Thursday, October 26, 2017

If Saudi Arabia's crown prince means what he says, he should free Raif Badawi

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Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammad Ben Salman has vowed to return the kingdom to "moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world". If he means it, his first step should be to release Raif Badawi – the jailed Saudi blogger who was arrested and flogged in 2015 because he wrote what MBS is advocating today.

How to describe the sheer horror of a young man being flogged fifty times because he expressed his opinion on the internet like so many of us do? Fifty times... And this was only the first round. Many more were supposed to follow. As many as one thousand lashes need. One thousand lashes... That’s the full sentence rendered a few years ago by a Saudi court against Raif Badawi, a 31 years old blogger and father of three.

How long does it take to flog someone fifty times? Few minutes, half an hour, an hour? An eternity of pain for the tortured blogger… And for what? What did this young man do to deserve such a terrible and humiliating punishment? What was his crime? Did he call for the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy? Was he part of some terrorist organization? Or did he simply express his longing for a more open and tolerant society?

Isn’t it what Mohammad Ben Salman has recently advocated for during an investment conference and confirmed in an interview to The Guardian? "We are simply reverting to what we followed, a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions", he said. "70% of the Saudis are younger than 30, honestly we won’t waste 30 years of our life combating extremist thoughts, we will destroy them now and immediately."

"Society needs to open its collective mind to all ideas and ideologies", Raif Badawi wrote before his arrest. "It needs to give its people the chance to listen to the opinions of others, and then examine them critically instead of rejecting them prematurely. Such a creative dialogue based on positive critical thinking can enhance and develop ideas."

In other words, the Saudi blogger somewhat wrote what MBS is saying today. His immediate release would be a solid proof the heir to the Saudi throne means what he says and truly wants to liberalize Saudi society and free it from extremism.

If you’re not familiar with Raif Badawi, Radio Canada has published a graphic novel telling his story. I invite you to read it, and perhaps join hands in asking the crown prince to release him from prison and make sure young Saudis are free to express their opinion without the fear of a thousand lashes scarring their back and their humanity.

© Claude El Khal, 2017