Badawi Flogging Case, and Prof. George's Bargain, Reminds Us of Our Obligations

A Catholic professor, along with six other members of a politically and religiously disparate group, have each offered to endure 100 lashes on behalf of a Muslim blogger, who was sentenced by the Saudi government to be flogged a thousand times for "insulting Islam through electronic channels" and "going beyond the realm of obedience."

The blogger, Raif Badawi, received the first set of fifty lashes in early January, but the rest of his sentence has been postponed  and is under review by the Saudi supreme court because he was deemed not sufficiently healed enough to continue the flogging. International observers suspect that the postponement of the sentence has less to do with concern over his health and more to do with the international attention his case has attracted. Lashes, as well as other forms of torture and corporal punishment, are common in Saudi Arabia, which has been ranked as one of the worst abusers of human rights.

On January 20th, Robert P. George, professor at Princeton and member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, sent a letter to the Saudi ambassador to the United States. The letter commends the Saudi government for participating in the protest against the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris, then chastises it for its own horrific record against human rights, saying:

[W]e note with sorrow that in the Kingdom itself Raif Badawi stands condemned under rules that flagrantly violate these human rights and civil liberties and is being subjected to an unspeakably cruel punishment of 1000 lashes. 

The entire letter signed by George and six other signatories, can be found here. It concludes: 

We are persons of different faiths, yet we are united in a sense of obligation to condemn and resist injustice and to suffer with its victims, if need be. We therefore make the following request. If your government will not remit the punishment of Raif Badawi, we respectfully ask that you permit each of us to take 100 of the lashes that would be given to him. We would rather share in his victimization than stand by and watch him being cruelly tortured. If your government does not see fit to stop this from happening, we are prepared to present ourselves to receive our share of Mr. Badawi’s unjust punishment.

It is, of course, unlikely that the Saudi government will take George and his co-signers up on their offer; but his public proposition is courageous and powerful.

It reminds us that every human being has equal rights simply because of his humanity. No government has the right to torture its citizens, or any other person. In a letter to the Huffington Post, Professor George said, "Badawi’s case is important because he is a human being, a precious member of the human family, who is being made to suffer unjustly." 

It reminds us that, just as all human beings are entitled to basic rights and dignity, all human beings are responsible for protecting and defending the rights and dignity of everyone else. Among the signatories speaking on behalf of the Muslim Badawi are a Catholic, a Mormon, a Jew, a Muslim, and members of liberal and conservative political parties. The clear message is that human rights transcend divisions of nationality, religion, or politics. 

Finally, the offer is a starkly physical one. This is not about political policy or ambassadorial maneuvers. The letter clearly reminds us that blood is being shed unjustly. The sacrifice of one body in place of another is an ancient and enduring bargain. This is what Isaac escaped; this is what Jesus Christ endured. This is the offer that we are all called to make for each other, to one degree or another.

Will the Saudi government ignore it? And will we, as people enjoying a free society, remember our obligation toward each other?