The scourging of Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia

Fellow blogger Raif Badawi, sentenced to ten years in prison and one thousand lashes by a Saudi court for “insulting Islam” under what international news organisations called “the country’s harsh anti-blasphemy laws,” received the first instalment of fifty lashes yesterday.

And yesterday, Friday, meditating on the Sorrowful mysteries, the second of which is the scourging of Jesus by the Roman soldiers, the image of this beautiful young man came to mind.
scourging of Jesus
Before I sat down to pray, I had only seen the twitter news feeds, and had not read the stories, so didn’t realise that his punishment would be meted out in weekly instalments. I naively assumed they would deliver the thousand lashes in one session.

I wondered how he would bear them— how the whipper (is that what he is called?) would count one thousand lashes — would he have a counter? would he become exhausted and have to be relieved? Would his fellow whippers take turns scourging Raif, as the Romans no doubt took turns scourging Jesus?

I wondered how Raif’s mother felt, as I prayed the rosary with the mother of God, watching with her as Jesus asked that the cup be taken away from him in the garden of Gethsemane, knowing what awaited him. Then watching with her again as he was scourged, as the whips bit into his skin and he bled. Wondering if Raif’s mother had watched today, would watch every week. The news reports didn’t mention her. His wife and three children are in Canada.

The mothers of American prisoners who are executed in American prisons also visited me in prayer. Some attend the executions to watch through the glass, to be there for those very last moments with their sons and daughters as the state straps them down and puts them to death. Could I do that?

After praying, I read the news stories about Raif. Then I found out that sentence would be delivered in instalments. Fifty lashes per week, which means twenty weeks of scourging, five months. Unimaginable … a drawn out cumulative punishment; waiting each week for the next whipping, and the next, and the next.

Jesus got it all over with and went straight up the hill to the crucifixion. Was that a reprieve? Compared to the five months that await Raif Badawi, who is thirty years old, about the same age as Jesus when he was scourged and crucified? “Witnesses said Badawi was flogged after the weekly Friday prayers near Al-Jafali mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah as a crowd of worshippers looked on.”
Al Jafaili Mosque

What were the worshippers thinking? As someone schooled in Ignatian prayer, I wondered — were they disgusted, titillated, relieved that it was not them, satisfied that he was getting his fair punishment, his comeuppance for “insulting Islam” on-line? Witnesses said Raif’s face was visible and, throughout the flogging, which lasted about fifteen minutes. He clenched his eyes and remained silent.

Europe, where I live, has been riveted to the news from Paris, where both hostages and Islamic “extremists” have been killed in tense standoffs following the Charlie Hebdo killings. The stakes are being raised on all fronts. Raif Badawi, like Jesus, offered his body to the scourgers, How will this end? How will I show up? This cup won’t be taken away.


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I am a political theorist, oblate in the Order of St.Benedict, and advocate for universal rational access to essential controlled medicines for pain and palliative care in the lower and middle income countries. I work a lot in Vienna at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, and in Geneva at the World Health Organisation, and the Human Rights Council representing the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care.

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