Do Blasphemy Laws Really Protect the Best Interests of Muslims?

June 8, 2008

We have witnessed a series of Muslim outrages over Westerners’ remarks or art about Islam. To name a few, there’s the movie Submission, the Danish Mohammed cartoons, the Pope’s quotation of Pope Benedict XVI, and recently, the movie Fitna. These outrages are always followed by (or even, as in the case of Fitna, preceded by) calls for self-censorship and/or hate speech laws.

Self-censorship, typically called ”showing respect for religion” or “responsible free speech”, in this case basically comes down to a voluntary internalization of Islamic blasphemy laws. Who decides what kind of speech regarding Islam is “respectful” or “responsible”? Why, that would be Muslims.

Hate speech legislation, or laws against “defamation of religion”, basically comes down to a government’s official adoption of Islamic blasphemy laws. Who decides what speech regarding Islam is “hateful” or “defamatory”? Why, that would again be Muslims.

It’s difficult to imagine how anyone could think Muslims should determine what non-Muslims can and can’t say about Islam, any more than Christians, Republicans, Democrats, Communists, or any other group of people should decide what non-members can and can’t say about their ideology. This notion is indefensible on its face, and to even consider going down that road is to take the fist step toward a theocracy.

Muslims don’t get the notion of what constitutes an outrage out of thin air, but from centuries-long traditions of dhimmi laws, subjugating non-Muslims under Islamic rule. Just one small part of this subjugation is controlling non-Muslims’ speech. Andrew Bostom notes, following Muslims’ outrage over the Pope quoting Pope Benedict XVI:

The ultimate source of the convulsive reaction to the Pope’s speech is the Islamic belief that spiritually and physically debauched infidels have no right to express opinions—least of all negative opinions—regarding Islam’s sacred text, the Koran, the Muslim prophet, Muhammad (Ecce Homo Arabicus), or the sacred Islamic Law (Shari’a), which includes the permanent institution of jihad war.

Such deep-seated intolerance has always predominated under Muslim rule….

Blasphemy laws and their first cousins, heresy laws, are currently used to persecute religious minorities including Christians, Hindus, and Bahais. Accusations of blasphemy can also provide cover for the murder of non-Muslims in Muslim countries.

Many observers have commented about the dangers to non-Muslims of restricting our speech concerning Islam in the West.

Islamic Blasphemy Laws Are Bad for Non-Muslims. But Are They Good for Muslims?

It may seem as though blasphemy laws are bad for non-Muslims, but good for Muslims. However, the question is: Which Muslims? Unorthodox Muslims are among the primary victims of blasphemy laws. For example, in Muslim countries, the peaceful Ahmadiyya sect is typically deemed heretical and is stifled, even in a “moderate” country like Indonesia. Other “heretical’ sects are persecuted elsewhere in the Muslim world, such as the Alevis in “secular” Turkey. Then there are the well-known conflicts between the Sunnis and Shias, much of which is kept alive through charges of blasphemy. Pretty much any Muslim sect can be considered heretical by other Muslim sects.

In addition to heretical sects, individual Muslims are punished for blasphemy. Arifur Rahman, a 20-year-old cartoonist in Bangladesh, was recently sentenced to six months amid public demonstrations calling for his death. He wrote a cartoon making fun of a local custom involving the name “Mohammed”. Parwiz Kambakhsh, a 23-year-old Afghan student journalist, has faced the death penalty for downloading and distributing articles that were said to question some tenets of Islam. (So far as I know, he is still in prison pending final appeals.) Street thugs sometimes mete out punishment vigilante-style: Naguib Mahfouz, an Egyptian novelist, was stabbed in the neck by a Muslim who was angry at his portrayal of God. Jawaad Faizi, a Pakistani journalist in Canada, was beaten for criticizing an Islamic organization. Mohammed Ahmed Mohammed Taha was kidnapped and killed in Sudan for publishing an article which he personally disagreed with, questioning the ancestral lineage of Mohammed. These are just a few examples.

Muslims who choose to leave their religion, even in the West, had better keep quiet about their thoughts on Islam. Just ask Salman Rushdie.

Muslim and ex-Muslim reformers are often hurt by blasphemy laws and Muslim vigilanteism. Rashad Khalifa in Tucson, Arizona, founder of the “Submitters” sect, was declared to be an apostate due to his blasphemous ideas and assassinated. Farzana Hassan Shahid, president of the Muslim Canadian Congress who receives death threats from other Muslims for her views, explained: “There is an underlying fear all the time…that uneasy feeling is part of my daily life. I have been declared an apostate twice, for opposing the Sharia [Islamic law]….” Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the well-known Somali ex-Muslim, wrote “…the reformists are shunned by their families and communities and live under the constant fear of assassination.”

Of course, blasphemy laws and fear of vigilante punishment also cause immeasurable harm to all the unorthodox Muslims we don’t know about because they dare not speak or publish their views freely.

Islamic blasphemy rules for non-Muslims are somewhat different from those for Muslims, because non-Muslims endure the added element of dhimmi subjugation, as noted above. Certain things could be considered blasphemous for non-Muslims to say, but not for Muslims to say. Nevertheless, all Islamic blasphemy laws share a common assumption: the Islamic orthodoxy gets to regulate what people can and can’t say about Islam. Any time the West gives any credence to this assumption, we strengthen and legitimize it.

So even if, in a fit of madness, we non-Muslims cared nothing about our own interests and only about the interests of Muslims, we would still need to decide which Muslims’ interests would be important to uphold. It would be absurd to throw the peaceful Ahmadis and reformers under the bus, to “respect” the religious thought police who would persecute them. Given the harm caused to unorthodox Muslims by blasphemy laws, we should think twice before adopting them ourselves. We may not be able to do a lot for the Ahmadiyya sect in Asia or for young cartoonists like Rahman, but at least we can set a good example by protecting freedom of expression in the West. If we do not protect it here, freedom of expression may well disappear from the world.


Resources for Further Study of Sharia, Islam and Jihad

December 18, 2007

If you want to look further into Sharia, as well as the closely related topics of Islam and Jihad, here are some recommendations.

Ex-Muslim Sites Opposed to Sharia

First, here’s a general comment about ex-Muslim sites. As we’ve discussed, many Muslims believe ex-Muslims should be killed. For this and other reasons, many ex-Muslims are very angry at Islam. They also are among those who understand Islam the best, from the inside. These sites are a tremendous resource, but be prepared for strong language.

Faith Freedom. This is among the best-known of the apostate sites, run by the famous Ali Sina. It includes articles, a lively forum, one-on-one debates, and more.

Islam Watch. This site also includes a great deal of information, including a whole section of online books.

Apostates of Islam. This site comes from a humanist perspective.

Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. This is a political activist group with specific human-rights goals, listed on their Manifesto. These types of organizations are springing up all over Europe. We hope they reach their goals, and we also hope the United States prevents some of the issues they are having to address in Europe.

Wafa Sultan famously said on Al Jazeera TV that the world is not witnessing a clash of religions or cultures, but a battle between modernity and barbarism. She is interviewed here.

Muslim Sites Opposed to Sharia

Irshad Manji. Author of the book, The Problem With Islam Today, Irshad Manji is calling for Muslims to open the gates of ijtihad.

Muslims Against Sharia. This group is truly looking their religion square in the eye and is willing to do whatever it takes to remove the objectionable portions, even if it means removing a few hundred verses of the Quran.

19.org. This site was founded by Edip Yuksel, a former student of Dr. Rashad Khalifa, who founded the Submitters sect and discovered a preponderance of the number 19 in the Quran. Khalifa was assassinated by a Muslim for apostasy and heresy.

American Islamic Forum for Democracy. This is a membership organization that makes a stand against Sharia in the United States. Among their stated goals and beliefs, they recognize no clergy in Islam.

Muslim Canadian Congress. This is a membership organization committed to a secular Canada.

Non-Muslim Sites Opposed to Sharia

Answering Islam. This is a Christian site with a wealth of information, including an A-Z index on Islam.

Jihad Watch. This website is directed by Robert Spencer, expert on Islam and Jihad and author of numerous well-documented books on those subjects. This site will keep you up to date regarding Jihad worldwide.

Dhimmi Watch. Another site directed by Robert Spencer, this one focuses on the creeping condition of “dhimmitude”, in which non-Muslims take on a subservient, second-class role relative to Muslims.

Blogging the Quran. This is Robert Spencer’s ongoing blog which covers the mainstream Muslim commentators and their interpretations of the Quran. If you have any interest in studying the Quran, this is a great tool, because you will find out what authoritative Muslims have said on the subject. Blogging the Quran is hosted by HotAir.com.

Mapping Sharia Project. This is a group who are gathering intelligence about the 4500 Islamic Centers across the United States. They intend to provide information to law enforcement and the public regarding which Islamic centers promote Sharia, and therefore Jihad. Although I put this in the non-Muslim section, their group includes Muslims as well.

Middle East Forum. This site is directed by Daniel Pipes, a Middle East specialist who promotes US interests in the Middle East. The Middle East Forum has a special section called “Islamist Watch”, which focuses on “Lawful Islamism”.

Sons of Apes and Pigs. The name of this site refers to the Quran’s description of Allah transforming a group of Jews into apes and pigs (2:65, 5:60, 7:166). To this day, some Muslims believe that Jews and/or Christians are the sons of apes and pigs. This site was established by Egyptian Coptic Christians, who know about dhimmitude first-hand.

Political Islam is specifically focused on the dangers of Sharia and Jihad. Their unique approach is to study the foundational Islamic texts using a statistical analysis. In addition to a series of articles, they also have published a number of books explaining Islam from their viewpoint.

The Religion of Peace offers news and information, and has a special feature of a running count of deadly Islamic terror attacks since 9/11. Last I checked, it was up over 10,000.

Islamist Watch has a fantastic resource of quotes from Islamists, as well as a nice introduction to what an Islamist is.

Dhimmitude.org offers a great selection of articles on the subject of non-Muslims subjugated under Muslim rule and forced to live as a persecuted underclass. This is what will happen to us all if the Islamists have their way. Site edited by Bat Ye’or, renowned researcher into the subject of dhimmitude.

Dhimmi.com is the site for a civil rights group, the Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights. Members include, primarily, various religious minorities that suffer as dhimmis under Sharia law.

Andrew Bostom has written numerous books and articles about Islam. His blog is very informative, as well.

Deafening Silence is a liberal blog against Islamo-Fascism! I’m thrilled to find one. I have maintained that the threat of Islamo-Fascism is too important to be a wedge issue between liberals and conservatives. I believe that many, if not most, everyday liberals would be appalled to know the extent to which liberal leadership in academia, the media, and politics have already acquiesced to the Islamist agenda.

The Center for Vigilant Freedom is an international citizens’ network with over 1000 members who are working to defeat Jihad and Sharia and defend the West. They are associated with The 910 Group, a group of anti-Islamo-Fascism bloggers including Gates of Vienna.

Sites with No Clear Religious Identity Opposed to Sharia:

Secular Islam. I have been unable to confirm who is running this site, but I believe it’s a group of humanists. They promoted a Secular Islam Summit with a mix of ex-Muslim and Muslim speakers. This Summit met in St. Petersburg in 2007 and produced a manifesto, The St. Petersburg Declaration, which affirms specific secular ideals.

These sites can keep you up late for the foreseeable future, and there are more! [Last updated 02/14/08; I have moved this material to the “Resources” page accessible from the top menu, so I will no longer be updating it here.]