As a Saudi Blogger Awaits More Punishment for “Insulting Islam,” What Can We Learn from His Essays? August 6, 2015

As a Saudi Blogger Awaits More Punishment for “Insulting Islam,” What Can We Learn from His Essays?

Hemant’s note: Saudi blogger Raif Badawi is still facing punishment for the “crime” of “insulting Islam.” In June, the Saudi Supreme Court upheld a ruling of 1,000 lashes on top of a 10 year prison sentence. While he has received 50 lashes so far, subsequent sets have been postponed. In the meantime, a collection of the blog posts that got Badawi in trouble is now available under the title 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think.

Reader Richard Wilson read the book and offers his perspective below:

Having followed Raif Badawi’s story for some time, I have been eagerly awaiting the English-language publication of his collection of essays. I wasn’t sure, however, if they would be very relevant to me. I figured the collection would just be, at most, a window into his family’s world as he explains what they’ve endured in response to his writing.

Instead, I found essays that made me stop and re-read sections of them — not because I didn’t understand a passage, but because I wanted to feel them again. Credit for that goes to his translator, Ahmed Danny Ramadan.

The entire book is less than 90 pages. A third of that is the preface (by Dr. Lawrence Krauss), editor’s note (Constantine Schreiber), and introduction. There are fifteen essays, all originally blog posts and online articles, ranging in scope from Raif’s (perhaps naïve) excited reflections on the Arab Spring, to the rights of women under Islam, to the role of religion in government, and even the proposed mosque near the 9/11 site in New York.

Any concerns I had about the book being relevant were put to rest with his essay about Hamas: “Yes I Will Fight Theists and Religious Thoughts”:

Any religion based state has a mission to limit the minds of its people, to fight the developments of history and logic, and to dumb down its citizens. It’s important to stand in the way of such a mentality, to deny it from continuing its mission to murder the souls of its people, killing them deep within while they are still alive and breathing.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., we have Presidential candidates who think the authority of the Bible vs. the Constitution is “not a simple question.”

Badawi writes on liberalism:

Religions, according to the concept of liberalism, are personal and special choices. A liberal country has no religion, which doesn’t mean it’s godless. It means it protects the rights of all the religions and nurtures all of them without distinction or upholding one over the others. It doesn’t apple-polish the majority’s religion over the minorities’.

Writing about the proposed mosque near the site of the World Trade Centers, he argues against it, while saying that the U.S. respects religious beliefs so much that the mosque would be fine in another location:

The demographic and social structure of the United States respects the beliefs, religious values and houses of worship of others, Abrahamic religions or otherwise. This should be a calling for us to respect and appreciate the feelings of the victims’ families and to say proudly and courageously; no to building a mosque in that very location. The free land of the United States is large and wide and accepts us all; it’s possible to build this mosque elsewhere.

At times, it’s easy to understand why he was charged with apostasy, a charge that thankfully has not held. Speaking of Islamic marriage contracts which leave a woman with no rights, he writes:

It’s a wonder of human behavior: we build our own handcuffs that trap and harm us. We create the myth, and we honor it. We tell the lie, and we believe it. We create a marriage contract, and then consider it permissible.

In an essay that struck Dr. Krauss in particular, Badawi is at his most scathing when responding to a cleric who stated that “[astronomers] are faulting the sharia vision.” Indeed, in “Let’s Lash Some Astronomers,” he looks forward to learning about this “Sharia Astronomy.”

Aside from his thoughts on broader faith-based thinking, Badawi writes in the introduction about what these essays have cost him:

I spent three years writing these articles for you: I was tortured; my wife and our three children had to emigrate from our country because of the many pressures placed upon them. My family and I endured all those harsh struggles simply because I spoke my mind. We went through those hardships for the sake of every letter written in this book.

The freedom of speech Badawi holds so dear — and honors so greatly — doesn’t carry with it the requirement to listen. Despite the fact that he has hundreds of lashes still awaiting him, it’s clear that he paid the price for his non-crimes a long time ago. The least we can do is understand how he got to this point. It would be tragic for his words not to travel far and wide.

Hell, I would love to send a copy to a few GOP presidential candidates…

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