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.


Should It Be Illegal to Tell the Truth?

January 1, 2008

According to Sharia, yes it should–if the truth hurts Islam.

Does it matter whether it’s legal to truthfully criticize a religion?

Let’s say instead of religion we were going to criticize politics. Would it matter if it were illegal to criticize one of the political parties, but not the others? That is analogous to what we would have if criticism of Islam were banned, because Islam is both a religion and a political system. Although many Muslims do not advocate the doctrines of Jihad and Islamic Supremacy (worldwide Sharia), those who do are advocating a fascist political agenda. The vast majority of criticism of Islam is not about minarets and prayer rugs, it is about Jihad and Sharia. That’s the criticism the Islamists want to squelch. If they succeed, it would be a disaster for the future of our civilization. It would be like giving a fascist political party the right to spread their ideology with impunity, and anyone who objects would be punished.

How do representatives of Islam shut down truthful criticism?

Australia: Recently, Pastors Danny Nalliah and Daniel Scot were prosecuted for “vilifying Muslims” at a seminar on Jihad. At the trial, Pastor Scot, in his own defense, read verbatim from the Quran. According to an account of the trial, “Pastor Scot was asked by the Islamic Council’s barrister Debbie Mortimer to stop reading passages from the Koran and just give verses because the readings vilified Muslims.” So it did not matter that the pastor was truthfully portraying the words of the Quran. What mattered was that the truth was embarrassing to Muslims, and therefore must be shut down.

(As an aside, how could it be possible that reading a book written letter by letter by the supreme god of the universe could vilify those who believe in that book? Something to think about.)

Canada: Mark Steyn is being sued before the Canadian Human Rights Commission over an excerpt from his book which was reprinted by Maclean’s, a Canadian magazine. Just one problem: Steyn did not make any statements that were not factual. His objectionable statements included: “Just look at the development within Europe, where the number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes. Every Western woman in the EU is producing an average of 1.4 children. Every Muslim woman in the same countries is producing 3.5 children.” However, this statement was quoted from a Muslim, Mullah Krekar, currently living in Norway.

Isn’t it OK for Steyn to make factual statements and to quote others’ published statements accurately? Isn’t it a legitimate interest of Western non-Muslims to find out what Islamists are saying about us and about their agenda, and other facts about Islamist expansion in the West? It is, but that may not help Steyn. According to the Canada Free Press, “The legislation bringing [Canada’s Human Rights Commissions] into existence gives them permission to disregard the usual rules of legal procedures meant to protect defendants’ rights such as rules of evidence, presumption of innocence, bias of witnesses or representation. Its officers and adjudicators do not have to have legal training but are political appointees, commonly representatives of special interest groups.”

The U.N.: Recently, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution against Defamation of Religion. Although this could in theory apply to all religions, the only religion specifically mentioned was Islam (with five occurrences of the words “Islam or “Islamic” and five occurrences of forms of “Muslim”), and the resolution itself was pushed forward by the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Here’s a quote from the draft resolution:

“The General Assembly…Stresses the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions, Islam and Muslims in particular; …Emphasizes that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which should be exercised with responsibility and may therefore be subject to limitations as provided by law and necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others, protection of national security or of public order, public health or morals and respect for religions and beliefs;….”

Nowhere does this document uphold the right to express factual information which is negative, such as the fact that all four schools of Sharia require Jihad. Such information could certainly be taken as defamatory, but it is also true, relevant, and crucial for the world to know when Jihadists have declared war on the infidels of the world.

In many of the Islamic countries sponsoring this resolution, the vilest invective about non-Islamic faiths is commonly published. If their intention were really to protect all religions from defamation, they would be applying their own defamation rules equally to all religions in their own countries.

What does Sharia say about truthful criticism?

Lest you believe that these incidents of truth-squelching are coincidental, with no relationship to any actual doctrine of Islam, here are some quotes from Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law:

Slander (ghiba) means to mention anything concerning a person that he would dislike….” (pg. 730)

“The Prophet…said: ….’Do you know what slander is?’ They answered, ‘Allah and His messenger know best.’ He said, ‘It is to mention of your brother that which he would dislike.’ Someone asked, ‘What if he is as I say?’ And he replied, ‘If he is as you say, you have slandered him, and if not, you have calumniated him.'” (pg. 732)

These quotes show that in the case of personal slander, it is illegal to say something that the person doesn’t like even if it’s true.

In addition, in the section entitled “Non-Muslim Subjects of the Islamic State”, we can see that a non-Muslim’s “formal agreement of protection” is violated if one of the subject people”mentions something impermissible about Allah, the Prophet…, or Islam,” at which point the subject is treated as a prisoner of war. (pg. 609) This is intended to be applied in the context of a Caliphate, of which there currently is none, so this law cannot practically be applied in the West. I quote it to show there is a relationship between Islamic law and current events, in which Muslims are using the legal systems of the West to curtail an honest and complete discussion of Islam. It is also a warning of things to come if we allow the Islamists to prevail even further.

What to do?

The US Constitution protects our freedom of speech, even if someone doesn’t like what we say, as long as we are being truthful or stating a subjective opinion that cannot be mistaken as fact. It can only be defamation if we knowingly present damaging falsehood as though it were a fact. Not all Western countries have such a strong commitment to freedom of speech; nor, it would seem, does the United Nations. If we are to avoid being subjugated under Islamo-Fascist rule, this must change. A good place to start is to help educate everyone you know about the dangers of Islamo-Fascism and of criminalizing free expression.