May 17th 2021
My dearest readers, I wrote this not to draw attention to myself nor to say that I am “Gifted” in ways that others are not. I am a flawed human being with her own set of challenges and issues that require daily practice to overcome. I am no better than anyone who is reading this.
I had a dream last night that will stay with me forever. I was standing in a square in the city of Jeddah. Though I’ve never once stepped foot into Saudi Arabia, it was a place I recognized. A crowd gathered around me, men returning from Friday prayers. A sick feeling knotted in the pit of my stomach. It wasn’t the men that I was afraid of. It was the scene to come which terrified me.
A shackled prisoner was led off of a bus. A black hood covered his head, rendering him blind and anonymous to the others. But, not to me. I’d seen the sandals, those black trousers, that white shirt, before. I’d seen them in a YouTube video of a man being flogged; a peaceful man, a blogger, an activist. My chest tightened. My stomach twisted with nerves.
No… Not him!
It was Raif, sweet gentle Raif. What would they do to him now? It wasn’t long before I got an answer. He was dragged, tripped and shoved by the guards, as they led him to the center of the square. He never struggled. He didn’t even put up a fight. He stayed true to his nature and took his punishment without complaint. The hood prevented him from seeing anything. I could see it in his movements. I could see it in my memory.
As someone who is legally blind, I know what it is like to go without sight. Though I do still have some of my vision, my last eye surgery left me completely blind as I entered recovery. With one eye patched up and the other darkened by a cataract, I couldn’t see a thing as I moved about my home. My every move was made with caution, so I wouldn’t trip or fall or hit my head against anything.
This was Raif now, struggling to stay on his feet, to be careful about where he stepped, where he moved. I felt sick to my stomach at the sight. I at least had family to help me get around safely. Raif had no one. The guards didn’t care about him or his safety.
Were they dragging him here so they could torture him again?
Raif was shoved to the ground, forced roughly to his feet, then shoved again. I pictured his knees bloodied from the stones. He rose up on his own, trembling as he did so, before the guards intervened once again. My breath caught. I wanted to say something, anything that would stop the abuse. But I was paralyzed.
Why the hood? Why were the police trying so hard to keep his face hidden, to keep his eyes blinded in darkness? Unless….
I had read that Raif had faced the charge of apostasy; a crime punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. The sentence wouldn’t be carried out with a gun or an injection. It would involve a knife, a black hood and a severed head.
No… God, please!
Was I really going to witness the execution of a peaceful human being carried out in the cruelest of ways?
I tried closing my eyes, but I couldn’t. I could’ve shouted at them to stop, but the guards wouldn’t understand me. So, I yelled out the first word that came to my mind.
The hooded man’s head jerked towards my voice. Tears welled up in the corners of my eyes. He wouldn’t be able to understand anything else if I’d continued to speak. He spoke Arabic and only Arabic; he’d only understand his name. I shouted it again. I had to let him know that he wasn’t alone in his suffering.
Then, the guards threw him to the ground and began to beat him.
They kicked him in the face, in the ribs, in the back. They stomped on his hands and fingers. Immediately I felt like throwing up. My own body started to hurt and I wanted to scream.
When I awoke from this dream, from this nightmare, I wanted to cry. My stomach churned and I felt as nauseous as I had in my sleep.
I’ve had dreams like these before. Over the years, I’ve dreamt of events like the Holocaust and Christ’s crucifixion and others where the blood of innocence was spilled. I’ve held a tortured Jesus in my arms. I’ve fought for air inside of an Auschwitz gas chamber.
It seems to me that we, those of us who can feel the pain of others as if it were our own, are praised for our empathy far too often. It is seen as a gift that only a few humans have. While I don’t deny that it is a gift, I contend it is also a curse. To feel another’s suffering so deeply, to understand it as if it was your own, is more exhausting than most people think. To feel for those who don’t even speak your language, who live halfway across the world, is even worse. It is worse in the fact that a sick feeling of helplessness rises in you. You feel as though you can’t help or your actions and words mean nothing, because the abuse of innocent lives just seems to continue no matter what you do here in America.
But I will not give up.
As much as it hurts to read more and more about Raif, his writings calling for peace, his family’s grief, his unjust suffering, I will continue to fight and write for him. I will scream using my pen, as he did so many times before. I will write to serve as a voice for others as I and many other writers were born to do.