Insulting Islam: the flogging of Raif Badawi

Aptly described as “the survivors’ issue,” the new edition of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo reportedly “sold out within minutes;” though for this week, the now so tragically famous publication will come out in five million copies instead of the normal print run of 60,000. But since the magazine’s defiant staff once again put a caricature of Mohammad on the cover, there are already – once again – plenty of complaints, accusations and threats. An Al Jazeera contributor sharply criticized that “Charlie Hebdo continued with its provocative editorial line” and failed to respect “the red lines” and “all of the calls issued by Muslim clerics.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah, who had enjoyed their photo opportunity during last Sunday’s solidarity march in Paris, rushed to condemn the new Charlie Hebdo cartoons, while the International Union of Muslim Scholars ominously warned of “dire consequences to the continued insults to the Prophet.”

It is 2015, and Muslim leaders once again tell their fellow-believers that drawings in an originally fairly obscure European publication are such a terrible insult to Islam that outrage and even “dire consequences” are justified.

But what is not an insult to Islam is that in 2015, Saudi Arabia, an “Islamic state based on principles prescribed by the Qur’an” and governed by a monarchy claiming a “deep sense of responsibility toward Islam,” is putting on a weekly spectacle of sadism in the name of Islam. Via Amnesty International, here is an eyewitness account of what happened in front of the al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah last Friday, and what the pious Saudi regime wants to happen there for another 19 weeks every Friday:

“When the worshippers saw the police van outside the mosque, they knew someone would be flogged today.

They gathered in a circle. Passers-by joined them and the crowd grew. But no one knew why the man brought forward was about to be punished. Is he a killer, they asked? A criminal? Does he not pray?

Raif Badawi had been brought to the square in front of al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah just after midday. […] He was handcuffed and shackled but his face was not covered – everyone could see his face.

Still shackled, Raif stood up in the middle of the crowd. […]

A security officer approached him from behind with a huge cane and started beating him.

Raif raised his head towards the sky, closing his eyes and arching his back. He was silent, but you could tell from his face and his body that he was in real pain.

The officer beat Raif on his back and legs, counting the lashes until they reached 50.

The punishment took about 5 minutes. It was very quick, with no break in between lashes.

When it was over, the crowd shouted, ‘Allah-hu Akbar! Allah-hu Akbar!’”

Yes, Allah-hu Akbar, it is 2015, and a father of three can be sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes by a pious Muslim regime that will drag him in front of a crowd of its pious Muslim subjects to have him flogged publicly for the unspeakable crime of having tried to encourage political and social debate with his entirely reasonable, if rather restrained, writings.

Are there any Muslim leaders, any Muslim scholars, who consider this medieval barbarity an insult to Islam? Are there any sizeable Muslim grass root movements to protest against Saudi sadism – the regular public floggings, the beheadings on “Chop-chop square,” the absurd trials of witches – all of it justified as required by Islam?

Apparently not. Nothing that Muslims do in the name of Islam can be as insulting to their religion as the drawings of European cartoonists.

Saudi blogger Badawi

Update:

Also posted at Harry’s Place and my JPost blog.

News reports now indicate that today’s scheduled flogging of Badawi has been “postponed ‘for medical reasons’. ” The Telegraph report concludes with the observation (my emphasis):

“an indefinite postponement would be a neat compromise for the Saudi authorities, who would be reluctant to be seen to bow before western pressure, particularly at a time when activists are calling for wider political change in the country, as across the Arab world.

They are also bound by the opposite pressure internally, with large numbers of traditionalist Saudis taking to social media to defend the punishment, and accusing the authorities of being weak in the face of insults to Islam in the West – for example from the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in publications like Charlie Hebdo.”

So this suggests that the Saudi condemnation of the terror attacks in Paris is paid for by the likes of Raif Badawi: to burnish their “moderate” image – that western politicians and media so eagerly and cynically help to promote – the Saudi regime will join in the condemnation of some spectacular Islamist terror attacks like those in Paris; but at the same time, it will assure its hardline supporters at home that the regime remains committed to defending the violent and repressive form of Islam it has always championed.

Indeed, Saudi support for spreading their peculiar and extremely intolerant version of Islam is an important point brought up in the debate of this post at Harry’s Place. Here are a few links to relevant reports on the “astronomical” amounts of money Saudi Arabia has been spending for at least two decades to radicalize Muslims around the world:

Saudi Government Paper: ‘Billions Spent by Saudi Royal Family to Spread Islam to Every Corner of the Earth’ (2002)

Wahhabism: A deadly scripture (2007)

Saudi Arabia funding fuels jihadist terror (2013)

Finally, though I rarely agree with The Guardian when it comes to their coverage of the Middle East, they published a great editorial on this subject today. Particularly noteworthy are the “lessons for the world” highlighted by The Guardian:

“The first is a much-needed reminder of their bare-faced hypocrisy. Saudi is, so far as its rulers can make it, closed to all foreign ideas. They equate atheism with terrorism, and propose to apply the same punishments for both. At the same time it is a fountain of Islamist poison, of antisemitism, of narrow-minded and fanatical preachers, and of young men who leave to fight in other people’s countries and help to destroy them in the cause of Wahhabist Islam. Let us not forget that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis and that Saudi money has funded cruel and pointless wars all over the Middle East. If the kingdom now draws back in horror at the spectacle of Islamic State rampaging through the river valleys of Iraq and Syria, it is the horror of Dr Frankenstein seeing his monster walking.

The second is the spineless hypocrisy of western governments, not least our own, who take their oil, and hope for their money. When the spokespeople for the British Foreign Office assure us, as they always do, that there are forces of reform within the kingdom, shame should make the words taste like soap in their mouths.

In this country we have censored television programmes and cancelled a major bribery inquiry rather than disturb Saudi sensibilities, and those are just the cases that came to public knowledge. The punishment of Mr Badawi is a reminder to us all that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an enemy of free speech, of free thought, of honesty and of courage wherever they may be found in the world today. The British government should remember the slogan used against the mafia in Sicily: to be silent is to be complicit. Last week, many expressed their solidarity by saying we are all Charlie Hebdo: it is as true and just as necessary to remember and proclaim that we are all Raif Badawi.”

By way of a further update, the Times of Israel (TOI) reports that some 500 Palestinian Muslims demonstrated against Charlie Hebdo at the Al Aqsa mosque after Friday prayers, burning the French flag and chanting “’jihad, jihad, we will die in the name of God’ followed by ‘Allahu Akbar’ … and ‘Muhammad [is] our master and leader forever.’”

According to TOI, “Muslims across Middle East cities marched on Friday to protest the publication, as Qatar warned the image would ‘fuel hatred’.” The largest rally was reportedly in Jordan, “where around 2,500 protesters took to the streets of the capital Amman.”

By contrast, it seems that protests against Badawi’s flogging and imprisonment were held mostly in western countries.

 

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