Trudeau Asks Saudi King to Revisit the Case of Imprisoned Blogger Raif Badawi

The Saudi government has been making Raif Badawi‘s life hell for 10 years now. The atheist and blogger was first arrested for apostasy in 2008. Apostasy is a capital offense in the theocratic Muslim kingdom, but after a day’s worth of interrogations and other unpleasantness, Badawi was released.

Four years later, the state came for him once more, and this time it acted without mercy or reason. Badawi was cited for apostasy again, and also for “insulting Islam through electronic channels,” apparently because his website had been critical of senior religious figures. Since then, he has been continuously imprisoned and even publicly flogged, despite becoming something of a cause célèbre in the West.

Eighteen Nobel laureates have advocated for Badawi’s release, as did Amnesty International. Politicians in the United States, Canada, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and other countries also made their voices heard. Thousands of writers, artists, and bloggers did the same.

Now, Canada’s Justin Trudeau is speaking out too. He raised the topic of Badawi’s treatment in a call with the Saudi King this week.

Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, expressed his “serious concern” over the continued imprisonment of the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi to the kingdom’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz, his office said on Tuesday. …

[Badawi’s] wife, Ensaf Haidar, has been granted asylum by Canada, where she is raising their three children, aged 14, 13 and 10, as a single mother.

According to a readout of Trudeau’s call with the Saudi king, the two “spoke about the importance of respecting human rights and freedom of speech, as well as democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia.” Trudeau “also raised consular issues, and expressed his ongoing, serious concern about the imprisonment of human rights activist Raif Badawi.”

Trudeau’s fine example won’t soon be followed by the Trump administration, which last year entered enthusiastically into a historic Saudi arms deal worth $110 billion. But in fairness, President Obama was just as useless when it comes to Badawi. (Let’s not forget that just three years ago, Obama’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff organized an essay contest to honor former despot King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz, described as a “a man of remarkable character and courage.”)

I was initially inclined to see Trudeau’s attempted intervention as well-intentioned but ineffective, but who knows? Things have recently, slowly, been going in the right direction under Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, such that Times columnist Nicholas Kristof‘s apt-enough 2016 description of the Saudis — “a wellspring of poison in the Islamic world” — may eventually have to be reassessed.

The current Saudi regime seems to want to extricate the country from the Middle Ages, and maybe that means that, with continued pressure from the West, Badawi will be released before it’s too late.

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P.S.: Does it strike anyone else as puzzling in the extreme that most Islamic countries (per the Qur’an) outlaw apostasy? I don’t mean from a religious or law-enforcement or human-rights point of view, but from one of effectiveness. Why prosecute an individual’s loss of belief in Allah at all? It seems to me that people who ditch their faith in God won’t magically start re-believing when armed agents of the state try to force them with intimidation, torture, or prison. The most they’ll do, at times, is pretend, and toe the line. Maybe that’s enough for the oppressors, but it is not, in any real sense of the word, “faith.”

That same consideration is also why Pascal’s Wager is unserious and witless. Faith cannot be coerced; nor will it arrive simply upon trying one’s damndest.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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