The Corner

Who Would Whip Raif?

Please bear with me for a minute, because I’m going to write about a Broadway musical and a human-rights case.

Over the weekend, I took my niece to The King and I at Lincoln Center. I hadn’t seen it since I was about her age. Some extraordinary music in there, but that’s a separate story.

There is a Burmese slave girl who attempts to escape from the Siamese king’s harem. He is about to lash her with a bullwhip. In this production, he takes a few practice lashes, and the whip makes a terrible noise. In the end, his hand is stayed: He cannot follow through in whipping the girl.

I thought of Raif Badawi, the political prisoner in Saudi Arabia. He is very slight, and diabetic. He has been sentenced to ten years in prison and a thousand lashes. For what? For advocating the most fundamental human rights.

He was to be lashed 50 times every Friday for 20 weeks. The first Friday nearly killed him, apparently. The second 50 has been repeatedly postponed, thanks probably to international attention.

I have written about Raif Badawi and his wife, Ensaf Haidar, in the magazine. She is in exile — Quebec — campaigning for her husband. I have expanded that piece today on our site (here).

What stings the king of Siam in that musical is the English schoolteacher’s assertion that he is a barbarian: a barbarian if he goes through with the lashing of the slave girl. And the House of Saud?

I say in my piece today that “Saudi Arabia is our ally, and necessarily so. But we citizens should not close our eyes to the fact that, really, this is a ghastly dictatorship, imprisoning and torturing some of the very best of that country.”

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