Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has raised concerns with a Saudi prince about the flogging sentence handed down to a blogger with family in Quebec.This is good and I hope something comes of it. This same prince is expected to visit Ottawa next month and I hope Baird brings it up again if Badawi is still being held at that time. I do wonder how close our government has become with the Saudis and how this could be.
A government official, speaking on condition they not be named, said Baird spoke about blogger Raif Badawi's case directly with Prince Turki Al Faisal, a member of the House of Saud.
All this got me considering for a moment whether or not Baird might have turned a new leaf since he had announced in the past that he just didn't think that atheists were in any real significant danger across the world.
Although I'm happy Baird is now doing the right thing, I cannot say he's sticking up for atheists because Raif Badawi is a secular Muslim who is facing 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for simply standing up for free inquiry -- including atheists' right to free speech -- in Saudi Arabia. This is more than I think we can say about Baird, so far at least. I am, however, perfectly happy to stand corrected.
I've heard some confusion in the atheist community where people are saying Raif is himself an atheist -- I made this mistake myself. Although I do not think he personally has any problem with atheists -- he is a secular liberal, perhaps a living Voltaire, and ended up in the slammer for it -- Badawi is still not an atheist himself.
"Lawyer Waleed Abu Alkhair told the BBC that Mr Badawi, a father of three, had confirmed in court that he was a Muslim but told the judge 'everyone has a choice to believe or not believe'."I would Baird's action a step forward for atheists solely because it is a demonstration to Saudi Arabia that the world values secularism and the freedom of expression. However, this is not John Baird standing up for atheists. To the best of my knowledge, that hasn't happened yet.