In a slim volume originally published in Germany last year, the wife of imprisoned human rights activist Raif Badawi keeps her husband’s plight in the public eye.
Aided by Middle East reporter Hoffmann, Haidar reveals not only the harsh treatment of her husband, sentenced to 10 years in a Saudi Arabian prison and 1,000 lashes for the crime of apostasy, but also the severe limitations on the lives of women in Saudi Arabia. A traditionally raised Saudi woman, the author begins her story before their marriage, making vividly clear the segregation of life by gender: the only men she had spoken to were her father and her seven brothers. A cellphone, given to her by a married sister, launched the romance of Haidar and Badawi, and despite fierce family opposition, they married in 2002. Wahabbi Muslims, she writes, constitute a kind of state within a state in Saudi Arabia, controlling religious life, education, and, to some extent, justice. When Badawi started a website related to free speech, the religious police swung into action. He was arrested, and the site was shut down. Having sought and found political asylum, Haidar now lives with their three children in Sherbrooke, Quebec, where she continues to wage an apparently global campaign to win her husband’s freedom. In somewhat stilted prose, she blends the story of their adjustment to life in a cold climate, her estrangement from her Saudi family, her conflict over how much to tell her children, and her efforts, aided by Amnesty International, to win her husband’s release. Although Badawi, a recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, remains in prison, Haidar’s book ends on an optimistic note, her spirits buoyed by the international support her efforts have garnered.
A sobering exposé of Saudi Arabian culture and a tribute to the courage and strength of both the author and her husband.