Last Friday, as the world's attention was riveted on the terrorists who murdered French journalists for publishing cartoons and texts lampooning Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, a 30-year-old Saudi Arabian father of three was brought in shackles to the public square outside the Al Jafali mosque in the Saudi port city of Jeddah where he was flogged with 50 lashes of a cane.
The brutal beating was only a small part of the penalties heaped upon Raef Badawi for running a website inviting public discussion — and criticism — of the powerful clerics who hold sway in Saudi Arabia, enabled and empowered by the Saudi royal family.
Under the terms of his punishment, Mr. Badawi will be back for 50 lashes again this Friday and every Friday for a total of 20 weeks until he has received the full 1,000 lashes of his sentence. In addition to the flogging, Mr. Badawi has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined a million Saudi riyals — about $266,000.
In response, the U. S. government has called on Saudi authorities — our so-called allies in the war on terror — "to cancel this brutal punishment and to review Mr. Badawi's case and sentence." That's it. Actually, Mr. Badawi's case already has been reviewed. In 2013, he was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes, but a Saudi court reviewing the case increased the penalty to the current 10 years and 1,000 lashes.
These people are not our allies in the war on terror. Their inhumane treatment of their own people enables, facilitates and inspires jihadists like the ones whose most recent targets were the journalists in Paris and the innocent clientele of a kosher grocery store on the outskirts of the French capital.
An unnamed "Saudi official" is quoted in press reports denouncing the attacks in Paris last week as a "cowardly terrorist act which Islam as well as other religions reject." From the ruling royals: silence.
And what would they call the public beating and imprisonment of Raif Badawi? An act of courage?
Amnesty International, which denounced the Saudi conduct as a vicious act of cruelty, published an eyewitness description of the flogging that took place after Friday prayers at the Al Jafali mosque. According to this eyewitness: Badawi was removed from a bus in shackles and brought to the public square in front of the mosque in the middle of a crowd.
"A crowd gathered in a circle. Passers-by joined them and the crowd grew. But no one knew why Raif was about to be punished. 'Is he a killer,' they asked? 'A criminal? Does he not pray?'" the witness said.
"A security officer approached him from behind with a huge cane and started beating him. Raif raised his head toward the sky, closing his eyes and arching his back. He was silent, but you could tell from his face and his body that he was in real pain. The officer beat Raif on his back and legs, counting the lashes until they reached 50."
In support of the assertion that the Saudi kingdom is an ally in the war on terrorism, the Saudi embassy in Washington's website presents a document describing the Saudi concept of a "Counter-Radicalization Program":
"The purpose of the program is to combat the spread and appeal of extremist ideologies among the general populous. It strives to instill the true values of the Islamic faith, such as tolerance and moderation. Central to this effort is education about the dangers of radical Islam — consisting of school and religious programs and popular pronouncements, and the provision of positive, alternative outlets for at-risk groups — such as encouraging participation in sporting events and athletic programs, social outings, etc."
"Tolerance and moderation?" How are these represented in the public beating and imprisonment of Raif Badawi for trying to open discussion about religious fanaticism and its hold on power in the Saudi kingdom?
If it weren't for the brutal realities of life in the kingdom and the utter hypocrisy of its rulers, these attitudes would be laughable, certainly worthy of satire and aggressive lampooning.
Raif Badawi's website did not come close to the level of insult or vulgarity served up by Charlie Hebdou in Paris. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, that would have constituted apostasy for which the penalty in the kingdom is death. Precisely the sentence carried out by the terrorists in Paris last week.
G. Jefferson Price III is a former Middle East correspondent and foreign editor of the Baltimore Sun. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.