Raif Badawi is not a critic of Islam, although he favors a secular state.
Saturday, July 11, 2015
In 2012, Raif Badawi, a blogger in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) who is now 31, was arrested in his native land and charged with offenses ranging from parental disobedience to cyber-crime and apostasy from Islam. Badawi had written in Arab media and established a website, "Free Saudi Liberals." When he was jailed, the site was closed by the Saudi regime.
His detention then was not the first action by the KSA against Badawi. As noted by Human Rights Watch, he was held for one day in 2008 after launching the "Free Saudi Liberals" site, and, in 2009, was banned from travelling abroad, with a freeze of his financial assets.
After a trial in 2013, Badawi was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. But the outcome of an appeal, in 2014, was worse: his punishment was increased to 10 years in jail and 1,000 strokes of a whip, with a fine of 1 million Saudi riyals (about $267,000).
Apostasy from Islam is a capital crime in the KSA, and BBC News reported in 2013 that the apostasy allegation against Badawi had been rejected by a higher court. Evidence for the claim was ridiculously flimsy, including such assertions as that he pressed a "Like" button on a Facebook page for Arab Christians.
All restrictions on freedom of religious belief are abominable, but they are particularly despicable when they are trumped up as a pretext to suppress independent debate - as happened to Badawi. On January 9, 2015, a first session of 50 blows was imposed on Badawi at a mosque in Jidda, the KSA's commercial capital and seaport.
The infliction of 1,000 lashes was to be extended over 20 weeks, with 50 applied weekly. Since the beginning round of his caning, continuation of Badawi's beating has been suspended repeatedly, originally on medical grounds. The deeper reason for the continued postponement is, nevertheless, unclear. International protests have been extensive and may have played a role. But Badawi was dragged to be lashed this year when the health of the late Saudi King Abdullah was failing and his successor, Saudi King Salman, had yet to assume power.
Elements in the Saudi-Wahhabi clerical apparatus may have acted recklessly to make an example of Badawi, but were then halted in carrying out their scheme. On June 7, 2015, the Saudi Supreme Court upheld the judgment against Badawi, but, again, no further whipping has taken place.
While it is difficult to predict the outcome of Badawi's case, some of his writings will soon be available to English-speaking readers. A slender volume titled 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think is scheduled for release in July in Canada, in August in the U.S., and in October in the U.K., with the support of Amnesty International.
The collection has already appeared in French as 1000 coups de fouet: parce que j'ai osé parler librement. The personality of Badawi and his message appear in its pages to be very different from what many Westerners might expect.
Some of the articles therein were posted on the pan-Arab news portal Al-Jazeera, which is considered aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood (two dated April and May 2012, with two more undated) and six were published in the Saudi newspaper Al-Bilad (The Country).
Raif Badawi is not, as expressed in his own words, a critic or enemy of Islam, although he favors a secular state. Indeed, it may be argued that he seeks to save Islam from the Saudi-Wahhabi clerics and other fanatics. In one text from 2011 that provoked the apparent rage of the Wahhabis, titled "Astronomy According to Sharia," Badawi criticized Wahhabi doctrinaires who condemn as incorrect and in violation of the Qur'an the Renaissance understanding of the solar system (which recognizes that the planets circle the sun). But this is an old debate that was settled presumably in 1985 when Prince Sultan, son of the now-ruling King Salman, traveled in a U.S. space shuttle and observed the relations of the heavenly bodies.
In another, unfortunately prescient article, titled "Dreams of a Caliphate," from 2012, Badawi linked Saudi Islamists who preached a revived caliphate - like that of the so-called "Islamic State" - with the habit of Muslim caliphs from the eighth to the tenth centuries C.E. in killing their opponents for alleged apostasy, as a cover for politicized Islam. This also is hardly a new criticism in Islamic historical thought.
In the same article, Badawi, surprisingly, rejected statements that another incarcerated blogger, Hamza Kashgari, a Uyghur originating in Central Asia, but whose family moved to the KSA, is a liberal. Kashgari was held from 2011 to 2013 for a series of tweets addressed to Prophet Muhammad. According to Badawi, Kashgari is closer to the Muslim Brotherhood and has never expressed liberal views.
Badawi is a non-conformist whose opinions cannot be classified. In a 2010 text on the anniversary of the atrocities of September 11, 2011, he denounced the project for construction of a mosque at the site of the World Trade Center in New York, which he described as "a flagrant provocation against the collective memory of Americans in particular and humanity in general."
On the topic of Israel and the Palestinians, in another article dating from 2010, he decried the Israeli occupation of Arab lands but also said he would fight against Hamas. He wrote, "I am not for the occupation of an Arab country by Israel, but, at the same time, I do not want to replace Israel with an Islamic nation installed on its ruins, and of which the only aim would be to promote a culture of death and ignorance." Sadly, however, Badawi's short book concludes with praise for the ill-fated "Arab Spring" revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Libya.
Violations of religious and intellectual liberty are hardly rare in the world, as seen by radical Islamist violence, from the global assault on Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses beginning in 1989 to the homicidal raid on the French satirical journal Charlie Hebdo in January of this year. Cultural vandalism by religious extremists has been displayed to the world in the KSA and in the territories controlled by the spurious "Islamic State" in the Middle East and "Ansar Dine" in North Africa.
Such acts against personal conscience are not limited to Muslim lands. An Indian court suit forced the withdrawal of a scholarly work on that country's history, The Hindus, by Wendy Doniger, from the Penguin India publisher's list in 2014. The military regime in Burma, a/k/a Myanmar, allows anti-Muslim agitation that has driven thousands of Rohingya Muslims to flee the country by sea, in ramshackle boats. Russia, reviving its nationalist ideology, refuses to recognize the legal status of the Roman Catholic church.
But the KSA stands alone in banning public observances by any religion other than Islam and harassing metaphysical Sufis and Shia Muslims. Muslims around the world are currently observing the holy fasting month of Ramadan, during which it is customary for Islamic rulers to proclaim an amnesty for prisoners. This year's Ramadan ends on Eid Al-Fitr, 16-17th July by the Western calendar. Saudi King Salman would improve the image of the KSA if he orders the release of Raif Badawi as an act of Ramadan mercy.
BY MATTHIEU AIKINS
Every few miles on a drive north of Yemen's capital, a charred hulk or massive bomb crater blocks the highway – the result of airstrikes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition against the Houthi rebels who have taken over much of the country. While most of the destroyed vehicles appear to be tankers and cargo trucks, some are clearly local traffic, like a charred flatbed surrounded by dozens of dead goats. As we speed along the nearly deserted highway, we can hear the occasional roar of jets in the sky. Most of the Houthi checkpoints we pass are abandoned. It makes for nerve-wracking driving.
Since March, Houthis have launched attacks on southern Saudi Arabia from the mountainous province of Saada. In May, the Saudis declared the entire province a military target. Leaflets were dropped, telling the area's civilian population of nearly 1 million to flee. An all-out aerial assault ensued. Two reports published last week, by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have accused Saudi Arabia of "attacks that appeared to violate international humanitarian law" and "possible disproportionate or indiscriminate attacks."
A month later, Saada City is utterly devastated, its main roads lined with shattered buildings. A local activist led us through its deserted old market, where a 30-foot crater sits outside the gate of a damaged 1,200-year-old mosque. The airstrikes targeted homes, shopping malls, cold-storage facilities, car dealerships, restaurants and gas stations. At one pump we were told 17 people were killed and 49 injured while waiting in line to fuel up – a column of blackened cars still stood in a row. According to a UN satellite analysis conducted on May 17, a total of 1,171 structures in Saada have been damaged or destroyed by airstrikes.
The situation may be even worse in rural areas near the border. At a hospital in Saada City supported by Doctors Without Borders (also known by its French initials, MSF), a stream of cluster bomb victims arrived from the village of Radha."We're just farmers," said Saleh Khairan, who had brought in his wounded uncle.
In a separate incident, members of the MSF team told me they had recently received ten dead bodies from nearby Sabr, and that five of them had been children. When we traveled to the village, witnesses showed us the names and ages of 51 people they claim were killed in airstrikes on June 3rd — 36 of them were children. "We don't know why they targeted us," said Salem Ali, a resident of Sabr. He surveyed his destroyed village and a Saudi-coalition jet passed overhead.
Many of Saudi Arabia's weapons and aircraft were purchased from the U.S. We have encountered remnants of both conventional and cluster bombs likely made in the U.S.A., including BU-97 cluster bomb submunitions, which were transferred to Saudi Arabia by the U.S. in the Nineties. The U.S. has also provided both in-flight refueling and targeting intelligence to bombing missions. As a result, there is a widespread perception among the Yemenis that the American government is equally responsible for the air war.
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/videos/watch-a-dispatch-from-the-scene-of-saudi-arabias-war-crimes-in-yemen-20150707#ixzz3fderWc5h
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By Lyndsey Layton
The American Federation of Teachers endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination on Saturday, the first national union to back a candidate for the 2016 primary.
The endorsement was not a surprise to close observers - the AFT had supported Clinton in 2008 instead of Barack Obama - but the early timing may be designed to give Clinton a boost against her surging rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
"In vision, in experience and in leadership, Hillary Clinton is the champion of working families need in the White House," AFT president and longtime Clinton ally Randi Weingarten said.
In a statement released by the union, Clinton said she was "honored" by the nod. "I know from my own family that teachers have the power to change lives, " she said. "We need to make sure every child has access for a quality public education and to the teachers with the tools to help them succeed."
Weingarten and Clinton have been friends since their days in New York, when Weingarten led the city's teachers union and Clinton ran successfully for the U.S. Senate. Weingarten sits on the board of the pro-Clinton PAC Priorities USA.
The 1.6 million-member AFT, along with its sister union, the 3 million-member National Education Association, have been under siege from both elements within the Democratic and Republican parties.
The unions have been fighting the expansion of public charter schools, which are largely not unionized, as well as teacher evaluations based on test scores and challenges to tenure and other workplace protections.
The unions have both been critical of many of the education policies of the Obama administration, saying they have led to a "blame the teacher" culture. They argue that evaluating teachers based on student test scores does not recognize the complexities of teaching students who often come from impoverished homes or struggle with disabilities and language barriers that affect their achievement.
[Even as Congress moves to strip his power, Education Secretary Arne Duncan holds his ground]
Clinton, Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley all met with both the AFT and NEA leadership last month in an effort to win their backing.
Clinton struck a particularly sympathetic tone in her meeting at the NEA, telling the union that people are "dead wrong to make teachers scapegoats for all of society's problems."
Clinton's relations with teachers unions didn't begin as smoothly, when she first entered public life. As first lady of Arkansas in 1982, Clinton pushed to broaden course offerings in public schools, smaller class sizes and institute competency testing for teachers - an idea that provoked a fierce pushback from the union.
But as a U.S. senator and first lady, Hillary Clinton promoted policies much more friendly to the teachers unions, including expanding preschool and after school programs. As a presidential candidate in 2008, she opposed merit pay for teachers, another stance in line with the unions.
A lawyer defending a ‘blasphemy accused’ says that he has been receiving threats with a warning to immediately withdraw from the case, according to sources.
Advocate Shahbaz Gurmani, who is representing Khalil Qadri in a blasphemy case, has sought a registration of the case against the suspects.
In an application to the Cantonment police SHO, Gurmani stated that the hearing was held in the court of Justice Shahbaz Ali Rizvi of the LHC Multan Bench, in connection with the FIR No 415/14 lodged under section 295-C on May 25, 2014 with the Shah Shams police station.
He said that a complainant had come to attend the hearing, but the court relisted the case. He further stated that some lawyers and a witness were standing there and he had heard one of them inquiring who the counsel was, and after that two of them had grabbed him and asked him to withdraw the case otherwise he would be killed.
He said he immediately asked a police constable who was performing his duty in courts to rescue him and the policeman helped him move away.
SHO Hyder Ali confirmed that the police had received the application but no case was registered till last reports came in.