His book, 1,000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think, is available for pre-order on Amazon. The man who recommends that you buy it is none other than Salman Rushdie: “Raif Badawi’s is an important voice for all of us to hear.”
Yet the 31-year-old blogger, who ran the site Free Saudi Liberals, has been suffering “a slow death” behind bars in his native Saudi Arabia simply for exploring the themes of secularism and freedom in his writings.
Badawi was arrested in 2012 for “insulting Islam through electronic channels.” He was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison, a sentence upheld last month by the Saudi supreme court.
His wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their three children were granted political asylum in Canada. Fifty of the lashes were carried out in January, and international outcry — including from Prince Charles — as well as his poor health have led to periodic suspensions of the rest of the lashes, which have been scheduled to coincide with Friday prayers. “It’s effectively a slow death,” Haidar told the BBC. “…And since the ruling has been upheld, it’s probable — no, it’s certain — that he will be lashed.”
“Raif doesn’t speak much about his health, or his imprisonment, yet as his wife I could tell from his voice and his tone that he’s doing badly and he’s tired. I think he’s in a bad medical condition.”
Just what did he write to anger the Saudi rulers so much?
For one, he explored separation of church and state. “No religion at all has any connection to mankind’s civic progress. This is not a failing on the part of religion but rather that all religions represent a particular, precise spiritual relationship between the individual and the Creator.”
He poked fun at edicts from Saudi clerics including a 2011 preacher saying that astronomers should be punished for steering people away from Sharia. “This venerable preacher has drawn my attention to a truth that had been hidden from me and my dear readers – namely, the existence of the so-called ‘Sharia astronomer’. What a wonderful appellation! In my humble experience and in the course of my not inconsiderable research into the universe, its origins and the stars, I have never once come across this term. I advise NASA to abandon its telescopes and, instead, turn to our Sharia astronomers, whose keen vision and insight surpass the agency’s obsolete telescopes.”
He said Israel shouldn’t be replaced by a religious Palestinian state “whose main concern would be spreading the culture of death and ignorance among its people when we need modernisation and hope.”
“Secularism,” he argued in 2010, “is the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the third world and into the first world.”
And when opponents of the mosque project near Ground Zero were protesting in New York, he sided against the project.
“What hurts me most as a citizen of the area which exported those terrorists (without honor them, of course), is the audacity of Muslims in New York that reaches the limits of insolence, not taking any regard of the thousands of victims who perished on that fateful day or their families,” Badawi wrote. “What increases my pain is this (Islamist) chauvinist arrogance which claims that the innocent blood, which was shed by barbarian, brutal minds under the slogan ‘Allah Akbar’, means nothing when compared with the act of building an Islamic mosque whose mission will be to re-spawn new terrorists and demanding even that the mosque be constructed near the same area. This is a blatant affront to the memory of American Society in particular and humanity in general, none of whom accept in any way that scene of mass murder.”
“…The United States respects the beliefs of others, their religious freedoms and the various religions’ places of worship, whether they be Abrahamic and even non-Abrahamic. That fact should inspire us to respect and appreciate the feelings of the victims’ families and to say with courage that a mosque should not be built at that particular site. The territory of the free land of America is wide and accepts everyone, thus they can build that mosque at a different site.”
Badawi’s site drew more than a thousand members registered at the discussion forums from the 2006 launch to 2008. He didn’t use a pseudonym, and was first summoned by religious police in 2007.
In a piece for Amnesty International, Badawi’s wife stresses that he “loves life and adores freedom, and for this he has received the harshest of sentences.”
“With the utmost regret, I have to say that the harsh and inhumane sentence issued against Raif last year was meant to send a clear message to all those who might dare stand up against Saudi Arabia’s religious hard-liners; it came as a shock that I still cannot recover from – it has become a sheer inferno of unbearable torture,” she said.
“…I have pleaded and would like to reiterate my plea to His Majesty King Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ruler, to pardon Raif and stop his flogging. It is true that I have received no reply but I remain optimistic and will continue pleading until the last moment.”