Blasphemy and Reason

The concept of blasphemy is central to any discussion of shariah and its effects.

It has led to outrageous acts such as the killings over cartoon drawings of Mohammed, but also to an organized campaign to silence criticism of Islam.

Simply suggesting that shariah is a law code that arises from the particular circumstances of early Medieval Arabia is considered blasphemy because it denies the religious claim that shariah is the eternal law of God for human beings.

Questioning whether its codified inequality for women or its brutal treatment of sexual minorities is appropriate is blasphemy.

In Western societies, where the law codifies many basic rights that are denied and suppressed by shariah, acting according to our positive law can involve committing blasphemy. Advocating that Islamic societies depart from shariah and recognize human rights is blasphemy.

Blasphemy and Attempted Censorship

A leading voice in the debate on Islam and the West has been the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

The OIC considers “combatting Islamophobia” to be one of its major purposes. In December 2005’s “Ten Year Programme of Action To Meet the Challenges Facing the Muslim Ummah in the 21st Century” called for the United Nations to advise “deterrent punishments” be instituted by all governments worldwide for speech by their citizens that they consider offensive.

In 1990, the OIC member states adopted The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, which limits free speech in this way:

“Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such a manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Shari’ah (Article 22).”

Blasphemous speech, which includes advocacy for basic human rights, would be banned under this declaration. Western governments, which are founded to protect the rights of their citizens, are being asked to violate their most basic function.

Blasphemy and Self-Censorship

After the 9/11 attacks, the United States government began a campaign of self-censorship to avoid the image that America – which was fighting jihadist terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan– was at war with Islam.

This has now reached absurd levels. The FBI has said that it simply will never know what may have motivated the Chattanooga shooter, Mohammad Abdulazeez, when he attacked a Marine Corps recruiter.

The Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, was said to have perhaps been motivated by “rage over the health care bill.”

Several terrorist attacks have been said to be “workplace related” including the San Bernardino shooting and the shooting of US soldiers by Nidal Hassan until indisputable evidence of jihadist motivation came into the public light.

The trend was the subject of mockery by tv comedians even in 2007, when they staged a fake newscast that listed the names of real terrorists involved in recent attacks – all clearly Islamic names – and then expressed complete bemusement about what their motivation could be.

Self-Censorship and Security Failures

The situation has degraded since then and there are many examples of political correctness eliminating the ability of our security agencies to protect us.

In December of 2015 a DHS whistleblower came forth with firsthand accounts of being forced to scrub records of Muslims with terrorist connections so as not to offend Muslim groups. Self-censorship has caused gaps in the professional education of senior civilian and military personnel across the governmental bureaucracy.

There is also intimidation against making reports that could be seen as critical of Islam. Such intimidation has produced clear examples of security failures. In the San Bernardino attacks, neighbors had seen evidence of a possible attack but said nothing to the authorities because they did not want to seem prejudiced.

In Rotherham, England, a ring of men from Pakistan raped children for a decade and a half before the ring was broken up. The authorities were repeatedly informed, as early as 2002, but agents did not want to risk their careers in an environment of intense pressure not to seem racist or critical of Islam. There was a Home Office investigation into charges that Tony Blair’s government had known of the ring as early as 2001, but did nothing because it conflicted with “his government’s efforts to pacify Muslim communities.” Some 1,400 children were raped over the ensuing 16 years.

One of the two major Paris attacks of 2015 was carried out by Cherif Kouachi, whom an investigative reporter described as “irreversibly radicalized,” but who was set free from a previous attack with a lenient sentence. He went on to lead the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, in which the jihadists murdered cartoonists for blasphemy.

Blasphemy and Enforced Censorship

The Charlie Hebdo attack was not the only case of recent attacks by Muslims for blasphemy.

Theo van Gogh died after being stabbed and shot for making a film critical of Islam. Kurt Westergaard was nearly killed by an axe attack in his own home after his participation in another cartoon controversy in Denmark.

These extrajudicial attacks on artists are mirrored by judicial violence against artists in the Islamic world. Atena Farghadani is a cartoonist in Iran serving a 13 year sentence for cartoons depicting clerics and parliamentarians in her government as animals.

Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Mousav are poets who are to receive 99 whiplashes each as well as more than a decade in prison for writing poems said to be blasphemous.

In Saudi Arabia, blasphemy is punished by death under color of law.

Blasphemy and Enforced Censorship in the United States

Even in the United States, the land of the First Amendment, enforced censorship of blasphemy is ongoing.

American cartoonist Molly Norris of Seattle, Washington, now lives under an assumed identity. After floating a contest called “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day,” she came under intense and credible death threats as well as a fatwa from al Qaeda calling for her execution. At the recommendation of the FBI, she went into hiding and remains there. She can never go back to her old life, or make contact with old friends and family, without being in danger of discovery.

At colleges and universities across the United States, the Muslim Students Association (MSA) stages aggressive intimidation against speakers who might be critical of Islam.

Such criticism is itself a form of blasphemy in the eyes of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which the MSA was the first offshoot in the United States. In Garland, Texas, an art exhibit critical of Islam was attacked by two sympathizers of the Islamic State. They came with rifles and body armor, and were only stopped from committing a massacre by the quick action of police on the scene.

This is a Challenge to Key American Values

The United States of America enshrines freedom of expression and freedom of conscience at the core of its Bill of Rights.

A product of the Enlightenment that followed the Thirty Years War in central Europe, the American Constitution holds that basic liberty must include the right to worship as you see fit, or not at all. We must be free to speak and to inquire.

These moves to silence blasphemy, judicial and extrajudicial, organized at the international level or at the level of local colleges, are challenges to those basic principles. They represent an attempt to deny basic rights to American citizens.

In the case of Molly Norris, the attempt was successful: her rights were quashed in the name of punishing blasphemy. In the case of the intimidation of speakers at universities and elsewhere, the attempts have also often been successful. Free inquiry is at risk.

We have seen that risk realized in terms of security failures that have cost American and Western lives, most recently the twenty-four people killed in San Bernardino after neighbors didn’t report evidence of the attack to the police.

In addition to threats to rights and to life, there is a basic honesty that is under threat as well. A free people should speak the truth. We should not deny obvious truths in the hope of not giving offense.


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