Blogging for freedom

On October 23 at the 35th annual International Festival of Authors in Toronto, blogger Raif Badawi received the 2014 One Humanity Award. The award was given to the Saudi Arabian blogger at PEN Canada’s benefit on the opening night of the Festival.

PEN Canada is a non-partisan international organization of writers that promotes literature and assists exiled and imprisoned writers through legal representation. The One Humanity Award honours a writer whose work “transcends the boundaries of national divides and inspires connections across cultures.”

The award recognized Badawi for his creation of the Liberal Saudi Network, an online forum which facilitated free thought, discussion and liberal interpretations of Islam and the Saudi Arabian conditions of life. After establishing the website in 2006, it was subsequently shut down in 2012 by command of a judge following Badawi’s arrest. The charges he is currently facing is “founding a liberal website,” “adopting liberal thought” and “insulting Islam”.

This case absolutely re-establishes the importance of free thought, as well as the freedom of opinion and expression which is protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, it also reaffirms a restructuring that’s been happening for some time now — a change in the media that changes individuals’ social mobility and the conduits by which to advocate and reach their audiences.

Public fights between political figures are no longer placed on the front pages of daily journals; instead figures send Tweets to create a larger discourse and public conversation. Furthermore, if you look at any literary tradition: the Romantics, writers in the Restoration Period and the Early Modern Period, literature and writing was highly scrutinized and had grounded, political connotations. These texts joined in the political conversation through their works and helped create the social world through their writing.

Literature still has that potential today. However, by PEN Canada giving this award to a blogger for his online work, it marks a realization and conscious acceptance of these progressive and advanced literary formats.

Whereas in the past, writers and those with stakes in the literary world would highly avoid and criticize fundamental shifts in the writing and publishing process, it seems that the literary world is embracing this fundamental democratization of writing.

Blogging is perfectly emblematic of transcending national divides and inspiring connections across cultures. It is posted online for free, allowing open access to everyone. These ideas can flow freely to anyone interested in finding them.

If even the Saudi Arabian government believes that blogs have political and social power, then maybe us Canadians should begin to think more acceptingly of these public writings published on the web. Don’t ignore an individual’s blog because they don’t have a publication pedigree or qualifications, or a fancy WordPress design for that matter. Instead, pay attention to the quality of the opinions and social information that is present.

Blogging is becoming increasingly embedded in our culture. It’s used in educational environments as a means to cause students to reflect on their learning, it has been used in a private and personal sense to afford a personal online space for individual’s innermost feelings as it has worked its way into our cultural body of knowledge (here’s looking at you Disney, for making “Dog with a Blog”).

Join the online petition along with 16,479 other individuals (at the time of publication) on, or better still, start blogging, continue voicing your opinions and we can really see the progress these emerging forms of media can make in the political world.

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