By Inas Younis, New Age Islam
25 January, 2015
Last Week U.S state Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called on Saudi Arabia to review blogger and activist Raif Badawi’s case and asked them to “cancel this brutal punishment.”
Badawi was arrested back in 2012 and charged with “insulting Islam through electronic channels” and “going beyond the realm of obedience.” He was charged and sentenced with ten years in prison, a two hundred and sixty six thousand dollar fine, and one thousand public lashings. Now the spotlight just happens to be on this particular case at the moment, but just to give you some perspective, this month alone the Saudi government beheaded ten people. And back in 2011, a year before Badawi was arrested, a Saudi woman was executed for ‘witchcraft and sorcery’. There are countless other cases of human rights abuses, all of them equally disturbing, but you get the point.
The idea that a hundred billion dollars of Saudi money has bought them silence from the international community and specifically from the United States is not exactly accurate. This latest onslaught of denunciations in the Badawi case has convinced me that global condemnations has done more to advance Saudi interests than any kind of silent treatment. Instead of silence by official sources, like the state department and human rights organizations, we are being treated to the soothing balm of civilized and polished statements imploring the Saudi government to “review and cancel”.
What is there to review and cancel? Are we calling on the Saudi regime to cancel this punishment or to cancel the implementation of all cruel corporeal punishments in general? And what is there to review? Are we demanding that they review whether one hundred lashes versus one thousand would pass some kind of United Nations litmus test?
Instead of issuing a statement demanding the release of this innocent man, who has committed no crime, the state department has asked that the public flogging be cancelled, with no mention of the prison sentence or fine. To further mask the obscenity of these negotiations, the case of Raif Badawi was recently referred to the Supreme Court.
Are we to believe that a Supreme court is going to review whether flogging is a legitimate form of punishment for a crime that the international community does not even recognize as a crime? Are we expected to pretend that there is an actual procedure and due process to the application of tyranny?
What one hundred billion dollars worth of Saudi Money has bought is not our silence, but our participation in a simulated judicial process with a policies and procedures protocol designed to enforce just one edict: “what the monarch says goes.” Sadly, even Badawi’s wife has been intimidated into prostrating to the Saudi establishment by pleading on behalf of her husband and insisting that:
“Badawi had written several essays in which he praised Saudi officials for showing signs of reformist ideology and had never criticized his religion of Islam or the Saudi monarchy.”
The implicit suggestion she is being forced to make is that she believes that if her husband had attacked the Saudi monarchy or took issue with their clerics, then punitive action would have been warranted. Condemnations, while necessary, seem to do little more than reinforce the pretensions of a mock system which does not appear to exist except as a public relationship device.
But just to be fair, we need to put a few other things in perspective. First, can we afford to hold hundreds of billions of dollars and peoples livelihoods, not to mention risk our security with Iran, up against the flogging of one man? Or perhaps the more pertinent question is not whether we can afford to risk so much to save one man, but why can Saudi Arabia afford to risk so much to assert their power to flog him.
The answer is that, for the Saudis this is not about one man, this is about preserving the status quo and the Saudi establishment’s anachronistic level of awareness. What we have done with our sanitized denunciations is shamefully reduce a critical moral imperative to being about one man who may or may not be flogged depending on how much pressure we are willing to exert. We are being led to believe that if Badawi is released we have cause to celebrate, even thought in principle we have already lost. Because this is not about one man. This is about right and wrong, good and bad, justice and tyranny. This pre- test to the real test. Will we do the right thing?
The Saudi Government has enough impudence to win any standoff. And I suspect they will continue to manufacture discord. Because with every incident of this kind, they will be reminding the modern world that we have abdicated moral certitude by confessing through our actions that we will do business at any cost to our collective conscience.
This is not to say that any nation should physically intervene. We need only to regain the moral certainty, without any disclaimers, that we are not obligated to lend their actions any legitimacy by requesting that they make concessions. We need to recognize that the only difference between the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and those of any other illicit gang is that a criminal does not expect his victims to sanction his crime with the pretense that he is exercising a right over them. Delaying lashes, or decreasing the number of lashes from a thousand to one hundred are meaningless gestures. If the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia intends to flog their citizens, behead them, imprison women for driving, and deprive them of sunlight, then let them do it in broad day light so the world can see with greater clarity, just how reprehensible their laws are. We need to leave them at the mercy of the one billion Badawi's who might one day be able to do what the most powerful government in the world could not; and that is to say to the kingdom and its monarch- you have no power over us.
If the free world is ever to claim the kind of power that only moral certitude can grant it, they must simply do the right thing. That is the only way to introduce the modern world to the Medieval one, and to show them once and for all, that Allah is on our side.
Inas Younis is a freelance writer residing in Kansas. She has written for Muslim Girl Magazine and her work was featured in the anthology Living Islam Out Loud. She contributed this article to New Age Islam.