#FreeRaif: Saudi Arabia ‘postpones’ flogging for blogging

Amnesty International has just broken some good news on Twitter:

This is a direct result of pressure not only from Western governments but also by ordinary people voicing their outrage on social media.

For those of you who haven’t heard of him, Raif Badawi is a 31 year-old Saudi writer who set up a website called the Saudi Free Liberals Forum, a platform he used to campaign for free speech and secularisation. Some of his writing has been translated into English here.

"رائف-بدوي" by User1500 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%81-%D8%A8%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%8A.jpg#mediaviewer/File:%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%81-%D8%A8%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%8A.jpg

“رائف-بدوي” by User1500 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org

In  2012 he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison, as well as to 1000 lashings. These were to be administered 50 at a time, each Friday, in public. The first of these sessions happened last Friday. Here is an account from someone at the scene.

In the last week, mainstream media coverage of the case has been putting increased pressure on governments to act and has motivated ordinary people to make their voices heard too. Amnesty International’s 5 ways to help Raif Badawi provided people who cared with an easy checklist of how to take action.

That work has paid off. Today’s lashings have been postponed on “medical grounds.”

But there’s a lot more to be done. For one, the lashings have been postponed, not cancelled. Just days ago, Badawi’s lawyer, Waleed Abu Al-Khair  had his 15-year prison sentence re-instated.  And this case represents one of hundreds, if not thousands and tens of thousands of others which haven’t been publicised. We don’t know the numbers because Saudi Arabia doesn’t want us to.

What we do know is that flogging is an extremely common practice and that women who have been raped are often punished in this way by judges who refuse to distinguish rape victims from the those committing adultery.

When I used to teach English in Ireland, I remember how bemused my Saudi students were when I expressed horror at their casual descriptions of encountering public floggings.

Saudi Arabia is at the brink of a change of rule.Now is the time to send clear signals about what the West expects from the country and what it will refuse to tolerate.

 

 

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Why you should keep your mouldy shower curtains

Last week Frau Bienkowski and I got talking about how best to dispose of Christmas trees.

I was telling her about how I’d been über-enthusiastic in undressing my tree only to find that the recycle people wouldn’t be coming to collect it until the following week. Since I live in an intimidatingly law-abiding neighbourhood, I figured I might face ostracisation  if I dumped it outside prematurely. As a result, I’d lugged it to the balcony where it was now in a sorry state of limbo, having left thousands of pine needles (perhaps out of spite, I thought) in its wake.

Nothing says "January blues" more than a pile of sorry-looking Christmas trees.

Nothing says “January blues” more than a pile of sorry-looking Christmas trees.

“I insisted on non-shed in my latter years,” said Frau B. “I just couldn’t deal with those needles.”

“So how did you get rid of your Christmas tree back in the day?” I asked.

“I just threw it out the window.”

“What?”

“Yes, would you not consider doing that?”

“No!”

“Why not? That way, you won’t have to clean up all the pine needles from the stairwell. After all, you don’t want to annoy the neighbours!”

I wonder if this individual removed all the needles of their tree one-by-one.

I wonder if this individual removed all the needles of their tree one-by-one.

“I can’t just throw my tree out the window! What if I hit someone? Like my crazy neighour? Or the 86 year-old Hausmeister?”

“I used to recruit children to keep watch,” said Frau B. “They’d stay below and give me a signal when the coast was clear. Then they’d carry it to the side of the road. I gave them chocolate in return. It was win-win.”

“I’m not doing that,” I said.

Fast forward a week and it’s Christmas tree removal day. A heap of sorry-looking Christmas trees has accumulated outside the apartment building. One individual, presumably with the admirable intention of not dropping a single needle in the stairwell, has even shorn their tree, leaving behind nothing but a creepy-looking skeleton of branches.

I enlist the urgent help of (resident savant) LSB.

LSB and his genius mouldy-shower curtain contraption. (MSCC)

LSB and his genius mouldy-shower curtain contraption. (MSCC)

He immediately makes his way to the bathroom, from where he emerges wielding the mouldy shower curtain we recently got around to replacing.

“Watch,” he says.

He lays the mouldy shower curtain on the floor of the hall and instructs me to lift the tree onto it. As if he were tucking a child into a hammock, he covers it gingerly, finally securing it with two firm knots.

Keen to get the credit for the ingenuity, I insist on carrying it down to the street myself.

I don’t shed a single needle on the way.

Later, when I relate the event to Frau B, she appears suitably impressed.

Why Ireland needs a national paedophile treatment programme

In November of last year, I exchanged some e-mails with a paedophile living in the UK. I wanted to know how he felt about his sexual attraction to children. “I wish it would go away,” he wrote. “Sometimes I wish I could just take a blow-torch to my own mind.”

I’m calling him a paedophile which, despite common misconceptions, doesn’t make him an offender. In fact, this guy avoids children at all costs; he doesn’t want to be an abuser. But he does need help. He told me that the two therapists he’d approached said they weren’t equipped to treat him. So he gets most of his support from on-line forums populated by people with similar issues.

I come from Ireland, where I grew up hearing about horrific cases of child sexual abuse, mostly perpetrated by Catholic priests. As many as one in four Irish people may have experienced sexual abuse as children.

Perhaps it’s this backdrop of horror that makes talking about paedophilia such a particular taboo in Ireland. In popular discourse, paedophilia – defined medically as a persistent sexual attraction to children – is almost indistinguishable from the crime of acting on that desire.

Photo:Tommy Kavanagh Wiki Commons

But the truth is that the relationship between paedophilia and child sexual abuse is far from straightforward. Recently, I spoke to a man called Jens Wagner. He represents Germany’s national paedophile treatment programme. He told me that 80% of cases of child sexual abuse are not carried out by paedophiles. Canadian psychologist Hubert Van Gijseghem mentioned the same figure in an address to a parliamentary committee back in 2011.

At first I was surprised by the figure. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Paedophilia is an orientation; it has nothing to do with a person’s character or their likelihood of committing a criminal offence. Consider paedophiles as ordinary people and you realise that their aberrant desires are likely to be a source of considerable anguish.

In Ireland, if you are in prison for sexually abusing a child, you are entitled to counselling. However, I’m yet to find a single treatment centre for paedophiles who haven’t offended. While researching this, I stumbled upon a transcript of a debate in the Irish parliament that took place in 2001. Fine Gael TD Dan Neville was asking then Minister of Health Micheál Martin his views on the lack of services available for paedophiles seeking help controlling their urges.

After an unsatisfactory interchange, Martin concluded that “the idea of setting up a specially designated service is not one that has found favour so far with those in the health boards or the relevant professions on the grounds that it could lead to stigmatisation and, perhaps, a reluctance to participate as a result.”

It’s an extraordinary reply, when you think about it. The implication is that the possibility of paedophiles being stigmatized for getting help outweighs the potential benefit of providing it. Apply that way of thinking to any other area of medical treatment and you will realise how ludicrous it sounds.

Public policy-makers play a significant role in shaping social attitudes. They have a responsibility to provide help to vulnerable people.

And here is a sentence that might make some of you squirm. Paedophiles are vulnerable members of society. For the most part, they are ordinary people who know that to act on their urges would be to commit a horrible crime. They are people who want help to make sure they never hurt a child. Unfortunately, they have to do just that in order to be entitled to treatment.

They are, in effect, forced into a culture of silence.

Let’s take a look at the alternative. In Germany, the “Kein Täter werden” (Don’t become an offender) programme offers free counselling to non-offending paedophiles. It deals with potential stigma by guaranteeing patient confidentiality. Therapists in breach of it could even end up in jail. When I spoke to Jens Wagner for a related story, I asked him if the societal taboo on paedophilia was good or bad. “Bad,” he answered without skipping a beat. “Hysteria helps nobody, nor does the myth that every paedophile becomes a molester.”

Ireland needs to face up to the fact that paedophilia is a sexual orientation, not a crime. It needs to provide therapists with the tools to treat people looking for a way to manage their desires. It should not take a child to be abused for that help to be offered. Sweeping sexuality under the carpet should be a thing of the past.