Editorial, The Guardian
15 January 2015
Raif Badawi. 'The crime against Saudi law which he is supposed to expiate is simply that he ran a website, called with dreadful irony, 'Free Saudi Liberals'.'
When Raif Badawi is flogged tomorrow afternoon, the cane will not only fall on a brave man who has committed no crime in any rational understanding of law. It will also fall on the hopes, the dreams and the decency of those watching from afar, including humane Muslims everywhere. This barbarous punishment is aimed at us quite as much as it is aimed at the immediate victim. The dreadful theatre of a public flogging is an act of propaganda, with a simple, clear message: that the corrupt and frightened rulers of Saudi Arabia can still punish anyone who dares to talk or think freely in their kingdom.
Mr Badawi is being flogged as a Muslim. Had he been a Christian or an atheist, he would have been killed for apostasy under Saudi law. He saved – or at least prolonged – his own life by reciting the Shahada, the Muslim confession of faith, in court in 2012. We can assume that a man so courageous and straightforward was being sincere in his profession. It is quite possible that he will anyway die during the infliction of the truly monstrous sentence of 1,000 lashes – doled out, 50 at a time, on Fridays – which was passed on him last year. Originally, he had been sentenced to 600 lashes, but a higher, or, on a moral scale, a lower court changed this to 1,000.
The crime against Saudi law which he is supposed to expiate is simply that he ran a website called, with dreadful irony, Free Saudi Liberals. On this he discussed and advocated secularism, and mocked the cruel absurdities of the Saudi religious authorities, who denounce astrologers for peddling nonsense but themselves have people executed for “sorcery”. There is nothing he said which could be understood as an incitement to violence, and nothing which is not obviously true, and commonplace outside the squalid little dogma that suffocates the human spirit in Saudi. Beyond the barbarity of the trial, the sentence and the punishment itself, there are other lessons for the world, though not those which the Saudi authorities would wish us to draw.
The first is a much-needed reminder of their bare-faced hypocrisy. Saudi is, so far as its rulers can make it, closed to all foreign ideas. They equate atheism with terrorism, and propose to apply the same punishments for both. At the same time it is a fountain of Islamist poison, of anti-Semitism, of narrow-minded and fanatical preachers, and of young men who leave to fight in other people’s countries and help to destroy them in the cause of Wahhabist Islam. Let us not forget that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis and that Saudi money has funded cruel and pointless wars all over the Middle East. If the kingdom now draws back in horror at the spectacle of Islamic State rampaging through the river valleys of Iraq and Syria, it is the horror of Dr Frankenstein seeing his monster walking.
The second is the spineless hypocrisy of western governments, not least our own, who take their oil, and hope for their money. When the spokespeople for the British Foreign Office assure us, as they always do, that there are forces of reform within the kingdom, shame should make the words taste like soap in their mouths.
In this country we have censored television programmes and cancelled a major bribery inquiry rather than disturb Saudi sensibilities, and those are just the cases that came to public knowledge. The punishment of Mr Badawi is a reminder to us all that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an enemy of free speech, of free thought, of honesty and of courage wherever they may be found in the world today. The British government should remember the slogan used against the mafia in Sicily: to be silent is to be complicit. Last week, many expressed their solidarity by saying we are all Charlie Hebdo: it is as true and just as necessary to remember and proclaim that we are all Raif Badawi.