A lot of time I have been asked why I take part in the campaign for Raif Badawi considering that there are so many other people in this world that are affected by some sort of injustice just as much as he is. However it is important for me to state that my involvement has soon gone beyond that point. It is just that Raif Badawi despite being imprisoned has awakened my thoughts and has caused me to read and to speak up, to get aware about human rights issues of today’s world.
But it is difficult for me to explain why it is exactly Raif Badawi that made this happen. That’s mainly because it is a decision which my heart made. It is something like love, but on a higher and more spiritual level. It was just a feeling which said me that I can’t just ignore this; I need to do all which is in my power to help this man.
One possible explanation is the story that I am writing. It’s about Czechoslovakia at the time of communism. While developing it, one of my main characters has become particularly dear to me: Jiří. And in some way I found Jiří in Raif. They have many things in common – so many things that it is almost unbelievable that I had already drafted Jiří when I first read about Raif. And as I am aware about this being the other way round, sometimes when I realize how similar they are, it even scares me. When I talk about their similarities I am thinking about their attitude, their courage, the reaction of the respective government to what they have written or even the style in which their texts are written or their visual aspect. Just that Jiří wasn’t flogged or even had to be afraid of the death penalty.
To stay with the environment of my story – the most important representative of dissent in Czechoslovakia is probably Václav Havel who, too, had to pay a high price for his involvement in human rights issues. He already was politically involved before, discussing politics and such, but his significant engagement about human rights began around 1977 when he and other dissidents drafted the famous petition known as Charta 77. And exactly in these days I have read in his biography that Havel’s involvement too was awakened by a particular case which is even more special than Raif Badawis case, because Raif’s ideas are capable of winning a majority whereas the case here is the one of a minority which has a low reputation even among the more progressive or intellectual people: a music group called “Plastic People of the Universe” whose music resembles more noise than music (Here is a small example) and who lived a hippie-like lifestyle. But he realized that human rights such as freedom of expression should be there for everyone – no matter what they do, how they look like, as long as they are peaceful and don’t harm anyone. And Havel himself had the similar particular feeling through this case as I had it with Raif’s. He wrote about that process: It doesn’t often happen and normally only in moments when only a few calculate with it: somewhere it makes click and an event – thanks to its own preconditions and more or less accidental external circumstances – it suddenly exceeds the borders of its position in the usual banality, breaks through the crust of what it is supposed to be and seemingly also is and uncovers suddenly its innermost, hidden and in some respects symbolic meaning.
In a way that happened when I first read a rather small article about Raif in a newspaper which is available for free in Switzerland which besides this very article is mostly known for scandals and famous people and such.
One of the main reasons which makes his case different from many other cases is the cruelty of his punishment. Ten years of prison itself are horrible and absolutely not correct, but still it is something that happens way too often, which of course it shouldn’t either. But here we have these 1000 lashes which are added to the sentence and that is -considering this amount – nothing else than a death penalty on instalments. And that is where in my opinion definitely a red line is crossed. Because no one – if guilty or not – deserves such a brutal punishment.
In Raif’s case it is even worse because he has done no harm. I recommend to everyone to buy the small but important book with his thoughts as well as the one in which Ensaf Haidar tells the story of her husband and her. Soon also the latter will be available in English. Reading these accounts and thoughts is a really powerful and also touching way to get to know the personality of Raif Badawi as well as his ideas. I am convinced than anyone who is open to read this without any prejudice will soon see that he has done nothing wrong and most of all that he does not deserve to be closed behind thick prison walls and subjected to physical and psychological harm. He should rather be here among us and able to share his precious ideas with the world. Beside that it is also a really interesting insight in the society of his region.
As I already anticipated above the whole thing has soon gone beyond the life of a single man. He stands for many others as well. Or to say it with the words of Elham Manea (spokeswoman of Raif Badawi’s family who describes herself as a writer who stands for a humanistic Islam): He is being punished for being the conscious of his society. He is the one who is able to perceive the developments in his society and had the courage to put these observations and thoughts into words, not knowing that the response to his moderate attempt to create a small space of free reflection would be so harsh. This shows a lot about the status of human rights in a country whose biggest fear appears to be that its citizens could use the internet to debate freely about various issues as this could mean that more of these citizens could achieve consciousness and make their individual thoughts, or in other words that those in power would lose their monopoly of information control and opinion forming.
In a world that faces challenges of various kinds what we need is people like Raif who perceive the interrelations and developments around them and dare to speak up and share their ideas peacefully with the world. Because only like that positive progress is possible.
Now Raif needs the voices of all people in this world who consider human rights more important than profit and other more selfish issues, that are a sign of shortsightedness and unsustainability. Because after all Raif Badawi is being punished for standing for ideals that matter to us as well, they are already as much rooted in our society that we sometimes take for granted that they are respected. But cases such as the one of Raif Badawi, as well as many others, remind us that even in the 21st century it is not always the case that they are respected. This therefore shows us how important it is for us to speak up for these ideals. Now has come the time for us who have the possibility to do so, to stand on the side of the likeminded people who dare to share their points of view despite the risk of persecution. Because after all only together, united as one, we can find solutions bearable for all of us and put to and end the negative tendencies that can be found all over the world and which might in the end affect all of as. Raif Badawi and all other persecuted for being the conscious ones of their societies and after all simply all beings living on this planet deserve that we, too, achieve consciousness.
Based on thoughts written down in June 2015
„1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think“ by Raif Badawi, edited by Constantin Schreiber
„Raif Badawi: The Voice of Freedom: My Husband, Our Story“ by Ensaf Haidar and Andrea C Hoffmann