The Day of the Nation

Raif Badawi, an activist and blogger, was arrested in 2012 and convicted for ‘insulting Islam through electronic channels’. He was sentenced to a fine of one million riyals (£175,000), ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes.

This month, Greystone Books publishes 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think, a collection of Raif Badawi’s original blog posts on subjects ranging from the separation of church and state to the dangers of religious extremism. Here is an extract from the book, written to mark Saudi Arabia’s national day (23 September).

Translated from Arabic by Ahmed Danny Ramadan.

‘The wider the views, the narrower the words.’ A sentence that was said by al-Niffari, one of the highly regarded Sufi clerics, who said it in Baghdad centuries ago, back when the Arabian era was flourishing. In my memory, which hasn’t aged that much yet, I hold this sentence clearly: it comes to mind as we see the celebrations of our homeland, Saudi Arabia, and its national day.

The concept of a nation is wide: it includes everyone under its love. The wider it gets, the more hatred fills the hearts of some of our fellow citizens, adding layers of sectarianism, tribalism, and narrow ways of thinking. One of the most honourable bases for a united nation is that it shouldn’t be built upon the specifics of one person, or one line of thought, or one organization, or one group, excluding everyone else.

A homeland is for everyone, without marginalization: a nation for its entire people, with all of their beliefs and intellectual characteristics. Only through the establishment of this theory of one nation can everyone have the right to celebrate belonging to this land, to this geographical location, and to this soil.

That’s why we Saudis have the right to celebrate a national day, because we’re not only celebrating our nation but also celebrating ourselves, for ourselves.

When we celebrate a nation, we celebrate our rights as citizens of this nation. When we celebrate the day of this nation, we jump across those limited lines of narrow thinking. The bases of citizenship are clear: it’s a victory for the variety of ideologies and a celebration of diversity, which leads us to the triumph of a civil society.

No one can deny us our right to celebrate this day, which is dear to all of us: we simply cannot allow a return to this Stone Age dogma, and we will fight it with all of our power. Such a celebration of the day of one nation is also a blow to those with their heads stuck in the Stone Age.

This day shows the importance and the necessity of a diverse civil structure in our nation that should embrace everyone, including those who stand as enemies to belonging to the soil and the geographical location. It should include them, even when they prefer their twisted ideology, an ideology that ruins the reputation of our nation, locally, regionally, and internationally.

‘Nation’ is a great word, and only those who truly love their nation know its true meaning and value. They see the nation as a holy, sacred place, more important than anything else. The nation will stay, as long as they protect it with their souls, money, and through the next generation.

Happy National Day, my dear homeland, and you too, people of my nation.

English PEN organises monthly vigils for Raif Badawi outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in London. The next vigil will take place on Friday 25 September at 9am. Find out more.

1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think is available in the UK from Foyles. Proceeds from the book will be donated to Raif Badawi’s family to support their efforts to campaign for his release.