Religious chauvinists mock ‘inferior’ religions, yet seem perplexed when their religion is mocked
“An Iranian educational and exhibition centre has launched an international cartoon competition around the theme of Holocaust denial, in a response to the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) by the French Charlie Hebdo magazine.”
Charlie Hebdo’s immediate publication of an issue of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) with a tear and a message of forgiveness, in response to the January 7 massacre, has fomented protests from Mali to Lahore. Iran came up with a Holocaust cartoon competition, and Pakistani lawmaker Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour offered a bounty to whoever can murder the owner of Charlie Hebdo.
Then Copenhagen, in a parallel attack to Hebdo, saw another sociopath fire shots at a café and synagogue, killing two more. Such acts not only galvanise extremists, they fuel the rise of right wing organisations all over Europe. We need extreme tolerance, not calls for censorship; otherwise everyone will play a perpetual game of “I’m offended.”
As Shahed Amanullah noted in The Islamic Monthly:
“[Censorship, in the West] can backfire. It is more likely that the majority would find the Quran to be hate speech worthy of banning than it would be for a minority (i.e. Muslims) to persuade the majority to ban anti-Muslim speech.”
Let’s revisit The Satanic Verses. The bloodiest aftermath of the fatwa happened in Sivas, Turkey, where fanatics killed dozens. Ziauddin Sardar, founder of the Critical Muslim, stated,
“Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa not only declared a death sentence for Rushdie, it made me redundant as an intellectual. Implicit in the fatwa is the proposition that Muslim thinkers are too feeble to defend their own beliefs.”
Kenan Malik, in From Fatwa to Jihad, outlines how Khomeini’s fatwa led to terrorist inspired jihad resulting in tragedies such as 9/11 and 7/7. Malik points to anti-Muslim responses, such as Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who,
“has campaigned for a ban on the Quran on the grounds that it promotes hatred, bigotry, and violence.”
We’re all against “hatred, bigotry, and violence”, of course, as long as we receive it, but not so much when we are the bigots. Thus the ‘feeble’ among us, Mr Bilour and Mr Wilders (Wilders’ desire to censor in no ways as inimical as Bilour’s call to murder), wish to ban speech.
Blasphemy laws create hypocrisy. Religious chauvinists mock ‘inferior’ religions, yet seem perplexed when their religion is mocked. If Muslims do not want men like Geert Wilders interpreting passages in the Quran against Jews (5:51), disbelievers (2:191-193, 9:5, 9:29, 18:29), or Jiyza tax (8:65) that must be paid by non-Muslims, then Muslims need to show the same sensibility when someone in the West criticises Islam.
When Iran threatens an activist with death for offensive Facebook posts, or blogger Raif Badawi sits in prison for writing thoughts such as “secularism respects everyone and does not offend anyone,” or Meriam Ibrahim is sentenced to death in Sudan on the charge of blasphemy’s twin, apostasy, all in the name of self-declared Islamic governments, the world takes note.
Article 18 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares,
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Implicit in changing belief is the right to criticise. Pakistan is a signatory. Yet the worship of murderers such as Mumtaz Qadri and the Hebdo ‘heroes/killers’ on the streets of Pakistan’s cities damns the sentiment. Then contrast the injustice of Aasia Bibi, on death row for blasphemy while Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Massih, tells the BBC,
“We get death threats… we live in hiding.”
When Muslim anger directed toward Qadri’s victim Salman Taseer, who wished to abolish blasphemy laws, overshadows the Muslim anger toward Daesh-like swine that promote takfir as they slaughter more Muslims than non-Muslims, the priorities of those who love Islam are questioned. The majority of Muslims like Taseer, who wish to live in mutual tolerance rather than kill for their faith, must act in concert with the non-Muslim 80% of the world in recognising the harm of blasphemy laws.
The sentiments behind blasphemy laws are a key catalyst for violence, for they are a unique form of intolerance. The fact that some countries in Europe ban Holocaust denial is not relevant, for the minor scale and scope makes the comparison to blasphemy laws a mouse-to-elephant analogy.
Most people have no desire to insult other faiths; this is part of the secular ideal of tolerance, at the same time, decent folk rarely respond to insults with calls for violence. They realise that even though blasphemy may be considered immoral or offensive, one person’s blasphemy is another’s legitimate beef. To many apostates, atheists, homosexuals, and non-Muslims (Christians, Jews, Hindus, others), Islam may be offensive. To the Muslim, the opposite. But take away the extremes, and most apostates, homosexuals, atheists, non-Muslims, and Muslims can coexist in peace and tolerance. And to do so, we cannot ban speech that falls under Article 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights. Period.
Over two years ago, Sheikh Faiz Al-Aqtab Siddiqui, outraged over a YouTube video, claimed in the Daily Telegraph,
“The makers of this film have terrorised 1.6 billion people.”
Do peaceful Muslims want people like Siddiqui speaking for them? The idea that all 1.6 billion Muslims are terrorised and need to be defended by blasphemy laws is absurd. But the fact that too many Muslims desire them is a cause for concern and must be addressed.
We all should desire free speech. As British novelist Ian McEwan writes,
“Free speech is not religion’s enemy, it is its protector. Because it is, there are mosques by the score in Paris, London and New York. In Riyadh, where it is absent, no churches are permitted. Importing a bible now carries the death penalty.”
Most Muslims can ignore and shrug off blasphemy. Murder is far more offensive. In the future, non-Muslims, including the growing number of former Muslims, will criticise Islam. Muslims can either respond with calls for violence or peace.
The author’s argument with David Shields about life and art, “I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel”, was published by Knopf in January 2015. A film version, starring Powell and Shields, and directed by and co-starring James Franco, will premiere at Vancouver’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival in the spring of 2015. He blogs at argumentsworthhaving.com/