalized, a revolution in every sense of the word … that is … a decisive turning point … not only in the history and geography of Egypt but everywhere that is governed by the Arab mentality of dictatorship and security. It is not yet clear whether Egypt is about to change, but it is our hope that a new Egypt will emerge from the painful birth pangs its people are experiencing … after years of subservience and oppression.”
Clearly, Raif Badawi championed free speech in the oppressive country of Saudi Arabia. As the world vociferously discusses the blurred lines that distinguish free speech from hate speech, the Saudi authorities are far from engaging in such debates and instead, blatantly violating human rights in a manner that can only be associated with the medieval age. The country tolerates no transgression from any individual. In 2014, the state authorities broadened anti-terror laws that criminalized any criticism directed towards the government and its interpretation of Islam.
Religion is not a means of solace and brotherhood in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia; it is rather a means of nipping one’s freedom of expression in the bud. The macabre punishment that Raif has been sentenced to is nothing but at attempt at silencing any voice that might threaten the authority of those in power in the state.
Just before his arrest, Raif Badawi’s final thoughts on his blog revolved around Albert Camus, who once said that “The only way to deal with an un-free world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” True, Raif has become an international icon as well as an inspiration for all who have the nerve to stand against oppression.
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