Last winter I was enthralled with Outlander (D
oesn’t Graham McTavish clean up well!? And some excellent acting from him, too! Seriously, all men should wear kilts. I’m talking to you, Mr. Armitage). At the same time, I began seeing stories in the news about Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi who had been sentenced to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for daring to write about religious freedom, women’s rights, and human rights. I’m a librarian. Things like freedom of expression and social injustice catch my attention. But what was the connection between a fictional 18th century Highlander and a modern day Saudi Arabian writer with a wife and three young children? The male protagonist in Outlander, Jamie Frasier, is lashed 200 times and nearly dies.
There was much discussion on the Outlander boards about Jamie’s flogging such as how he survived with that extent of a wound in filthy (by our standards) 18th century conditions where things like soap were a luxury and medical treatment minimal at best. There was discussion that what would come in a later episode was so much worse than the 200 lashes (Would they actually show it? They did). Still, in my mind, the impassioned arguments over the flogging of a 18th century fictional character paled and became trivial when compared to an even more brutal sentence of a thousand lashes to a real life 21st century man for daring to suggest things like perhaps women could drive cars themselves. One thousand lashes is a death sentence. I hoped that others in the fandom could see the parallels and point their collective might (and they are an impassioned, well organized, mighty fandom) towards asking for the release of this writer, but…..crickets.
Just more calls for endless rounds of voting in online fan poles.
The indifferent silence, combined with the rabid win-at-all-costs voting cooled my interest in participation in Outlander fandom. I still love the books, and I very much like the series. I understand fan enthusiasm for it. I like having fun, too. Hell, my ancestoral clan lands border the MacKenzie lands and we probably raided their cattle in pre-Highland clearance days. It’s truly fun to speculate about things like that, but for me, not if faced with the spectral conseqense of inaction when confronted with this real life tragedy. I have a very hard time turning away from injustice.
I often wonder if it is because the words used to describe him , “liberal”, “Saudi Arabian”, and (therefore) “Muslim” are the things which cause such indifference in people. I really hope not, but after reading mindless name calling and finger pointing on endless political pages (and occasional fan pages) I’m doubtful. I hope that people will step up to the plate and transcend labels long enough to take action, but I’m not encouraged. I find myself loving humanity while at the same time frequently finding myself really disliking humans.
One letter or email cannot change the Saudi Government’s mind, but it can make them hesitate. When the whole world is watching, they notice. One letter is a drop of water. A million drops of water make a river, and rivers become oceans. The millions of letters and emails sent on Mr. Badawi’s behalf temporarily stopped the lash count at 50. His sentence has not been completed since the eyes of the world began looking. Still, there are rumors of tactical changes by the government. If the charges can be changed to apostasy, and he is convicted, they can execute him outright. They really want to execute him – for writing about freedom of religion, freedom for women, and human rights. For trying to have a discussion.
So once again, I will send my email.
Take ten minutes to see this interview with his wife. Ten days ago I was driving through Sherbrooke, Canada, and had the nagging feeling that I knew of someone who lived there. I thought it must be someone from one of the fandoms, but now I know that it was familiar to me because it is where Mr. Badawi’s family now lives.
An interview with Ensaf Haidar, Mr. Badawi’s wife is Here.
If you what to read his book, 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think, look here.
To learn more about Mr. Badawi, look here.