As he stands under the midday sun after Friday prayers at Jeddah’s al-Jafali Mosque, in white shirt and dark trousers, his eyes lowered, will he think of his wife and his three beautiful children before the first lash strikes his shoulders?
As his hands are tied and held down by a soldier, will he remember the crime for which he is being punished: the idea that Muslims, Christians, Jews and atheists are equal? Does he still disagree with the law proclaiming his idea is an insult to Islam before the second lash burns across his back like hot wire?
When the third lash smites his legs, first leeching his skin of color, then painting it red, will he think of the 997 lashes he still has to endure? Or will he rather recall one of the blog entries for which he is being tortured? “For me, liberalism simply means, live and let live. This is a splendid slogan.“
The fourth lash. Can he cling to any thought more coherent than the deep reflex of dignity commanding him to remain standing and not to scream? In some abject corner of himself, will he feel a pinch of regret for posting his thesis that secularism “respects everyone and offends no one“ and would be “a useful means for countries (including our own) to jump from the Third World into the First“?
The Saudis regard liberalism as a form of terrorism
Before the whip cracks against his calves and he sucks up the pain again, what gives him strength? Is it the fragile insight of Albert Camus with which he signed off his blog in 2012 on his way to prison? “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that one’s very existence is an act of rebellion.”
As the blows scourge his back, as his ribs take a beating that might break them, will Raif Badawi, the slim 31-year-old founder of the online platform Free Saudi Liberals, put any hope in the power of the international community of states? Will he believe that the pressure campaign mounted by Amnesty International on his behalf can do anything to stop his torture? Will he place any faith in the efforts of Liberal International and the Arab Alliance of Freedom and Democracy? Does he know anything about the campaign to free him, launched months ago by the Spanish Partido de la Libertad Individual?
We do not know.
What we know is that the theocratic absolute monarchy presided over by Salman ibn Abdilaziz Al Saud, “Custodian of the Two Holy Sites and King of Saudi Arabia”, regards statements of liberal values and expressions of atheism as acts of terrorism subject to severe corporal and — as in Raif’s case — potentially capital punishment. There are no political parties to speak out against this. Saudi Arabia ranked 164th out of 180 countries on a Press Freedom Index recently compiled by Reporters Without Borders. Gross human rights violations are routinely hidden in the thick fog of Salafist sharia that engulfs the country and prevents meaningful scrutiny of its legal practices. And as we have all been repeatedly reminded, 15 out of the 19 hijackers of 9/11 came from Saudi Arabia, along with their spiritual father Osama bin Laden.
We know that the home of the holy cities Mecca and Medina is an upstanding member of the G20 bloc. “Bilateral relations between Germany and Saudi Arabia are friendly and tension-free,” Germany’s Federal Foreign Office assures us. The new German Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Boris Ruge, told King Abdullah on his inaugural visit to the Saudi monarch two months ago that the two countries “stand together against the same enemies.” The oppositional Green Party, meanwhile, called decisively on Sigmar Gabriel, the German Minister for Economic Affairs, to make use of his planned visit to Saudi Arabia from March 7-10 to plead Badawi’s case, by which time a full 350 of the 1000 scheduled lashes will already have fallen on the back of a young man for exercising the human right to free expression.
Take up the whip, Your Excellency!
We simply can’t wait that long if Raif Badawi is to see the spring. We cannot simply pray or hope that he may be spared for another week because he is deemed too sick from his first beating to receive further punishment. We have no choice but to go out and protest if we want our values to be worth the paper on which the Declaration of Human Rights, and our German constitution, are printed. Raif Badawi took the liberty of dreaming of liberty for his homeland. Those who flog him slash all respect for human dignity and human rights.
Albert Duin, the leader of the Free Democratic Party in Bavaria, made an offer to the Saudi Embassy in Berlin last weekend to take some of Badawi’s heavy burden of lashes on himself. This seems the only reasonable response: Whoever arranges the flogging of a liberal blogger declares his enmity towards all free people.
Apparently, the embassy wasn’t staffed at the time. But Duin’s gesture of solidarity has inspired friends of freedom on social media. Their message: the offer stands. We will be making it again next Friday, January 30th, 2015 at the embassy of Saudi Arabia in Berlin. And people all over the world should make this offer, too: Flog us instead of Raif Badawi.
We will say to His Excellency, the distinguished Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to Germany, Prof. Dr. Ossama bin Abdul Majed Shobokshi: as the former Dean of Medicine at Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz University, you should have no problem dealing with a bleeding human body. As a doctor, you have sworn, Excellency, to spend your life in the service of humanity and to show reverence for all forms of human life. Show us that you are a man who stands by his word.
Show us you truly serve humanity by allowing us to divide the punishment of Raif Badawi among other friends of freedom. Please take up the whip yourself when I and other defenders of our liberal creed visit your embassy in Berlin. Flog us instead of Raif Badawi! Flog us in public, in broad daylight, if only to enlighten the world as to the fact that your country despises the very idea of humanity. Flog all those of us, Excellency, who can come to you, and leave again, in liberty. But spare Raif Badawi, that he should not die for the cause of liberty.