Why Support Zaid Hamid Against Saudi Arabia

Source: Zaid Hamid facebook page

Source: Zaid Hamid facebook page

A big test of the values that you believe in lies in defending the rights of someone you don’t agree with.

Zaid Hamid is a commentator with radical views which entwine conspiracy theories with religious traditions, which repulse many liberals, centrists, and conservatives alike. He was recently arrested and sentenced to eight years and a thousand lashes. There is no doubt that every supporter of the Caliphate such as Hamid should be criticized, but that does not take away their right to free speech, even if they are demanding something that would kill the freedom to exercise it.

But in this case, the real opponent is Saudi authoritarianism and the consistent abuse of Pakistani citizens at the hands of their abusive state that is supposedly a part of the “Muslim brethren.” Not only have Saudi Arabians barbarically beheaded dozens of Pakistanis for minor alleged offenses, such as drug trafficking, but this time has arrested a citizen for making an inconvenient speech.

Of course, you cannot really expect to criticize Saudi Arabia on their soil and get away with it. Most of us have not heard what the content of his speech was, and it is easy to assume that it would somewhat comprise of hate speech, or at least call for rebellion. Nevertheless, the harsh punishment would sound strange to many in Pakistan, or would it?

But why go out of our way to defend someone whose views the world is better off without?

Because free speech is a value greater than any partisan differences, and also because it is time to show critics and defenders of authoritarianism that free speech is a far superior ideology than theocracy and fascism.

This is why the arrest of Zaid Hamid in Saudi Arabia is a tremendous opportunity to show the traditional opponents of free speech why they are speaking against their own fundamental rights, and why free speech is such an important value to defend.

While you cannot really expect most Muslim conservatives and Pakistani nationalists to even understand, let alone appreciate and value the idea of free speech, but it is important to show them that this value applies to everyone, no matter what their ideological or philosophical position is.

This is why it is of utmost importance that the proponents of free speech, whether liberal or otherwise, should drop their cynicism for a while and support Zaid Hamid in his hour of trouble. It is also important to be concerned for his personal safety, especially because he is a Pakistani citizen, and to call out Saudi Arabia for its brutal authoritarianism and barbaric, medieval penal code.

Months ago I wrote about Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who is still in the custody of the Saudi authorities for speaking his mind about freedom and democracy. Many more Pakistani friends spoke in support of Badawi. Therefore, it is only appropriate that we should speak about this case with the same passion. This should remind everyone that people for free speech are the ones consistent in their positions.

It is not hard to see for anyone, whether the proponents of democracy or the Caliphate, that Zaid Hamid committed no crime and does not deserve such punishment.

It is evident that speech is not a crime. And that is why this is the best opportunity to demonstrate this fact to the people opposed to the propagation of free speech, who dismiss it as a Western idea.

This is precisely why blasphemy is not a crime and should not be considered a crime by any entity. People in the Caliphate camp should remember that.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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It Could Have so Easily Been You and Me

Source: CBS News

Source: CBS News

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 Raif Badawi 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 half wants it to become Iran.

 

What if you were arrested and publicly flogged for wondering why Ahmedis 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 therefore on 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 speech such 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.

 

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.