Raif Badawi has been imprisoned for three years and threatened with 1,000 lashes. By awarding the Sakharov Prize to the Saudi blogger, the European Parliament has sent a clear message, Rainer Sollich writes.
The 31-year-old Saudi blogger Raif Badawi represents the ideals that the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize stands for: The award supports activists who strive for human rights and freedom of expression in the face of great resistance, and often at great personal risk.
Badawi embodies such courage simply because of his fate: He has been imprisoned for over three years after criticizing the Saudi government and its backward interpretation of Islam - and has even been threatened with a punishment of 1,000 lashes. So far, he has already had to suffer 50. His family fears that more could soon follow.
With the prize, the European Parliament is sending an unmistakable message to European and allied heads of state: Repressive regimes never deserve support, even when - as is the case with Saudi Arabia - they have traditionally been viewed as "partners" or "guarantors of stability" in their regions. It is true that without Saudi Arabia there will be no peace in Syria or Yemen. But the same can also be said of Saudi Arabia's greatest regional adversary, Iran, which despite its recent nuclear deal, has not advanced to the level of "partner" for Europe and the United States.
In its current state, Saudi Arabia could itself become a security risk in the near future. Namely, if it fails to find the courage to undertake political and economic reforms. So far, King Salman has exhibited no such courage. He obviously lacks the will, and most probably the power, for such undertakings: The influence of radical Wahhabi Islam is securely anchored in the political system. In Saudi Arabia, there is absolutely no freedom of opinion, no right to individual freedom and no human rights. The legal system is in many ways exactly the same as that of the "Islamic State," which the regime fears even more than it does Badawi. A shocking intellectual stasis prevails. Pure repression reigns.
The sad reality of the Arab world, and the entire region for that matter, is also the fact that voices like Badawi's are simply not capable of winning majority support at the moment. Political repression, religious hatred, geopolitical rivalry and economic adversity are on the agenda these days. Hardly anything remains of the dream of freedom, democracy and human dignity that the "Arab Spring" articulated. In such a situation, brave critics like Badawi are happily discredited as "pampered children" or "icons" of the West.
Yet Europe's support for democracy activists in the Arab world sends an appropriate and important message. It says that ideas and courage are the only hope that the Middle East has of someday breaking the endless cycle of hate, violence and cultural narrow-mindedness. And those activists also show that democracy and tolerance are not "Western" or "Christian" values: They are just as compatible with Islam.
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