Why is no one in Pakistan talking about Raif Badawi with the exception of a couple of bloggers here and there?
Why is he not in the news?
Because he insulted Islam or the Saudi royalty? But of course.
But what does this tell the world about us? Or about our leaders who took the trouble of protesting against the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, but would dare not even think about the flogging of the Saudi blogger.
Both liberal and conservative free speech critics would find great offense in a political cartoon mocking a holy religious figure, but would not find any problem in a theocratic monarchy persecuting the freedom of its citizens.
Therefore, the draconian penalty of 1,000 lashes to blogger RaifBadawi largely goes unaddressed by the likes of President Barack Obama and other Western leaders, and overshadowed by the sad demise of King Abdullah;with the exception of a few extremist bloggers, Western publications and maybe Amnesty International.
I heard a few US senators did manage to write a letter strongly protesting the flogging. I hope that really happened.
But the torture goes on, despite appeals and concerns about Badawi’s health.
Obviously, the penalty of 1,000 lashes is carefully designed to prolong the humiliation and mental torture, without attracting significant disapproval of the Western countries. Not that they really care though.
After all, it is important to set an example.
I know it is dangerous and sensitive to talk about anyone who has allegedly blasphemed, but let us put this case this way.
Let’s not even waste our time with the question whether Raif Badawi insulted Islam or not, and whether he should be punished for it or not, without giving up the defense of his right to.
But what if the law of the land requires your free expression about your society to be punished like this? Especially when half of the people in Pakistan want the country to turn into Saudi Arabia and the other halfwants it to become Iran.
What if you were arrested and publicly flogged for wondering why Ahmadis are persecuted in Pakistan?
What if you were penalized for wondering why Hazara and Shia are being targeted and publicly naming the culprits?
What if you were wondering about the unjust theocratic influences on the law and the constitution, and thereforeon the society?
What if questioning the theocratic parts of your constitution would put you on a trial for treason?
The kind of opinions that could so easily be projected to be insulting to religion and, therefore, the religious figures, you never know.
Raif Badawi’s opinions were not too different to these seemingly innocuous political inquiries.
This is where more moderate and liberal elements in the society are the only hope to inch toward sanity. This is why they need to focus on Raif Badawi and put more pressure on enemies of free speechsuch as Saudi Arabia and Iran, and even though not as much, but Pakistan too. But I am glad I am enjoying enough freedom to write these lines and am proud of that.
As we speak, Raif Badawi’s second round of flogging has been postponed for the third straight week, albeit for health reasons. We should continue to speak until the floggings are called off as a matter of principle.
There is a reason why Raif Badawi matters so much.
It could have so easily been you and me.