It was recently reported that Saudi Arabia's top clerics have declared an Islam-inspired cartoon series, "The 99" a "work of the devil that Muslims should not watch."
This is no surprise. After all, "The 99", produced by Teshkeel Media Group (whose team includes veteran comic strip creators from both Marvel and DC Comics) includes female super heroes, not unlike the one Marvel recently introduced -- a new Muslim-American female superhero, named Kamala Khan, a.k.a. the new Ms. Marvel. Her character, who is being compared to Peter Parker, has super powers that include shape shifting and makes statements like "I'm Kamala Khan and I'm here to take out the trash. I'd say come at me bro, but I have a feeling you're gonna do that anyway."
In a place where women are not even allowed to drive, girls are not supposed to get ideas that in the future they may be allowed to shape shift or worse, fight male villains.
What is more disturbing is that these Saudi clerics wield power -- not only over their followers -- but over the Kingdom. They influence not only the Kingdom's government policy on domestic affairs (and are likely the reason Saudi Arabia recently declared all atheists "terrorists") but on foreign policy as well. To make an analogy in western terms on how religion can influence politics -- don't think Westboro Baptist. Think Tea Party.
So why should we care? Isn't Saudi Arabia a world away?
Perhaps, but those same Saudi clerics support an ideology similar to the one upheld by the terrorist organization, Al Qaeda. And it has been reported that Al Qaeda is now stronger than ever.
To help fight the war in Syria against Bashar al-Assad and his forces, it has been reported that Al Qaeda now receives weapons from Saudi Arabia and the war has become a convenient cause for Al Qaeda's recruitment. Also speculated is that Saudi Arabia (and its allies -- however indirectly or inadvertently) are helping Al Qaeda, the same way the Americans helped the Mujahideen in its war against the USSR. Remember the Mujahideen? They are now known as The Taliban.
And we Canadians must not turn a blind eye to our possible, indirect, inadvertent contribution. Our federal government recently applauded a ten billion dollar deal with Saudi Arabia to manufacture armored vehicles for that country. Criticized by the opposition, the deal was sealed without any Parliamentary debate. Will weapons, made in Canada, now end up in the hands of Al Qaeda?
Of course, Canadians are not the only ones doing business with the Saudis, nor are we the experts. That accolade rests with our neighbors to the South, the United States and across the ocean, in several countries, including the U.K., France and Germany.
But maybe this newer version of Al Qaeda, fighting an evil dictator, is different? No -- this is the same Al Qaeda who blew up the American World Trade towers on 9/11, British trains on 7/7, and recently, in addition to a long list of other attacks, whose faction, Al-Shabaab entered the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi last year and instigated a massacre.
This is the Al Qaeda who calls all of us, except their own followers, infidels -- as though we are the ones outside Islam, when actually the opposite is true.
So who will end the madness?
Here in the west, people ask, "Where is the Gandhi of the Muslim world?" "Where is your Martin Luther King Jr.?" "Where is your Mandela?"
First of all, there is not just one individual waging the non-violent struggle for justice in the Muslim world. There are many strong activists, including women, everywhere. Some are well known like Malala Yousafzai.
But others are not so well known. And in places like Saudi Arabia, in many cases, they are in jail -- folks like Waleed Abu al-Khair and Mikhlif al-Shammar.
And then there is the fearless, Raif Badawi, Arabia's Malcolm X.
Co-founder of the Liberal Muslim Network in Saudi Arabia, Raif Badawi, has been in jail in Jeddah since June, 2012. Originally arrested on charges of insulting religious police and apostasy (the penalty for which is beheading) in December, 2013 an appeals court determined more evidence was required to sustain the charge of apostasy (Badawi told the Judge he is a Muslim), so on that charge, Badawi's case was returned to a lower court for more evidence (it was not dropped). At the same time, he was sentenced to 600 lashes and seven years in jail.
Badawi's wife, Ensaf and the couple's three school age children now live in Quebec. Ensaf, shown in the photo below with her husband, taken in 2010, is working to demand Badawi's freedom and will be part of demonstrations that will take place on Saturday May 3, UNESCO World Press Freedom Day, outside the Saudi embassies of 12 countries, including here in Ottawa on Sussex Drive.
So what "crime" did Badawi actually commit?
He led an organization with support found not only in Saudi Arabia but with partners in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait and Palestine. And in Saudi Arabia, Badawi and his organization demanded churches for Christians, rights for women with an end to the male guardianship system and an elimination of apostasy laws.
Will this 30-year-old English teacher trigger the rise of a Saudi Arab spring?
It's possible. His imprisonment and if he is executed, his death, would only prove what the Kingdom already knows, as captured in the words of the late, great Malcolm X that, "power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression."
Badawi should be free and the world should be safe.