Book Review: A window into brutal world of double standards
IT BEGINS as a love story, but there is no happy ending yet for Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger and champion of free speech sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1000 lashes - effectively to be flogged to death.
Raif received the first 50 crippling lashes even as representatives of the Saudi royal family were "demonstrating" with European leaders for journalistic freedom after the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris. He is still in prison, his last legal avenues exhausted.
Ensaf's book is both deeply personal and enraging, as she tells of her family's life and the barbaric oppression in Saudi Arabia. We learn of their love's clandestine beginnings, of their marriage against her family's wishes, and of Raif's early struggles between his liberal philosophies and his own, engrained conservativism as a male in a powerfully patriarchal culture.
He runs an internet forum for discussion of liberal ideas - such outrageous concepts as equal rights for women - and runs foul of the religious police. Eventually he loses his legal status and is left as a non-person, no passport, no freedom, no rights.
After an attempt on his life (and before he is imprisoned) he urges Ensaf to flee the country with their three children.
Eventually Saudi authorities track Ensaf and the children down in their Lebanon exile, and they are granted urgent refugee status by Canada.
Buoyed by local support in a small Canadian town, and with Amnesty International help, Ensaf sets about raising international awareness of the plight of her husband and of other political prisoners in her homeland.
Support is widespread, from the band U2, from Prince Charles, from the German Foreign Minister and from the woman at Ensaf's local supermarket. But Saudi authorities still stubbornly refuse to bend, jailing Raif's lawyer Walid and then this year his sister Samar, Walid's wife.
It is stirring stuff, but the book ends as a love story too, with Ensaf picturing the day she and her beloved will be reunited.
Raif Badawi: The Voice of Freedom, My Husband, Our Story By Ensaf Haidar and Andrea C Hoffmann, published by Little, Brown. RRP $32.99.