February 24, 2008
Universal Islamic 'Blasphemy' Law ?
Almost two weeks ago, "three men with a Muslim background" were arrested by Danish police on anti-terrorism charges, suspected of having plotted to murder Kurt Westergaard, a cartoonist for Jyllands-Posten. Westergaard is one of the 12 cartoonists who on September 30, 2005 published cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad to protest the tacit enforcement in Danish society of Islam's taboo on depictions of Muhammad, no matter how banal, or inoffensive, through intimidation -- a clear violation of Western freedom of expression.
Upon learning of the arrests, Westergaard (noted for this cartoon) commented aptly,
"I think...that the impact of the insane response to my cartoon will last for the rest of my life. It is sad indeed, but it has become a fact of my life."
And within 3 days, by February 15, 2008, confirming the pervasive fear of violent Muslim reprisal that apparently grips Danish society, Westergaard was ejected from his police-protected hotel room having been deemed, "too much of a security risk." Now the 73-year-old cartoonist and his wife are homeless.
Not surprisingly, when newspapers in Denmark, and across Europe re-published the 12 original cartoons in solidarity with the threatened cartoonist, violent protests ensued by Danish Muslims (including burnings, and perhaps a bombing). Other violent demonstrations took place in Muslim communities across the Middle East and Asia.
Yet scant attention has been paid to a remarkable -- and remarkably chilling -- statement that was issued on Friday February 15, 2008 by Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Turkish Secretary General of the Jeddah-based Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the world's unique pan-Islamic political body, comprised of 57 members, including secular Turkey. Conveniently ignoring that the re-publication in Denmark of 12 banal cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad was an urgent, sane protest of the disrupted plot by Muslims to murder one of the original Danish cartoonists, Kurt Westergaard, and oblivious to the immoral equivalence he was making, Ihsanoglu stated,
By reprinting these cartoons we are heading toward a bigger conflict and that shows that both sides will be hostages of their radicals.
Continuing, Ihsanoglu further demonstrated both the complete absence of self-criticism, and triumphalism of the Islamic worldview that seeks to impose its Shari'a-based conceptions -- antithetical to true freedom of conscience and expression -- on all of humanity. And he concluded with a thinly veiled threat of violence:
It is not a way of improving your rights and exercising your freedoms when you use these rights for insulting the most sacred values and symbols of others and inciting hatred...This is a very wrong, provocative path -- unacceptable.
Two years earlier, on 1/18/06, in response to the initial printing of the Danish cartoons, Ihsanoglu had denounced, "...the publication of blasphemous and insulting caricatures of Prophet Muhammad." He concluded that this "Islamophobic" act of "sacrilege" somehow contravened, "...international principles, values, and ethics enshrined in the various resolutions and declarations of the United Nations." These sentiments of Ihsanoglu (and the OIC he represents) were reiterated more brazenly by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi during a sermon which aired February 3, 2006. Qaradawi demanded action from the United Nations in accord with purely Islamic, Shari'a-based conceptions of "blasphemy":
...the governments [of the world] must be pressured to demand that the U.N. adopt a clear resolution or law that categorically prohibits affronts to prophets -- to the prophets of the Lord and his Messengers, to His holy books, and to the religious holy places.
But the unctuous Ishanoglu, in stark contrast to his sharp attacks on the Danish cartoonists, has never issued a statement condemning the sermons of authoritative, hugely popular Muslim clerics such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi, for example, who elsewhere, has openly proclaimed Muhammad as the prototype jihadist.
Sheikh al-Qaradawi, one of the most influential contemporary Muslim thinkers, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and head of the European Fatwa Council, reaches an enormous audience during his regular appearances on Al- Jazeera, and other Arabic television outlets. Qaradawi's inflammatory February 3, 2006 sermon, which addressed the original publication of the Danish cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad, opens with seething, self-righteous anger, segues into Qaradawi's now standard, pro-forma Jew hatred, and closes, most disturbingly, with thinly veiled threats of terrorism to "...Westerners, the Americans, and Europeans."
But the sheer, blatant hypocrisy of these statements decrying the cartoon portrayals of Muhammad can only be appreciated when viewed in the larger overall context of his pious jihadism, most notably Qaradawi's prior characterization of "Muhammad as a jihad model":
The prophets that Allah sent prior to Muhammad were sent for a limited time ...and to a specific people. ... Allah established in the life of the Prophet Muhammad general, eternal, and all inclusive characteristics, and he gave every human being the possibility to imitate him and take his life as a model...The Christian is incapable of imitating Jesus regarding war and conciliation since Jesus never fought or made peace.Allah has also made the prophet Muhammad into an epitome for religious warriors [Mujahideen] since he ordered Muhammed to fight for religion.
Previously, Qaradawi elaborated both the targets and allowable "tactics" for those contemporary Muslims whom he encourages to wage jihad. Jews, and their allies, figure prominently in these statements. For example, at the July 2003 meeting (in Stockholm) of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, Qaradawi emphasized the orthodox Islamic basis for human homicide bomb "martyrdom operations" to be directed against all Israeli citizens, whom he further described as classic "harbis", licit targets in the Dar al Harb.
Although neither Qaradawi's admonitions for all out jihad against Israeli Jews, nor his constant Jew baiting, are surprising, he has also called for jihad martyrdom operations against American forces in Iraq, and more ominously, Qaradawi has made unabashed appeals for Muslims to wage a "jihad re-conquest" of Europe. His public fatwa on December 2, 2002 stated,
"Islam will return to Europe as a conqueror and a victor after being expelled from it twice -- once from the south, from Andalusia, and a second time, from the east, when it knocked several times on the doors of Athens."
Qaradawi's fatwa ruled, in addition, that Muslims should re-conquer, "...former Islamic colonies to Andalus[ia] (Spain), southern Italy, Sicily, the Balkans and the Mediterranean islands."
And even in that purely mythical paragon of Islamic ecumenism -- "Andalusia," Muslim Spain during the Middle Ages (which not only Qaradawi, but legions of "moderate" Muslims openly profess they would like to restore) -- Islamic supremacism, as codified in Islamic Law, engendered the same deep-seated, sacralized intolerance that has always predominated under Muslim rule. Already by the end of the eighth century, the rulers of Andalusia (and North Africa) had established rigorous Malikism as the dominant Islamic school of jurisprudence, rendering the Muslim Andalusian state, as noted in historian Evariste Levi-Provencal's seminal Histoire de l'Espagne musulmane,
"...the defender and champion of a jealous orthodoxy, more and more ossified in a blind respect for a rigid doctrine, suspecting and condemning in advance the least effort of rational speculation."
Consistent with this historical reality, Charles Emmanuel Dufourcq, a pre-eminent scholar of Muslim Spain, observed that the myriad religious and legal discriminations suffered by non-Muslim dhimmis (i.e., the non-Muslim Iberian populations vanquished by jihad, and governed by Islamic law, Shari'a), included lethal punishments for "blaspheming" the Muslim prophet, or the Koran:
[For] having insulted the Prophet or blasphemed against the Word of God (i.e., The Koran)-dhimmis were executed.
A millennium later, Islam's draconian punishment for infidels accused of blaspheming the Muslim prophet Muhammad persisted, with uncompromising ferocity. French painter Alfred Dehodencq's striking "Execution of a Moroccan Jewess" is based upon the actual blasphemy execution of a Jewess from Tangier, Morocco, Sol Hachuel, believed to have occurred in 1834. A detailed, near contemporary account of Sol Hachuel's heroic martyrdom -- based upon eyewitness interviews -- was published in 1837 by Eugenio Maria Romero.
Accused, falsely, of having become a Muslim, and then "blaspheming" Muhammad, upon adamantly and steadfastly maintaining her Jewish faith ("A Jewess I was born, a Jewess I wish to die"), the 17 year-old Sol was beheaded publicly for both this contrived "apostasy" from Islam, and "blasphemy." Among the narrative details Romero provides of the young victim's execution day in Fez is this depiction of how the Muslim masses reacted to the charge of "blasphemy" against her:
...the streets were crowded with Moors [Muslims] of all ages and sexes, who made the air resound with their discordant cries. "here comes," said they, "she who blasphemed the Prophet -- death! death! to the impious wretch!"
Abundant contemporary evidence demonstrates that Islamic law and mores regarding blasphemy, today, remain distressingly incompatible with modern conceptions of religious freedom, and human rights. Thus writing in the early 1990s, the esteemed Pakistani scholar Muhammad Asrar, whose opinion was accepted by Pakistan's Shari'a Court, defined "blasphemy", focusing on the Muslim prophet, as:
Reviling or insulting the Prophet (pbuh) in writing or speech; speaking profanely or contemptuously about him or his family; attacking the Prophet's dignity and honor in an abusive manner; vilifying him or making an ugly face when his named is mentioned; showing enmity or hatred towards him, his family, his companions, and the Muslims; accusing, or slandering the Prophet and his family, including spreading evil reports about him or his family; defaming the Prophet; refusing the Prophet's jurisdiction or judgment in any manner; rejecting the Sunnah; showing disrespect, contempt for or rejection of the rights of Allah and His Prophet or rebelling against Allah and His Prophet.
And in accord with classical Islamic jurisprudence (for example, The Risala of al-Qayrawani [d. 996]), Madani argues that anyone who defames Muhammad -- Muslim or non-Muslim -- must be put to death. Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo has documented how this orthodox Islamic doctrine -- incorporated into the Pakistani legal code (Section 295-C, "defiling the name of Muhammad") -- has wreaked havoc, particularly among Pakistan's small Christian minority community:
...the blasphemy law is felt to be a sword of Damocles and has developed a huge symbolic significance which contributes substantially to the atmosphere of intimidation of Christians. The detrimental effect of the law...is most dramatically illustrated by the incident at Shanti Nagar in February 1997 in which tens of thousands of rioting Muslims destroyed hundreds of Christian homes, and other Christian property, following an accusation of blasphemy. Furthermore the blasphemy has engendered a wave of private violence. Equating blasphemy with apostasy and influenced by the tradition of direct violent action and self-help which goes back to the earliest times of Islam, some Muslims feel they are entitled to enforce the death penalty themselves.
After at least four such murders, and the "blasphemy" case of Ayub Masih (who had been incarcerated in solitary confinement since October 14, 1996 and sentenced to death on April 27, 1998 by Sessions Court Judge Rana Abdul Ghaffar), Bishop John Joseph of Faisalbad committed suicide on May 6 1998, to protest the continued application of Pakistan's blasphemy laws.
And incidents which have occurred within just the past 2-months illustrate that what prevails in Pakistan is hardly unique, but rather emblematic. Pervez Kambakhsh, a 23 year-old Afghan journalist was recently convicted (January 2008) of "blasphemy" -- consistent with classical Islamic Law -- for downloading and distributing an article "insulting" Islam, including the "blasphemous" allegation that "...Muhammad had ignored the rights of women.." Subsequently the Afghan Senate issued a statement on the case -- signed by its leader, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, a reputed ally of President Hamid Karzai -- approving the death sentence conferred on Mr Kambakhsh, also in full accord with the Shari'a, by a city court in Mazar-e-Sharif.
Within days, the Afghan Senate bowed to international pressure, and apparently reversed itself, withdrawing the confirmation of Kambakhsh's death sentence for blasphemy. However, although not universal, commonplace public sentiments in support of this Shari'a ruling were expressed by Afghans across the age spectrum. Abdul Wasi Tokhi, an 18-year-old student at the American University in Kabul, argued for a swift execution, stating:
"The guy should be hanged. He was making fun of Islam's rules and regulations. He was making fun of the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him. You cannot criticize any principles which have been approved by sharia. It is the words of the Prophet."
And Qari Imam Bakhsh, a Muslim cleric, concurred, maintaining:
"I think he is not a Muslim. A Muslim would not make this kind of mistake. He should be punished so that others can learn from him."
This January, 2008, as well, in Iraqi Kurdistan -- upheld as a successful model of regional Islamic moderation, even secularization -- more evidence of oppressive, re-emergent Shari'a was on display. A court in Halabja (where Saddam Hussein's minions gassed thousands of Kurdish civilians in 1988, 15 years prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom), sentenced a Kurdish author in absentia to six months in prison for blasphemy. The author, Mariwan Halabjaee, was accused of writing in a book that Mohammed had 19 wives, married a 9-year-old when he was 54, and took part in murder and rape -- all of which can confirmed from the "sira," the authoritative, earliest pious Muslim biographies of his life (like this one by Ibn Ishaq/Ibn Hisham). From his asylum in Norway, Mr. Halabjee maintained that a fatwa calling for his death unless he pleads for forgiveness, has also been issued.
Intrepid historian David Littman has been chronicling, nearly alone, for almost two decades, the concerted efforts of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to Islamize international human rights instruments, and apply the Shari'a "standard" for blasphemy -- pace the current Kambakhsh and Halabjee travesties -- to all nations. Littman warned, for example, about the development of the Shari'a-based 1990 Cairo Declaration (i.e., the so-called Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Islam), to which all member states of the OIC are signatories, publicizing the immediate objections of a brave Senegalese jurist, Adama Dieng. Dieng, a Muslim, who subsequently became a United Nations special rapporteur, then serving as secretary-general to the International Commission of Jurists, declared forthrightly in February 1992 that the Cairo Declaration, under the rubric of the Shari'a,
...gravely threatens the inter-cultural consensus on which the international human rights instruments are based; introduces, in the name of the defense of human rights, an intolerable discrimination against both non-Muslims and women; reveals a deliberately restrictive character in regard to certain fundamental rights and freedoms..; [and] confirms the legitimacy of practices, such as corporal punishment, that attack the integrity and dignity of the human being.
K.S. Lal, the late Indian Professor of Islam, noted this difficult, if not intractable conundrum:
Muhammad could not change the revelation; he could only explain and interpret it. There are liberal Muslims and conservative Muslims; there are Muslims learned in theology and Muslims devoid of learning. They discuss, they interpret, they rationalize -- but all by going round and round within the closed circle of Islam. There is no possibility of getting out of the fundamentals of Islam; there is no provision of introducing any innovation.
Confirmation of Lal's observations at the macro level of international relations is manifested by the ceaseless, and increasingly successful campaign of the OIC to enforce universal application of a Shari'a standard, in complete opposition to bedrock principles of modern human rights, such a freedom of expression, and conscience.
More than a decade ago, Samuel Huntington observed appositely, and with a candor that is now exceedingly rare,
The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture....
During his recent debate with the cultural jihadist Tariq Ramadan, Ibn Warraq elucidated what is at stake should such Islamic supremacism prevail:
The great ideas of the West -- rationalism, self-criticism, the disinterested search for truth, the separation of church and state, the rule of law and equality under the law, freedom of thought and expression, human rights, and liberal democracy -- are superior to any others devised by humankind. It was the West that took steps to abolish slavery; the calls for abolition did not resonate even in Africa, where rival tribes sold black prisoners into slavery. The West has secured freedoms for women and racial and other minorities to an extent unimaginable 60 years ago. The West recognizes and defends the rights of the individual: we are free to think what we want, to read what we want, to practice our religion, to live lives of our choosing....Nor does the West need lectures on the superior virtue of societies in which women are kept in subjection under sharia, endure genital mutilation, are stoned to death for alleged adultery, and are married off against their will at the age of nine; societies that deny the rights of supposedly lower castes; societies that execute homosexuals and apostates. The West has no use for sanctimonious homilies from societies that cannot provide clean drinking water or sewage systems, that make no provisions for the handicapped, and that leave 40 to 50 percent of their citizens illiterate.
Andrew G. Bostom is the author of The Legacy of Jihad (Prometheus, 2005) and The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism " (Prometheus, November, 2007)