Mar 23, 2022

A Decade’s Imprisonment Ends

Raif Badawi is finally free, though the struggle to reunite him with his family in Canada continues. Also: a telling intersection of Islamic zealotry and Christian nationalism in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


Raif Badawi Released

For once, we can start with good news. Raif Badawi is free.

A prisoner of conscience for nearly ten years, Raif had founded a website, Free Saudi Liberals, to promote liberal values in his home country of Saudi Arabia. Writing against the status quo in his country, calling for secularism, women’s rights, and freedom of expression, he faced arrest in 2012 for insulting Islam and for apostasy, though he was cleared of the latter charge. He was convicted and imprisoned the following year.

For the last decade, Raif’s case has been characterized by international outcry and condemnation, both for the injustice of his imprisonment and for the appalling conditions to which he was subjected, including 50 lashes of a planned 1,000. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, who escaped to Canada with the couple’s children for the sake of safety, has been a tireless and unceasing advocate for his release, accepting on his behalf the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2015.

Though Raif has been released from prison, the 10-year post-imprisonment travel ban to which he was also sentenced sadly remains in effect, which means he cannot legally leave Saudi Arabia until another decade is up. This ought to change immediately. Ten years in prison, during which the draconian cruelty of the Saudi government forced Raif’s children to grow up without their father, is long enough.

Let us hope Raif can join his family in Canada as close to immediately as possible.


Kadyrov: Invasion of Ukraine is “Jihad”

Russia’s heinous three-week-old war of aggression against Ukraine, of which the entire world is aware and almost completely united in condemnation, needs no recounting here. What has slipped largely under the radar, however, are some choice words from the head of Russia’s predominantly Muslim Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov. Referring to the so-called “special operation” of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, he stated: “We have jihad.” The mufti of Chechnya framed things similarly: “those who fight [in Ukraine], they fight for the sake of the Qur’an, for the sake of Allah, so that this dirt does not spread among us. They are at jihad.”

These comments may represent a somewhat bizarre confluence of Islamic fervor with Putin’s own Christian nationalist ambitions, but in many ways they are not all too surprising. A war as horrific and pointless as this one is difficult to justify fighting or supporting for those on the side of the aggressor, perhaps evidenced by pervasive morale problems on the Russian side. But deeply-held religious convictions can serve as a fine enough crutch to overcome this hindrance, doubly so if you can convince yourself the people you’re fighting are heathens.

It is for this same reason that the Russian Orthodox Church, firmly under the Kremlin’s thumb, has so wholeheartedly embraced this war. To them, Ukraine is a proxy battleground to fight the spiritually-bereft, secular West, whose religious values are so eroded that the gays now run amok. It is deeply saddening and infuriating to know that blood is being spilled over this by the ton—utterly senseless, inhumane, but sadly not inhuman.


In Iran, an Augur of Hope?

Recent studies, conducted between 2020 and 2022, seem to indicate the emergence of more liberal attitudes on gender relations in Iranian men—particularly young men, as one might expect given generational trends.

Both studies—one published in the Journal of Women Social and Psychological Studies, the other in Applied Issues in Islamic Education—examined populations of male Iranian university students, and both found a generally negative attitude on the part of respondents towards violence against women. Also promising were the less restrictive and traditional attitude respondents seemed to take toward women’s roles in society and personal relationships: decidedly, one more of egalitarianism and free association than of patriarchy and proscription.

As mentioned, generational trends render this not terribly surprising. That young people tend to be more socially liberal than their parents and grandparents is not a revelation. But it may be a reminder—for all the horrible things happening every day—that hope for a freer and more just Muslim world is nowhere near extinguished, if you look in the right places.

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