Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Voices of conscience in the Middle East: Raif Badawi

Raif Badawi is famous for a sinister occurence: he was condemned by the Saudi Arabia authorities to 10 years of prison and 1000 lashes - yes, we are still in the 21st century - plus fines of an amount of the equivalent of 194,00 Euro, for his texts published on his blog. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, who is a strong militant for his release, run the country together with their 3 kids and is a Canadian resident. 
His only guilt is to have been approached sensitive issues for the theocractic Saudi Arabia, such as secularization, need to get rid of religious extremism, liberalism, pluralism, respect for diversity of religions and freedom of thought. The texts published on his blog between 2010 and 2012 were erased by the high tech authorities who are meanwhile maintaining a strict control of the www, in order to prevent any actions or writings against the predominant Islam. Some of the short written interventions were gathered in a thin book. Pledging for the adoption of a secularist model similar to that introduced in France after the French Revolution, he approaches various issues at stake in the Middle Eastern and particularly Saudi society: the contradictions between religious assumptions and scientific reality, the chutzpe of wanting a mosque close to the ruins of the WTC destroyed during the terrorist attacks of 9/11, equality between men and women, the rejection of autocratic movements such as Hamas. He also warned about extremists and the danger of the 'Caliphate'. There are a lot of interesting ideas and concepts outlined but unfortunately this is only the beginning of a larger discussion and clarification of concepts that as long he is in prison cannot be continued or developed. The original texts were published in Arabic, but translated in several languages. Personally, I've read the German version.
In December 2015, Badawi was awarded the prestigious European Sakharov prize by the European Parliament for freedom of thought. His condemnation is going on, with the last January 50 of the 1,000 lashes being done, although medical warning about Badawi's health situation were issued. At the end of the last year, he went on hunger strike for a short while.
He is not the only member of the family persecuted by the authorities. His sister, Samar Badawi, a human rights avocate was shortly detained this January. 

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