Opinion: Saudi Arabia's continued imprisonment of Raif Badawi is shameful - By Ensaf Haidar

Opinion: Saudi Arabia's continued imprisonment of Raif Badawi is shameful - By Ensaf Haidar

Article by Ensaf Haidar printed in The Montreal Gazette.

Any environment hostile to humans quickly becomes hellish. Saudi Arabia is the land of a million clerics, the only country in the world where women are barred from driving and where rights are repressed in the name of religion. It is a country ruled by Islamic law that states that any one who deviates from it should be killed.


My husband Raif Badawi was jailed for expressing his opinion. His espousal of liberalism was reason enough for the Saudi judiciary to see fit to sentence him to a decade in prison and 1,000 lashes.

The Islamic courts, a long-gone vestige of Islamic fascism, have been revived in the era of the sponsor of intra-religious dialogue, the Saudi ruler, who spends millions to polish Saudi Arabia’s image in the foreign press. Saudi Arabia sends emissaries all over the world in order to promote a false notion of openness and forgiveness that do not square with the dozens of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners within the country, including Raif Badawi.

In Austria, the Saudi government has established a centre for religious and civilizational dialogue, which has remained silent throughout the application of archaic Shariah-based punishments, such as Raif’s sentencing to 1,000 lashes. This led the Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann to describe it as a “centre of silence,” and demand that the Austrian government extricate itself from the partnership. Raif has a daughter under seven, who has been waiting for her father to come from work for three years.


As the United States leads the international community into increased military confrontation against the terrorist Islamic State, we must also be asking questions about the organization’s loyalties: to whom does IS look to for ideological support? What is the religious jurisprudence upon which IS bases itself? Is it useful to attack the organization militarily without looking to the causes of its actual and ideological formations? Finally, and most crucially, does IS represent Islam?

All of these are significant and pressing questions. In my opinion, discussing them in an attempt to manage and contain them is more important than military intervention. Here, of course, I am talking specifically about the way the Muslim religion is used politically. In my view, IS does represent Islam in its ideological and political branches. I would argue that the everyday, peaceful Muslim who rejects all the crime and barbarity of this Islam and believes in everyone’s right to life is merely an individual saying that IS doesn’t represent him, but when Islamic teaching is used to justify the acts of IS, no one can really argue that IS does not, in some sense, represent Islam.

ISIS, which whips and kills in the name of religion, does not differ from Saudi Arabia in their shared adoption of these barbaric religious dictates. Saudi Arabia, too, uses beheading and flogging as punishments under Shariah law. It is shameful that the nations that profess to be allied against terrorism nevertheless co-operate with states like the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In October, Raif Badawi won PEN Canada’s One Humanity award. A month later, he won the Netizen Prize from Reporters without Borders, then an Aikenhead award from the Scottish Secular Society. Most recently, he has received the Courage Award from the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, and a Freedom of Speech award from the German Deutsche Welle foundation. He has also been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by two Norwegian members of Parliament.

These nominations and prizes send a clear message to the rulers of Saudi Arabia that its continued imprisonment of Badawi is shameful, especially as the kingdom now claims to be playing a leadership role in the fight against terror and the Islamic State.

Ensaf Haidar is an author and the wife of blogger Raif Badawi.

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