Yesterday I picked up Raif Badawi’s 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think. It took me less than an hour to read the 60-page book, and I’m not a fast reader. You might not consider it a good value per word until you remember that he paid for each word in blood.
Badawi is a rarity in Saudi Arabia, a liberal who hasn’t kept silence or fled the country. For his criticism of authority, the government sentenced him to death. This was commuted to a thousand lashes, to be delivered at fifty a week, and ten years in jail. That is, death by torture instead of a clean sword blow. So far, he has received only the first fifty lashes, likely because of heavy international attention. 1000 Lashes is a collection of some of his blog posts, translated from the Arabic. When identifying him as a liberal, I don’t mean it in the degraded Democratic-Party sense but in its older meaning:
Liberalism means to simply live and let live. We should all acknowledge our respect for the traditions and personal behaviors of others, as long as they don’t cross the line for others and invade their personal space. It’s a natural human right to say what you want and do what you want, as long as this freedom is ruled by laws; your freedom ends on the outskirts of the freedom of others.
The book gives some clues about the thinking that makes Boko Haram, the Islamic State, the Taliban, and Saudi tyranny possible.
The Arab societies are programmed to consider any freethinking idea a moral degradation. They consider it to be an act against religion and a departure from the righteous road.
I’m posting this in part to help keep Saudi Arabia’s barbaric actions toward him in the glare of publicity. It works; when King Salman visited France and took over a public beach for himself with the cooperation of the local authorities, a wave of protest compelled him to leave the country early. In contrast, there’s a meme on Twitter of trying to get Badawi’s release by heaping fulsome praise (again in the original meaning: “disgusting praise”) on Salman and pleading with him for mercy. No tyrant has ever made significant concessions in exchange for flattery, but the risk of losing the mask of a “valuable US ally” may be what’s prevented the remaining 950 lashes from being delivered so far. Saudi Arabia conducts dozens of public executions a year, many for non-violent offenses like drug possession; there’s less hope for them, but still some. The Saudi government is cracking down on unlicensed news websites; clearly it’s afraid that people will learn the truth about it.
There is unofficial word that the Saudi Supreme Court is reviewing his case. Hopefully public pressure, aided by the release of this book, will secure his release from a country which is a huge prison.