You might be wondering why our resident guest author, Taylor Anne Vigil, has been writing so much about Raif Badawi and his plight.
It’s simple, really: she cares. Deeply.
This is a brutal injustice which has been ongoing for the best part of a decade, and it’s a terrible thing to see and hear and read about. Unfortunately it doesn’t get half the attention it should.
And to be fair, his plight speaks to me, as well. He could very well have been the inspiration for the dedications in the two most recent Cassidy books: To those who had only one match but started an explosion (A Quiet Revolution) and To those who looked at Death and decided the price was not too high (Triumph’s Ashes).
Anyways, this isn’t about me. This is Taylor’s Time, after all.
A young Raif Badawi
The information you are about to read has been summarized from the book that is linked and mentioned in this post.
R – Resilient
A – Admirable
I – Indomitable
F – Fearless
B – Blogger
A – Admirable
D – Daring
A – Adamant
W – Writer
I – Innocent
In Arabic, “Raif” means, “The Sympathetic One”. In my mind, Raif is a hero. He is an example for me and every writer who dares to speak out for those who are oppressed. He is someone worth listening to. He is someone who brings peace.
In his father’s mind, Raif is someone to be damned.
As a child, Raif adored his mother. He was what many would call a “Mama’s Boy” and rightfully so. His father, who had nine other wives and countless other children, could only be described as a tyrant. Raif and his sister Samar, now a women’s rights activist, received harsh beatings with a switch, a cane, and whatever else their father could get his hands on, for the smallest of grievances. The abuse only got worse after they lost their mother to cancer. Her loss was devastating to Raif, then only nine years old, and the grief she left in her wake continues to impact him to this day. It was then that he and his sister were given over to their father’s full-time “care”. As soon as they hit their teens, Raif and Samar ran. When they were lucky, they sought refuge with relatives. More often than not, however they lived and begged on the streets.
“Anything was better than being at home,” Raif confessed to his wife early in their marriage.
When his father found him and his sister living with their aunt, demanding that they come home, Raif, thirteen at the time, fell to the ground and grabbed hold of his aunt’s ankles.
“Please,” he pleaded through deep sobs. “Let us stay with you!”
Before his aunt could protest, Raif’s father grabbed him and dragged him to the police station, where Raif was charged with “Parental Disobedience”, a crime punishable by imprisonment in Saudi Arabia.
For six months, Raif was locked away in a children’s prison. The warders whipped him by way of greeting, whipped him until he passed out from the pain, his flesh likely shredded and bloodied from the lashing. These beatings would happen often to Raif and the other boys in the course of their imprisonment. Speaking, like visitations, was forbidden amongst the boys, even during mealtimes. The only time they could speak was during a class on the Quran, and even then, conversations had to be on topic or the beatings would commence. Without visitors, Raif felt abandoned. He felt hopeless and lonely. In his sorrow, he leaned on God. He took up the five muslim prayers more seriously than he had before. He pleaded with God to have mercy on him, to forgive him of his sins, of his disobedience. From that day on, he vowed to be a good boy, a respectable boy, a boy who followed orders without a word of resistance.
In a way, this was proof of Raif’s brainwashing. In his mnd, he’d done everything wrong. In reality, he’d done nothing wrong. After six months, Raif was a different boy, much to his father’s approval.
What happened next is a long story, a story you will have to read for yourself in Ensaf Haidar’s book, “Raif Badawi: The Voice Of Freedom – My Husband, Our Story”
All I can say at this point, without giving anything away, is that Raif is a devoted father who treated his little ones with the utmost tenderness, affection and gentleness. He named his firstborn after his mother, Najiwa. Being so far away from his children, missing out on so much of their childhood, is the hardest thing for Raif about being in prison.
“When I saw the tenderness with which he treated my daughter, and at the same time imagined what he had had to endure as a child, sometimes I was almost breathless with pain and love for Raif.” – Ensaf
I have to agree with Ensaf because I too have a much deeper affection for Raif now that I know his backstory. Often, I expect those who are raised by tyrants to become tyrants themselves. Sometimes, this is the case. Sometimes, the pain, the abuse, the rage, are so engraved in the child’s mind, that they grow up to be mean-spirited and take out their tortured past on their wives, their children, and strangers. But Raif did none of those things. His only weapon was his pen. His only grudge was toward the selfish actions of evil people. His only fight was for peace.
I can see it in his writings. He does not let his childhood trauma define him. Despite all of the violence, he chose kindness. It is said that those who have suffered know what kindness really is, that those with the biggest smiles have suffered the most. For Raif Badawi, this could not be more true.
Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.