Monday, June 8, 2015

"Free speech is the bedrock of liberty..."

"Free speech is the bedrock of liberty and a free society. And yes, it includes the right to blaspheme and offend." — Ayaan Hirsi Ali, activist, author, Nomad: From Islam to America

            For four years 31 year old, Raif Badawi ran the Liberal Saudi Network, a medium open to
 the exchange of ideas, encouraging online debate and discussing religious and political issues. On June 17th, 2012, Badawi was arrested on a charge of insulting Islam by electronic channels. In December of 2012, he was also cited for apostasy (the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief) a conviction which carries an automatic death sentence. During that same month, a General Court in Jeddah decided to proceed with the apostasy ruling however, the higher court refused to hear the case and referred it back to the lower court. After receiving 50 lashes in January it was announced on Monday, June 8th that Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court had upheld the sentence for Badawi of 1,000 lashes and 10 years of imprisonment for blogging his beliefs. Foreign outcry has been intense off and on. Human rights groups worldwide such as Amnesty International  have been campaigning on Badawi's behalf since his original arrest. Full details can be seen here:

        Raif Badawi's blog the Saudi Free Liberals Forum  (sometimes interpreted  as Saudi Arabian Liberials’) championed free speech and self-expression. In many of his writings he urges the importance of separating religion from the state. The following is taken from a recent article in The Guardian which printed and analyzed many of Badawi's blog posts.

 "Secularism respects everyone and does not offend anyone ... Secularism..... is the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the third world and into the first world."

      Freedom of speech is the United States most important Constitutional right. Freedom of speech and expression is considered a universal right of birth. Yet it's also the right we take most for granted. Imagine if your local police department or the FBI showed up on your doorstep because you posted on Facebook or Twitter. "Secularism respects everyone and does not offend anyone ...Secularism the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the third world and into the first world." 
     It's almost beyond our comprehension that even speaking about  progressive movements or understanding the depths of secularism is cause for a jail sentence or even the slightest bit of outrage. But this is what bloggers and free thinkers like Raif Badawi and millions of Saudi Arabian men, women and children face every day. This type of unjustified censorship and persecution occurs in hundreds of countries around the world. Saudi Arabia is not an enemy. They are our allies. It's time American citizens become more conscious of our freedom of speech and start using it.

The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible."
[Defend the right to be offended (openDemocracy, 7 February 2005)]”
― Salman Rushdie, author