Why we should support Raif Badawi

raifOn 17 June 2012, a Saudi Arabian Blogger Raif Badawi was arrested under the charge of “insulting Islam”. Raif Badawi had created “Free Saudi Liberals”, a website which encouraged debates on religious and political issues in 2008. The website promoted the idea of secularism and criticized religious extremism. He was charged of insulting Islam through this website.

The Saudi Supreme Court held him guilty and pronounced a sentence of 10 years in prison, 1000 lashes (50 lashes on every Friday) and a fine of 1 million riyals. After he serves a decade in jail, he is also forbidden to travel for the following decade and from participating in the media.

He had been previously charged for “apostasy” in 2008 as well but was released after questioning. “Apostasy” which means renunciation of one’s religion is chargeable with death sentence in Saudi Arabia. In 2012, the prosecutors wanted to charge him under apostasy as well but in 2013, he was cleared for it. According to sources, he may face the charge of apostasy again.

Raif Badawi is undergoing the punishment for the charge of “insulting Islam”. He is imprisoned. He had received the first 50 lashes in January. But since his wounds remain unhealed, the punishment has not been repeated.

Badawi has support from the international community. He receives support from the United Nations, United States, the European Union, Canada and several other countries. Human Rights Activists and Organisations around the globe have expressed their support with him. In January 2015, the United Nations had issued a last-minute appeal to Saudi Arabia to stop the scheduled second round of flogging for the activist. They had also appealed the Saudi Government to review this type of penalty. However, the Government remains unmoved. While the punishment is being delayed, there is no news of any relief. Infact, the Saudi officials have asked the international community not to “interfere” in the ‘internal’ matters of the country.

Badawi’s case is or should be for everyone who speaks and respects “Freedom of Speech”, “Secularism” and “Justice”. Here’s why we all should support him and demand his immediate release:

Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression

Freedom of Speech and Expression is one of the most important rights given to an individual. It is one of the important rights given in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the article 19 of which states,

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

It applies to all member countries of United Nations. Since Saudi Arabia is a member country, it is applicable for it as well. Going by this, Raif did nothing wrong. He has the right to freely express himself and to have an opinion. As the right mentions, he also had the right to seek information, learn from other sources regardless of the frontiers and this is what he had done. No Government should try to define the boundaries of knowledge.

Badawi has the right to think and decide for himself. He has the right to form his own opinion, choose what he may believe in. His website conducted debates on different issues. It cannot be regarded to be illegal and unacceptable. What is unacceptable is the behavior of the Saudi Government to restrict knowledge. Controlling freedom of speech, dissent is a mark of autocratic and barbaric states, not modern nation-states.

There is a difference between “Insult” and being “Critical”

Badawi has been accused of “insulting Islam” but how has he done so? There are no concrete evidences available to prove that he had “insulted” Islam. There is a difference between insulting and being critical and the latter cannot be regarded to be illegal or objectionable. Everyone has the right to be critical. It is important to understand and know what exactly had Badawi said that is considered to be against Islam. What was objectionable? Was his way of holding a debate over religious practices objectionable? If yes, then this very thinking is against Islam. Islam was born out of questionings, as a response to the contemporary sociopolitical situation. Islam is rational in its essence. Every practice that Prophet Mohammad had ascribed was given with reasons which were clearly specified. This method meant that he wanted that people should know why a certain practice has been prescribed. The underlying motive seems to be to challenge blind acceptance and to promote thinking and rationality. Thus, debates cannot be considered to be un-Islamic. Debates to think about the religious practice, to explore the true essence of islam cannot become unacceptable. A true Muslim who knows about the life and teachings of Prophet Mohammad will know it.

Prophet Mohammad laid down several practices and they all responded to the specific conditions at that time. The overarching ideology was to promote peace and justice. Even if Badawi may have challenged some of the practices, he did so by being under the ideological paradigms of Islam. So he could not have “insulted” Islam. He may have been critical which is allowed not only by the Universal Right to Freedom of Opinion but by Islam itself.

His writings targeted extremism, not Islam

As about the claims, it is again important to re-iterate the fact that no concrete evidences are available to show how he had “insulted Islam”. His website was shut down. What remains are some of his writings that have appeared in other websites. What emerges from his writings are his rejection of extremism of all sorts. He had not insulted islam, he had insulted extremism, blind following which as stated earlier, is antithesis to the spirit of Islam. Here are some extracts from his writings:

On the Israel-Palestine issue, Badawi wrote, “I’m not in support of the Israeli occupation of any Arab country, but at the same time I do not want to replace Israel by a religious state … whose main concern would be spreading the culture of death and ignorance among its people when we need modernisation and hope. States based on religious ideology … have nothing except the fear of God and an inability to face up to life. Look at what had happened after the European peoples succeeded in removing the clergy from public life and restricting them to their churches. They built up human beings and (promoted) enlightenment, creativity and rebellion. States which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear” (Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/14/-sp-saudi-blogger-extracts-raif-badawi)

In another account, Badawi wrote on an incident in which an astronomer was punished on the grounds of being critical of sharia beliefs,

“I advise NASA to abandon its telescopes and, instead, turn to our Sharia astronomers, whose keen vision and insight surpass the agency’s obsolete telescopes. Indeed, I advise all other scholars the world over, of whatever discipline, to abandon their studies, laboratories, research centres, places of experimentation, universities, institutes etc. and head at once to the study groups of our magnificent preachers to learn from them all about modern medicine, engineering, chemistry, microbiology, geology, nuclear physics, the science of the atom, marine sciences, the science of explosives, pharmacology, anthropology etc. – alongside astronomy, of course. God bless them! They have shown themselves to be the final authority with the decisive word in everything, which all mankind must accept, submit to and obey without hesitation or discussion.” (Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/14/-sp-saudi-blogger-extracts-raif-badawi)

Through his writings, Badawi had criticized persecution of other religions in Saudi Arabia and the conservatism of Saudi Clerics, their attitude towards secularism.

This is not to argue that all his writings were unproblematic but what is true is that his larger ideas were right. There were no false claims. A glance at the Saudi Arab’s human rights record can testify it.

More importantly even if his ideas were problematic, his writings were one-sided or biased, the fact is that they were only articles. They were also not provocative. He also did not have the same authority as Saudi clerics did. Unlike them, he could not issue any fatwas to impose his view.

Death sentence for ‘Apostasy’ is barbaric

The Saudi authorities are trying to charge Badawi for apostasy for which he can be granted death sentence. Badawi would not be the first to be the victim for apostasy. Saudi Arabia has a terrible record of executing people. As reported by Amnesty, Saudi Arabia ranks among the top five executioners in the world. In 2014, 90 people were executed. So far in this year, 54 people have been reportedly executed in the first three months of 2015. (Source: https://www.amnesty.org/en/articles/blogs/2015/04/the-ultimate-punishment-saudi-arabia-ramps-up-beheadings-in-the-kingdom/ ) Apostasy is one of the top charges for execution. Apostasy means the renunciation of one’s faith and conversion to another.

Simply put, it is a barbaric practice. Everyone has the right to think and decide for oneself. Secondly, it again cannot be a rule that may have been given by Prophet Mohammad. The rationalist that he was, he would not have forced people to follow his teachings. He wanted people to follow his teachings by understanding them, their importance. Prophet Mohammad was also not opposed to people of other religions. His teachings did mark a deviation from them but he had not permitted the use of violence against them.

Killing people over their religious beliefs is un-Islamic and inhuman. More importantly, if one is truly religious, one will know that religion is a sacred thing. All religions teach the same thing. They teach love, justice and humanity. Only a person who is not familiar with his/her religion will fight over it. Religion is not an identity, it is a belief. If someone does not believe in or follow the religious practices, how does it matter if he/she is a follower or not?

A last point is that by giving death sentence or lashes as punishment, will the glory of Islam be established? Will people who do not believe or respect Islam start respecting it? There are better and more civil ways to tell people that what they are thinking is wrong. Violence is never the solution.

Badawi punished for opposing Saudi Arab authority, not Islam

Saudi Arabia has one of the worst human rights’ record. The Saudi Arab authorities severely restrict freedom of expression, impose censorship, have discriminating laws against women and non-muslims, have detained and sentenced without trial, many Government critics and political activists. Badawi had written about this at length. He had particularly criticized the government for suppressing dissent. There is a possibility that Saudi Arabian authorities have suppressed Badawi not for his views held to be against Islam but against itself. The lack of concrete evidence as well as the writings of Badawi hint at it.

Badawi’s case, thus, needs to be seen in a more complex way and should be supported by anyone who supports Freedom of Speech, Secularism and understands Islam. While Badawi’s case is not the first case, there is a chance to make it the last one or move towards a better tomorrow.

References

Amnesty International’s Annual Report: Saudi Arabia 2013 http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/annual-report-saudi-arabia-2013

“A look at the writings of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi – sentenced to 1,000 lashes” by Ian Black published in The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/14/-sp-saudi-blogger-extracts-raif-badawi

“What Blogger Raif Badawi’s new book reveals about Saudi Arabia” published in Deutsche Welle (DW) http://www.dw.de/what-blogger-raif-badawis-new-book-reveals-about-saudi-arabia/a-18353234

“Why Saudi Arabia is so afraid of Raif Badawi” by Sara Yasin published in Los Angeles Daily News http://www.dailynews.com/general-news/20150119/why-saudi-arabia-is-so-afraid-of-raif-badawi

Advertisements

Confession pages and the power of Anonymity

untitled-1361970985
The Mumbai Mirror reads “FB’s confession pages become a headache for colleges and cops”. According to the Report published today i.e. 31st March 2013, several college authorities have lodged complaints to trace the author of anonymous posts who have been posting obscene remarks against female students, against the teachers and the administration. 
 
Confession pages are the new trend on facebook. There are confession pages for schools, colleges, offices and even for Delhi metro. I am not sure if there is one for DTC buses. They are a huge hit. On Delhi Metro Confession page, one of the post read that the confessor is more attentive in metro now so that he/she can get something to post as a confession! 
 
A careful look at the content of these pages would tell you that they are actually a repository. Ofcourse, many confession pages are also working like the pigeon transport system to deliver love messages, but confession pages are also full of reflections, suggestions and most importantly, frustrations. I have seen confessions by victims of sexual harassment. 
 
The confession pages of schools and colleges can also give a peek view into their environment.The confessions on the pages tell you what the students are thinking about.  In the LSR confession page, most confessions are a debate on feminism. I feel that in many ways, these pages are also contributing to the environment of the college. As a personal example, the confessions posted on the page are discussed on the page as well as in the college. 
 
But i propose to give a serious look at the critical comments. According to the report, there is a serious attempt to control this important aspect of the page. While obscene remarks should come under the radar, I cannot make up my mind if the latter deserves censorship.
 
As I said earlier, confession pages are also becoming another source to vent out frustrations. I have read many confessions against the administration or about how things work in the college. To me, these should be seen as a feedback form. 
 
One of the confessions that i read was against a teacher. Somebody had commented that the page should not support anti-administration or anti-faculty posts. This person had also said that the confessor should have the guts to go and tell the problem directly, to which somebody commented that it is not possible for a student to go and tell the teacher directly. This is really a fact. Not only do many universities despise self-criticism, it is even worse in the case of a teacher. Not many teachers can take self-criticism, something that is unhealthy. In such a scenario, these confessions should be taken as a feedback and not as an offence. If a University bans a confession page, I feel that it is banning these voices and any university which is not self-critical cannot ever be successful. 
 
There is, ofcourse, another side to it. The question comes, “what if the person is trying to defame the university or a particular teacher?” I have a solution to check this. If there is a wrong post, people usually react to it and point it out. But in cases when it is true, it does not meet with any opposition.
 
So if these posts are true and there is really a problem with a teacher or the way university is working, instead of finding out the confessor, the university should look into the matter. Though I myself do not appreciate anonymity to a great extent but in cases where we are dealing with careers, we must understand the importance of anonymity. 
 
Banning these pages will not solve any solution. It will be even more unhealthy. Ideally speaking, the administration should not try to intervene in this as this is off the campus but if it has to, I think that the Universities should take these pages seriously and treat them as feedback forms. 

What democracy means to me

In our part of the world, democracy is a matter of pride. The transition to the notion of having a Government based on regular elections makes us feel ‘elated’. This ‘fancy’ notion of rule by people is seen as “progressive”.  So we had the Bhutanese King himself introducing democracy on his land.

In South Asian, India comes closest to being what is called a ‘democracy’. We are the World’s largest democracy, a matter of pride which is often re-iterated but more often in not so ‘proudest’ of the moments. This road of democracy has not been a smooth one. There have been major ruptures like the emergency of 1975 and many minor ruptures.

Infact, the concept of “fractured democracy” has more buyers today. Rule of the ‘people’ is one myth rejected by everyone on this land of mythical stories. Today, people ask rule of which people? In the people’s rule, people have no faith in their political representatives. The very idea of joining politics is seen as a forbidden sin by many. Politics is ‘dirty’, they argue.

Democracy has led to the propagation of communal ideas. It has lead to communal clashes. Casteism and politics of ethnicity has also managed a space in the World’s largest ‘democracy’. Ofcourse, it has to be noted that these ideas of identity politics are not alien to people’s mindsets.

There have also been contradictions in this democracy. So, on one hand, we have a bunch who propagate all kinds of myths which promised to unleash hell and on the other, there have been people like Irom Sharmila, whose voice has been suppressed for 11 years now. On one hand, the voices which have challenged the very base of the democracy, the constitution have been allowed but on the other, this woman’s voice has been suppressed even though she is only demanding the revival of the constitution to save the World’s largest ‘democracy’.

So it is quite clear that democracy in India has faced as well led to major challenges. But does this call for a search for an alternative system? Some moderate voices have asked for a modified democracy with a bi-party system, instead of a multi-party system or a federal system. While these are still within the sphere of a democracy, there have also been voices to do away with democracy and settle for an army rule.

However much fractured our democracy may be but the voices for an army rule gives me Goosebumps. So what does democracy means to me?

Democracy for me is a hope. The contemporary emperors, popularly known as politicians, may not be representing me. They may be the cause for corruption, poverty and communal and ethnic clashes but democracy is still the reason why I can still hope to breath. I can live under the illusion that things will change if the ‘right’ people get selected. And I can also imagine that illusion turning into a reality.

Democracy allows for a room for ‘change’ by holding regular elections. It paints an illusion. Democracy may be autocratic in reality, but it can promise an unautocratic and fair rule.

There may be thousands of instances to be disillusioned but the election time does manage to re-enchant us. Democracy does create, to an extent, fear amongst the politicians and keeps a check on them. The power to ‘change’ does, to an extent, haunt them and forces them to do atleast one good deed with their thousand bad deeds.

Democracy may allow proliferation of dangerous ideas but what is to be noted, is this freedom to proliferate all kinds of ‘nonsense’. Democracy gives us the hope of having different voices. Like Irom Sharmila, our voice may be suppressed. But because this is a democracy, the Government’s negligent attitude towards her is now being challenged. A more popular example is the online uproar against the attempts by the Government to moderate our virtual lives. The netizens had unanimously protested against this attack on our ‘democracy’.

It is democracy which allows us to dissent. It allows us the mechanism to raise our voice in protest. No other system can vouch for this. In pre-French revolution France, you would have been guillotined. In Taliban regime, you would be stoned to death.

There have been voices which have suggested the adoption a bi-party system, instead of a multi-party system. But the opponents have argued that a multi-party system allows more democratic voices. A multi-party system accommodates diverse voices. It makes the democracy stronger.

The notion of democracy is something which comes almost naturally to us now. We use it to guard our personal and sometimes conservative beliefs. It is hard, atleast for me, to even imagine an alternative order where there will be no dissent.

Democracy is a power, though unrealised to a great extent, in the hands of the people. So while democracy has amounted to a lot of hardships, I feel that it still remains to be the only ship to sail across and reach the island of ‘liberation’.

Irom Sharmila – The “Iron Lady” of Manipur

India is known as the ‘land of the miracles’. Indians have always surprised the world. Another interesting but hidden aspect of this “incredible india” lies in the lush green, hilly valleys of Manipur. Here, a poet has been on a hunger strike for 11 years! In a democracy, someone has been on a hunger strike for 11 years. She has been neglected and brutally suppressed. Can’t believe it na? We’ll be setting a record soon!

Irom Sharmila Chanu who is a poet, civil rights activist and a journalist has been on a hunger strike since November 2000. She demands the revoke of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act(AFSPA). The AFSPA calls for an autocratic rule by the army. In the name of ‘protecting the law and order’, anyone can be arrested or shot. The officers cannot be prosecuted for the same as he is believed to be ‘punishing’ the defaulters. The act was passed in 1958(enforced in 1980) and was to be in effect for six months only but ASFPA continues to destroy the valley till date.

The act was supposed to deal with the “disturbed areas”. It was supposed to combat ‘militancy’…’terrorism’. But its AFSPA which is, in reality, the sole terrorism. The AFSPA has led to extra-judicial killings, illegal detentions, fake encounters, rapes and torture of the civilian population. According to official records, since 1980, more than 25,000 civilians have been killed. The condition of the women, as always, has been worse. “I was half conscious most of the time but whenever I regained consciousness, the commandoes were molesting me…but, I am grateful to them for giving me the chance to narrate my agony by sparing my life at least”, revealed one of the thousands of the victims. In 2004, there was a nude protest by Manipuri women. They held placards reading “Indian army rape us”.

The government has reacted to these protests and Irom Sharmila’s heroic struggle by ignoring these pleas and by suppressing the “Iron Lady”. The Government has been forcefully feeding Irom Sharmila through nasogastric incubation to keep her alive. She is also re-arrested and released every year. The Government argues that AFSPA is a necessary evil in the “disturbed areas”. I wonder what is disturbing the state more… militancy or the army rule. The Manipur militancy revolves largely around development. The aam insaan doesn’t want a different state, a different administrative unit. They do not understand these things…they only want bread, land and peace.

Irom Sharmila has been awarded with many International awards. But what’s the use?

The fate of Irom is such that she has been a topic only among the so-called intellectuals of this country. She hasn’t received much support from the media either. She could never become Anna…Anna who had fasted for mere 3 days.

What Anna and Baba Ramdev had and Irom didn’t and still don’t is media coverage. Though some channels have given some respect to the “Iron Lady”. Others have been busy…terribly busy telecasting episodes of comedy shows. Katrina’s kaif new boyfriend is apparently more important a news than another murder of a civilian in Manipur. Their sense of “news” has become ‘different’..it has become ‘spicy’. But Anna and Baba made headlines…for some hours, the comedy shows received a backseat. Irom Sharmila could not. Why?

In this capitalist society, Media is another business. It has become a buyer’s market. It sells news which people want to buy. Anna’s anti-corruption campaign became pan-Indian but Irom sharmila could not appeal to the middle class sensibilities. Why? Because Irom Sharmila and Manipur terrorism is the story of the secluded north-east. What is north-east for an average North-Indian? North-east… land of tribes and the tribal full stop. It’s known for scenic beauty but they don’t know and don’t care that the water of the Loktak Lake has turned red with the civilian blood. Racism…thats another aspect of “Incredible India”. Racism is the answer to the “unity in diversity”. The north-east people are called “chinkis”. By calling them that, they are not even considered a part of India. But interestingly, when it comes to the cause of support for a secession struggle, the same people turn patriotic. “North-east is an integral part of India”, they will argue. Another problem is the demand to repeal AFSPA. There is a great reverence for the army and the army rule by people who see them only during republic day parades. “Soldiers are the reason why we are able to sleep peaceful at night”, they argue.So while ignorance is one problem, the constructed pro-north Indian nationalism is another reason for this neglect. Media is also supposed to be propaganda-based with some being clearly pro-Government. This could be another plausible reason.

The voice of the voiceless is silenced..but till when? Thanks to the social networking media, awareness about the “Iron Lady” is on the roll. There is now a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Irom will get justice…

also published @

http://e-pao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=news_section.Top_Stories.Top_Stories_2011.NextGen_India_Blog_award_to_a_post_on_Irom_Sharmila_by_Devika_Mittal

Are we heading towards a revolution?

The 24-carat onions…Gujjars don’t let the trains go…if they do, the naxals blow off the trains…CWG shame…terrorism…the ever-burning Valley…Dragon’s steps…an equally-stained opposition…

This is the current political situation in our country. India never enjoyed a peaceful neighborhood. But now there is an on-going civil war. Nationalist aspirations, an economic crisis escalating social crisis and all this are being supported by a political crisis.

There is a political chaos in the country. The existing political order is based on representative democracy. But the representatives are no longer representing the people. A multi-party system is functional. But the various political parties are only dividing the country and the people. The Multi-party system has led to casteism, communalism, regionalism and other evils. There is not a single party which can call itself the ‘people’s will’. There also rests the dangerous evil of fascism. The ruling party, Congress is also accused of trying to establish a dynastic rule. People chose congress over BJP (the current opposition) on the grounds that at least it is not fascist in theory but while BJP rules to kill only a section of the people, Congress believes in killing all (mehengai daayan). The current ruling party is in power because people have no alternative. During elections, people choose the ‘lesser evil’. In this political crisis, there are also emerging alternative political orders. Naxalite movement offers an anarchic form of Government. There are also the regimes of Mayawati and Modi. Also, in some states, there is the Army ruling.

There is widespread discontent and disillusionment among the masses. Every section of the society is suffering. From the peasants to the rich capitalists, everyone has contempt for the politicians. Entering administrative services or the Judiciary to bring about that ‘change’ is also no longer appealing to the people. The whole system is corrupt, they argue.

Media is adding fuel to the fire. Media has become super-efficient. A new scam is reported every fortnight. News Channels are also propaganda machines. Some of them are clearly anti-Government. They’ll exaggerate every news and will blame the Government incessantly. They all create and influence mentalities. This over-all crisis and people’s struggles has also found a space in Popular Cinema. There are movies presenting the naxals in a positive light, highlighting the tragedy of the valley and the struggles of the aam insaan.

The stage is set. People are agitated. They are desperate for a change. The storm is over the cliff. But are we in for arevolution? Who will lead it? The opposition is equally handicapped. How widespread will it be? There are huge social and economic gaps. It’s always religion or caste first. And if not then it’s all about money. So who will unite them? Will it be ‘successful’? What will be the new order? Or if not, then what else will the frustration of the people amount to? Where are we heading to?

published also @ http://theviewspaper.net/are-we-heading-towards-a-revolution/