Beyond a single human rights case: Another attempt to explain the importance of supporting Raif Badawi, the conscious of his society

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

 

Literature

„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

17th of June

This date does not only mark the anniversary of the People’s Uprising in East Germany – today is also the day on which Raif Badawi has spent three years in prison.

That’s why I have decided to dedicate another text to him. Due to the latest news from Saudi Arabia the situation though looks very differently compared to the one on the day when I started to write down the first thoughts to this text.

But in reality aside from the fact that now there is only a single possibility to set aside this sentence – an intervention by the king – to this day not much has changed. Raif Badawi has been in prison since three years now, which means that from this time on he hasn’t had much of a life anymore, at least none which deserves this name. The powerful and influential of his country have deprived this man already of three years of his life – three years that can’t be given back. And according to the sentence that now has become effective seven more are supposed to follow. That means if he will live to see them at all. Then if the death penalty on instalments, which hides its true character by hiding the name it actually deserves, is executed as intended, is that not guaranteed.

It is true – so far Raif Badawi hasn’t been flogged anymore – although it is not clear for which reasons. Until the morning of the 7th of June it had become an ordinariness to wait each Friday for that reassuring message, for many of us the fear has become less big than in the first weeks of January and February. The confirmation of the Supreme Court in Saudi Arabia has brought us back to the ground of reality and showed us that the risk is still there, in the same way as it was there in the second week of January this year and the reaction from official side haven’t been sufficient yet to achieve a release.

This is and stays the only acceptable solution. Although Raif Badawi hasn’t been hurt physically since the 9th of January, one has to consider what this uncertainty about what will happen now, if and when these remaining 950 lashes will be executed which reaches its peak each Friday again, now means to this young Arab and how nerve-racking that has to be for him. That is nothing else than psychological torture. After all since January he has been in an empty space without indications how the future will look like, no dates as tangible fixed points in immediate future and has to be prepared for the worst every single week. This fear increases of course even more due to said court decision; the situation appears to be more hopeless than ever.

Nevertheless there are still glimmers of hope. The Saudi government for example already can’t ignore the case anymore for a long time and finds itself constrained to repeat over and over again that the human rights are guaranteed in its country. The fact that despite the sentence and corresponding reports by domestic media the flogging hasn’t been executed last Friday suggests that the public opinion doesn’t go unheard.

That all is a good start. But now it is even more important to insist and stand up for a release of Raif Badawi more than ever – even if that means that our governments for once have to put their own economic interest on the bottom of the list.

Raif Badawi is a peaceful man, who is punished solely for having the courage to have his own opinion and to share it with the world around him even if he discusses topics which are taboo for certain not irrelevant population groups of his country. It is absolutely desirable that Raif Badawi can be soon reunited with his family and will be able to live a normal life. That also is the place where he deserves to be – with his wife and his children in the first place but also because that means that he would be able to speak out his thoughts without fear of further repression and to share them with people who are just as concerned about the fate of the world.

The original German version can be found here:

https://saminana.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/17-juni/

17. Juni

Dieses Datum bezeichnet nicht nur den Jahrestag des Volksaufstandes in der DDR – heute ist auch der Tag, an dem Raif Badawi drei Jahre im Gefängnis verbracht hat.

Deswegen habe ich beschlossen, ihm einen weiteren Text zu widmen. Allerdings sieht die Lage nun aufgrund der neusten Nachrichten aus Saudi Arabien nun deutlich anders aus, als an jenem Tag als ich meine ersten Gedanken zu diesem Text aufgeschrieben habe.

Doch effektiv hat sich abgesehen davon, dass nur eine einzige Möglichkeit, dieses Urteil nun noch aufzuheben, übriggeblieben ist – eine Intervention des Königs – bis zu diesem Zeitpunkt nichts geändert. Raif Badawi ist jetzt nunmehr seit 3 Jahren im Gefängnis, was bedeutet dass er seit diesem Zeitpunkt so gut wie kein Leben mehr hat, jedenfalls keines das diesen Namen verdient hätte. Die Mächtigen und Einflussreichen seines Landes haben diesem Mann bereits drei Jahre seines Lebens gestohlen – drei Jahre, die ihm nie mehr zurückgegeben werden können. Und gemäss dem nun endgültig rechtskräftig gewordenen Urteil sollen weitere sieben folgen. Das heisst, wenn er diese überhaupt noch erleben wird. Denn falls die Todesstrafe auf Raten, die ihren wahren Charakter verbirgt, in dem sie nicht diesen Namen trägt, der ihr eigentlich zusteht, tatsächlich so wie vorgesehen vollzogen werden sollte, ist dies nicht gewährleistet.

Es stimmt – bis jetzt wurde Raif Badawi nicht mehr ausgepeitscht – aus welchen Gründen auch immer. Bis zum 7. Juni war es für uns schon zur Alltäglichkeit geworden, am Freitag auf eine beruhigende Nachricht zu warten, die Angst war für viele von uns längst nicht mehr so gross, wie in den ersten Wochen im Januar und Februar. Die Bestätigung des Urteils durch das oberste Gericht in Saudi Arabien haben uns aber zurück auf den Boden der Realität gebracht und uns gezeigt, dass das Risiko noch besteht, genauso wie es dies in der zweiten Januarwoche dieses Jahres getan hat und das die Reaktionen von offizieller Seite bis jetzt noch nicht ausgereicht haben, um tatsächlich eine Freilassung zu bewirken.

Dies ist und bleibt die einzige akzeptable Lösung. Es wurde Raif Badawi seit dem 9. Januar zwar kein neuer körperlicher Schaden zugefügt, aber man muss sich auch überlegen, was diese Ungewissheit, wie es jetzt weitergehen soll, ob und wann diese restlichen 950 Peitschenhiebe nun ausgeführt werden, die jede Woche ums neue am Freitag ihren Höhepunkt erreicht, nun genau für diesen jungen Araber bedeutet und wie sehr das an den Nerven zerren muss. Dies ist nichts anderes als psychische Folter. Schliesslich befindet er sich seit Januar in einem luftleeren Raum ohne Anhaltspunkte wie die Zukunft aussehen wird, keine Daten als greifbare Festpunkte in unmittelbarer Zukunft und muss jede Woche auf das Schlimmste gefasst sein. Diese Angst vergrössert sich natürlich durch besagtes Gerichtsurteil noch erst recht, die Situation erscheint aussichtsloser denn je.

Trotzdem gibt es auch weiterhin gewisse Hoffnungsschimmer. Beispielsweise kann die saudische Regierung diesen Fall schon seit längerem nicht mehr ignorieren, und sieht sich gezwungen, immer wieder zu wiederholen, dass die Menschenrechte in ihrem Land gewährleistet seien. Die Tatsache, dass das Auspeitschen trotz der Bestätigung des Urteils und entsprechenden Berichten durch inländische Medien letzten Freitag nicht vollzogen wurde, spricht ebenfalls dafür, dass die öffentliche Meinung doch nicht ungehört bleibt.

Dies alles ist ein guter Anfang. Es ist jetzt aber umso bedeutender, beharrlich zu bleiben und sich nun erst recht für die Freilassung Raif Badawis einzusetzen – auch wenn dies bedeutet, dass unsere Regierungen ihre eigenen wirtschaftlichen Interessen für einmal in den Hintergrund stellen müssen.

Raif Badawi ist ein friedlicher Mensch, der einzig und allein dafür bestraft wird, den Mut zu haben, seine eigene Meinung zu haben und diese mit der Welt um ihn herum zu teilen, auch wenn er dabei Themen anspricht, die für gewisse nicht irrelevante Bevölkerungsschichten seines Landes tabu sind. Es ist also absolut wünschenswert, dass Raif Badawi bald mit seiner Familie vereint sein wird und ein normales Leben führen kann. Denn dort ist sein Platz wo er hingehört – bei seiner Frau und seinen Kindern in allererster Linie, aber auch weil das bedeutet dass er dann seine Gedanken aussprechen könnte ohne Angst vor weiterer Repression und sie mit vielen Menschen, die genauso besorgt sind um das Schicksal der Welt, teilen könnte.

Hier geht es zur englischen Version des Textes:

https://saminana.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/17th-of-june/

One year

One year, that’s a lot of time. When I ask myself how my life has looked like one year ago, the answer is rather simple. I was in the middle of my final exams at the gymnasium. When I look at this time which passed since then, I soon discover that my life now looks completely different. This year brought me new friends, new inspiration both for my story as well as for my life in general, different challenges, problems, sorrows, but also new motivation, new energy, new priorities… To say it shortly: I stand at a different point in life.

But there are people whose life at first glance hasn’t changed that much. Raif Badawi is one of them. He still is in the same prison cell, he still has to bear the same heavy weight of this incredibly harsh sentence which was pronounced one year ago. And despite this situation which seems so hopeless, he hasn’t given up which makes me so impressed.

When I looked at it closer, I realized that despite the sentence is still the same, indeed something has changed. Over the last months a lot of good and caring people heard about Raif’s fate and were deeply moved if not shocked and decided to show in some way their sympathy towards him and tried to contribute in some way to his release.

In the occasion of the anniversary of the pronunciation of this sentence which leaves us without words still today, I would like to write some lines for Raif and those who are near him:

Whatever the future will bring now, we will think of you. So whenever anxiety or despair comes over you and makes you feel lonely or weak, remember that you are not alone, there are people from all over the world with different beliefs, different opinions, which are united by the concern about your fate. They think of you each single day and give all that is in their power to make the impossible possible. It is the dream of us all to see you united and being able to share your thoughts without any fear of repression.

 

The same positive energy I also dedicate to all those in this world who are in a similar situation as Raif and his family. I am totally aware that there are many others who are condemned to similar suffering because they simply expressed themselves peacefully. Some I know almost as well as Raif, of many others I don’t know even the name.

Therefore I would like to end this text with my most quoted line of my favorite musical of which there is a song for so many feelings I have in my heart:

“There is a flame that never dies,

Even the darkest night will end

And the sun will rise.”

Les Misérables – Finale

May 2015

Why it is important to stand up for Raif Badawi

Every day in the war zones there are hundreds of people dying. Many others each day are tortured, mistreated or are behind bars because they have insisted on their right of freedom of expression. Why should we, considering this situation, concentrate exactly on Raif Badawi? Aren’t there more important things on this world which should be resolved?

For weeks I’ve occupied myself with Raif Badawi’s case and try now to find answers to these questions.

In the past weeks I’ve been told several times that the question arises why one tries to achieve the release of a single man, while in Syria and elsewhere there are dozens of innocent people being killed each day and in China, North Korea and elsewhere human rights abuses are the order of the day. Although it is no longer just about the life of a single man. Raif Badawi has become the symbol for freedom of expression. After all he has only criticized the system he lives in. He did that in a peaceful and non-violent ways as he founded a discussion forum on the internet. The reaction of the Saudi judiciary turned out all the harder, which through this has become the symbol of arbitrariness.

Raif Badawi’s case has opened the eyes of many people in the West. Not all of them were aware that the strategic ally of the USA and the West is a dictatorship which doesn’t allow any criticism of the system, no demands for more democratization and even less any different interpretation of Islam than its own. Some people I have talked with thought that Saudi Arabia has a similar legal system than the states in Europe. In reality in this country reigns one of the strictest applications of Islamic law. Methods of punishment such as beheading or flogging are the order of the day. In this connection Raif Badawis case has indeed had some effect. Thanks to the attention dedicated to his fate the Western public has learned about the general human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. We should not forget that Raif Badawi is far not the only one. Some organizations speak about thousands of political prisoners only in Saudi Arabia. But how should we stand up for someone of whom we don’t know even the name? There always need to be cases which stand symbolically for the other ones as well. That was the same about Nelson Mandela in South Africa and also Václav Havel stood for many others in Czechoslovakia. They too were not the only ones. In this case it is Raif Badawi who is given this part.

To criticize the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia doesn’t mean that we agree about all procedures at home. The right to freedom of expression does for example not mean that one can insult his environment at one’s discretion. But that is a completely different story again. To advocate for a release of Raif Badawi and other prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia is neither based on hate towards Islam or other religions. Who treats his critics in such a way, inevitably causes resistance, as this methods of punishment evoke memories of past times which we in Europe left behind a long time ago. Even more horrible is that elsewhere they are still the order of the day. That doesn’t have to do much with Islam as such, that would be the same in any other case as well. No religion, no ideology and no other reason justifies such human rights abuses. Everyone should be allowed to believe in whatever he wants to as long as he doesn’t do violence to anyone else.

Another argument, which is also often used by politicians who advise against an intervention in the case of Raif Badawi, is that in a time in which there are so many conflicts in Middle East we should keep Saudi Arabia as a strategic ally as it is a comparatively stable country and the case of Raif Badawi is a too small disruptive factor to risk the good relations. In my opinion one should no longer look away when it comes to human rights abuses in Arabic countries. That would not be the first time in history when one looked away for too long. It doesn’t concern Raif Badawi alone, but thousands of other prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia as well as in the neighboring countries. And then there are the women who are suppressed mercilessly in Saudi Arabia. Should we really continue to ignore this and happily proceed in exporting arms in these countries? One should also not forget that this important strategic ally in the struggle against terrorism ideologically seen has something in common with the Islamic State. And the new laws, whose original purpose is to prevent crimes related to terrorism, are used primarily used to silence critics of the regime.

From the above mentioned can be concluded that it will be important also in the future to stand up for Raif Badawi, as this Saudi Arabian blogger stands for much more than his personal fate. He stands for freedom of speech and for many other unjustly persecuted people in this world. Who just watches any longer, how injustice happens in Saudi Arabia reduces himself to an accomplice of said regime. To get involved for Raif Badawi does mean though to stand up for said persecuted people all over the world just the same. To save all the people of this world who are in danger is virtually impossible. One has to start somewhere. And Raif Badawi’s case is a good initial point.

You find the original text in German here:

https://saminana.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/warum-es-wichtig-ist-sich-fur-raif-badawi-einzusetzen/

In nome dell’amore

Stamattina ho ascoltato In nome dell’amore di Paolo Meneguzzi, una canzone che conosco da anni, che in parte so cantare a memoria. Ma proprio stamattina l’ho interpretata in un modo completamente diverso.

Come stai
come sto
maledettamente bene
penso a te penso a noi e non vivo più
forse sei abile
a nascondere il dolore
forse no non lo so
ma ti aspetterò
guardami sono qui
tra l’inferno e il paradiso
non so più che anno è
cerco solo te
tutto sa di follia
ma è solo malinconia
vedo la realtà e vorrei che fosse una bugia
in nome dell’amore l’alba brucerà le porte della tua prigione
in nome dell’amore fai la cosa giusta, sì la cosa giusta anche se fa male
un giorno un’ora vorrei vederti ancora
un raggio di sole, in nome dell’amore

All’improvviso mi pareva di sentire i pensieri di Ensaf rivolti a suo marito. Lo so, ormai penso a Raif Badawi facendo qualsiasi cosa. Non è la prima volta che mi succede ascoltando una canzone. In ogni caso adoro la canzone ancora di più rispetto a prima, perché questa parte che ho citato qui rispecchia benissimo la situazione di Ensaf e Raif.

Why I started to get involved for Raif Badawi

I remember well that Thursday evening in January. It was just an ordinary evening like all the others. The train was packed with people, many of them were reading the free newspaper Blick am Abend. I don’t like the level of that newspaper very much but this time I was really caught by an article, only a small one. I don’t remember much of it anymore. But it was back then when I learned that a certain Raif Badawi is in prison in Saudi Arabia and should be flogged the following day just because he dared to express peacefully his opinion. The author, whose name I don’t know anymore, described this flogging as a “death penalty on instalments”, so I already saw him dying before my eyes. For the rest of the journey I couldn’t concentrate on anything else and even on the way home from the train station I was only speaking about Raif Badawi. It was in this moment when I sang for the first time the Finale of Les Misérables. And back then I meant it in its original meaning. That even if you suffered a lot in your life and eventually died, you might still have a better life in the Garden of the Lord.

Later I realized given he was still alive, what he is still today, I should get involved for his release. Why was it exactly him who caused me to get involved? Actually I can’t say it with a hundred percent certainty, it was just my heart who chose it to be like that. I just couldn’t stay indifferent. Probably it is because of that corporal punishment. Before reading about Raif’s case I hadn’t even known that there are countries who still speak out such punishments. We often hear about torture of innocent people, which prisoners of conscience are, but normally such mistreatment happens behind thick prison walls. What is even more appalling in this case is that it happens as part of the legislation of that country and is executed publically. Therefore after that day I could do nothing else than do everything that is in my power to help to save Raif Badawi.

Another day of these three months which I remember well is the day when I went the first time to a vigil in Bern, I had a really strong positive feeling. I realized that I am not alone fighting for this cause, that there are others who share the same ideals and I felt deeply connected to them although I had never seen them before. This gave me even more motivation to continue being involved for human rights in Saudi Arabia. I signed up for Twitter and I am raising awareness among all the people I know.

In these ten weeks or so I got to know many impressive people, above all those who we are standing with, Raif Badawi and Waleed Abulkhair, as well as their families, as well as amazing people from all over the world. Most of them I have never met personally, not even the two most important ones, those we are actually involved for. But nevertheless there is something that connects us all which is difficult to be described. Maybe something like the hope for a better world, in a time in which one reads about terror, war, death in the news all the time. In such a time where you think hatred and other negative feelings would prevail (I mean the very reason why we are doing this all is because of hate and incomprehension towards different attitudes which even ends up in violence) I have witnessed so many positive feelings, so much love towards other people. Those feelings gave me so much positive energy which helped me even through the difficult situation where I thought I might lose hope because I realized that maybe what we all are doing still might not be enough to save Raif, that maybe he will die all the same. But I didn’t give up, I can’t stay silent anymore when injustice happens. And I know Raif needs us now more than ever. We shall continue to speak up for him, because if we don’t we just do what those in power in Saudi Arabia want us to do: to forget about Raif and go back to our daily concerns. But this is not the case. Not for me at least.

Because all this has given a new sense to my life. Speaking about human rights doesn’t not mean anymore that I am simply talking about what the characters in the story I am writing would do in communist Czechoslovakia. It has become something real, it’s not just fiction anymore. I believe that we all together can make a difference here when we speak up for human rights. Even if they are a matter of course for us here, especially our generation. We should be grateful to have the opportunity to be able to express our opinion freely. And we should use this opportunity not only to comment the dresses which some celebrities wear, we should speak up for those who don’t speak up, those who are prevented from doing so and those who don’t dare to express their opinion. We should raise awareness about cases like Raif’s one. We should share the ideas of thinkers like Raif who are too far ahead for the environment they live in. Because like that we make sure that the main intention of the system which is repressing them is not fulfilled, which is to silence them. During these weeks I have realized that I would like to make my contribution to this as well. Because I believe that there is a flame that never dies, that even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise. That is what the song says that I sang on that first evening. Why don’t make it possible also for the life on earth?