On Raif Badawi, Charlie Hebdo and non-violent Islamism

"We are all in this together, like it or not"

The shocking events of recent weeks – from the attacks in Paris, the flogging of Raif Badawi, and massacres in Nigeria and Pakistan – are all connected, writes Elham Manea, and they all deserve our equal and unreserved outrage and attention

I see the world in dots. When I connect them, I see the face of a human being! The world is one, like it or not. Connected in humanity. Connected in destiny.

I also tend to go beyond a localised focus on events. I prefer to see the bigger picture, the global context. The dots are also there and when connected, I see how Raif Badawi's case connects to "Charlie Hebdo", to Boko Haram's spree of violence in Nigeria, to al-Qaida's attack on Yemenis celebrating a religious festival, and to the Taliban massacre of children in a school in Peshawar, Pakistan.

How many times have you heard the following sentence? "The majority of victims of violent Islamic extremism live in Islamic countries." They are often of Islamic heritage (Sunni or Shia); citizens of Christian, Jewish, Yazidi, Ahmmadi, or Baha'i traditions; atheists; people who think differently, not to mention women and homosexuals.

But it never seems to ring a bell! People nod their heads absent-mindedly and only scream out at the top of their voices when it hits close to home.

Ensaf Haidar, left, wife of blogger Raif Badawi, takes part in a rally for his freedom, Montreal, 13 January 2015 (photo: picture alliance/empics)
Ensaf Haidar (left) wife of blogger Raif Badawi, takes part in a rally for his freedom in Montreal, 13 January 2015. Just a few days before the blogger's birthday, his wife has said that she feels "destroyed". "But I don't want to sit in a corner and cry. That would be letting Raif and my children down."

All victims deserve our respect

Two thousand civilians were razed from the face of earth by extremist Boko Haram in Nigeria in a matter of days! This happened in the same week as the "Charlie Hebdo" attack. The same week! I have yet to see a similar solidarity to the one shown – quite rightly, as it is – to the victims of the "Charlie Hebdo" attack.

Extend to these Nigerians the same respect! Be outraged! It is not their numbers; it is not the skin colour of the victims; it is not their nationality – African or European. It's the human face that matters.

A human was murdered because of a global threat. That should matter. The threat is real and it concerns us all. It has a name: violent Islamist extremism. We are all in this together, like it or not.

It is here where Raif Badawi comes in. It is here where the dots connect. His case, like that of the "Charlie Hebdo" journalists, is a case of freedom of expression. Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for criticising the excesses of the religious establishment in the Saudi kingdom. He created a liberal forum, wrote a blog, and for that he was flogged. Both, "Charlie Hebdo" and Raif Badawi, were expressing an opinion. Both were exercising a universal human right to freedom of the press and freedom of opinion.

People take refuge in "Teachers Village" in Maiduguri Province of Borno State, Nigeria, after Boko Haram attacked Baga City, 14 January 2015 (photo: picture-alliance/AA/Mohammed Abba)
People take refuge in 'Teachers Village' in Maiduguri Province of Borno State, Nigeria, after Boko Haram attacked Baga City, 14 January 2015. "Extend to these Nigerians the same respect! Be outraged! It is not their numbers; it is not the skin colour of the victims; it is not their nationality – African or European. It's the human face that matters," writes Elham Manea

No room for cultural relativism

There is no room here for cultural relativism. Without freedom of expression, there is no freedom at all. Think of all the authoritarian and theocratic states in the world: the one thing they have in common, in addition to their human rights violations, is the absence of freedom of expression.

There are also other dots to connect. Those who killed the journalists in Paris were followers of violent Islamist extremism. Those who lashed Raif are followers of non-violent Islamist extremism. The first kills in the name of God; the second violates in the name of God.

The two – violent and non-violent Islamist extremisms – are connected at global level. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been exporting through its transnational arms its line of non-violent extremism, poisoning the well of Islam and radicalising young men and women across the globe. It is this line of interpretation that paves the way for the message of political Islam and, at a later stage, to the resort of violence.

When we call on Saudi Arabia to free Raif Badawi and his lawyer Waleed Abulkhair, when we insist that the kingdom should abide by international human rights conventions and treat its citizens, men and women, as citizens with dignity and rights. When we do that, we are also demanding an end to its exportation of global non-violent extremism. Too much harm has been done by its ideology – in many parts in the globe – North and South alike.

Connect the dots to see the global danger we are facing. Connect them to see the face of a human being. Yours. We are one, like it or not. United in humanity and destiny.

Elham Manea

© Qantara.de 2015

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