BLASPHEMY AND FREE SPEECH

http://www.hillsdale.edu/news/imprimis/archive/issue.asp?year=2012&month=02
02/2012 February 2012

Paul Marshall
Senior Fellow
Hudson Institute

PAUL MARSHALL is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute's Center for
Religious Freedom. He has published widely in newspapers and magazines,
including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington
Post, First Things, The New Republic, and The Weekly Standard. He is
the author or editor of more than 20 books on religion and politics,
including Their Blood Cries Out, Religious Freedom in the World,
and Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion. Most recently
he is the co-author, with Nina Shea, of Silenced: How Apostasy and
Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide.

The following is adapted from a lecture delivered at Hillsdale
College's Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and
Citizenship in Washington, D.C., on February 3, 2012.

A growing threat to our freedom of speech is the attempt to stifle
religious discussion in the name of preventing "defamation of" or
"insults to" religion, especially Islam. Resulting restrictions
represent, in effect, a revival of blasphemy laws.

Few in the West were concerned with such laws 20 years ago. Even if
still on some statute books, they were only of historical interest.

That began to change in 1989, when the late Ayatollah Khomeini, then
Iran's Supreme Leader, declared it the duty of every Muslim to kill
British-based writer Salman Rushdie on the grounds that his novel,
The Satanic Verses, was blasphemous. Rushdie has survived by living his
life in hiding. Others connected with the book were not so fortunate:
its Japanese translator was assassinated, its Italian translator was
stabbed, its Norwegian publisher was shot, and 35 guests at a hotel
hosting its Turkish publisher were burned to death in an arson attack.

More recently, we have seen eruptions of violence in reaction to
Theo van Gogh's and Ayaan Hirsi Ali's film Submission, Danish and
Swedish cartoons depicting Mohammed, the speech at Regensburg by Pope
Benedict XVI on the topic of faith, reason, and religious violence,
Geert Wilders' film Fitna, and a false Newsweek report that the U.S.

military had desecrated Korans at Guantanamo. A declaration by Terry
Jones-a deservedly obscure Florida pastor with a congregation of less
than 50-that he would burn a Koran on September 11, 2010, achieved
a perfect media storm, combining American publicity-seeking, Muslim
outrage, and the demands of 24 hour news coverage. It even drew the
attention of President Obama and senior U.S. military leaders. Dozens
of people were murdered as a result.

Such violence in response to purported religious insults is not
simply spontaneous. It is also stoked and channeled by governments
for political purposes. And the objects and victims of accusations
of religious insults are not usually Westerners, but minorities and
dissidents in the Muslim world. As Nina Shea and I show in our recent
book Silenced, accusations of blasphemy or insulting Islam are used
systematically in much of that world to send individuals to jail or
to bring about intimidation through threats, beatings, and killings.

The Danish cartoons of Mohammed were published in Denmark's largest
newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, in September 2005. Some were reproduced by
newspapers in Muslim countries in order to criticize them. There was no
violent response. Violence only erupted after a December 2005 summit
in Saudi Arabia of the Organization of the Islamic Conference-now the
Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The summit was convened to
discuss sectarian violence and terrorism, but seized on the cartoons
and urged its member states to rouse opposition. It was only in
February 2006-five months after the cartoons were published-that
Muslims across Africa, Asia, and the Mideast set out from Friday
prayers for often violent demonstrations, killing over 200 people.

The highly controlled media in Egypt and Jordan raised the cartoon
issue so persistently that an astonishing 98 percent of Egyptians and
99 percent of Jordanians-knowing little else of Denmark-had heard of
them. Saudi Arabia and Egypt urged boycotts of Danish products. Iran
and Syria manipulated riots partly to deflect attention from their
nuclear projects. Turkey used the cartoons as bargaining chips
in negotiations with the U.S. over appointments to NATO. Editors
in Algeria, Jordan, India, and Yemen were arrested-and in Syria,
journalist Adel Mahfouz was charged with "insulting public religious
sentiment"-for suggesting a peaceful response to the controversy. Lars
Vilks' later and more offensive 2007 Swedish cartoons and Geert
Wilders' 2008 film Fitna led to comparatively little outcry,
demonstrating further that public reactions are government-driven.

Repression based on charges of blasphemy and apostasy, of course, goes
far beyond the stories typically covered in our media. Currently,
millions of Baha'is and Ahmadis-followers of religions or
interpretations that arose after Islam-are condemned en masse as
insulters of Islam, and are subject to discriminatory laws and attacks
by mobs, vigilantes, and terrorists. The Baha'i leadership in Iran is
in prison, and there is no penalty in Iran for killing a Baha'i. In
Somalia, al Shebaab, an Islamist group that controls much of that
country, is systematically hunting down and killing Christians. In
2009, after allegations that a Koran had been torn, a 1,000-strong
mob with Taliban links rampaged through Christian neighborhoods in
Punjab, Pakistan's largest province, killing seven people, six of
whom, including two children, were burned alive. Pakistani police
did not intervene.

Throughout the Muslim world, Sunni, Shia, and Sufi Muslims may be
persecuted for differing from the version of Islam promulgated by
locally hegemonic religious authorities. Saudi Arabia represses
Shiites, especially Ismailis. Iran represses Sunnis and Sufis. In
Egypt, Shia leaders have been imprisoned and tortured.

In Afghanistan, Shia scholar Ali Mohaqeq Nasab, editor of Haqooq-i-Zen
magazine, was imprisoned by the government for publishing "un-Islamic"
articles that criticized stoning as a punishment for adultery. Saudi
democracy activists Ali al-Demaini, Abdullah al-Hamed, and Matruk
al-Faleh were imprisoned for using "un-Islamic terminology,"
such as "democracy" and "human rights," when calling for a written
constitution. Saudi teacher Mohammed al-Harbi was sentenced to 40
months in jail and 750 lashes for "mocking religion" after discussing
the Bible in class and making pro-Jewish remarks. Egyptian Nobel
prize winner in literature Naguib Mahfouz reluctantly abandoned
his lifelong resistance to censorship and sought permission from
the clerics of Al-Azhar University to publish his novel Children of
Gebelawi, hitherto banned for blasphemy. Mahfouz subsequently lived
under constant protection after being stabbed by a young Islamist,
leaving him partly paralyzed.

After Mohammed Younas Shaikh, a member of Pakistan's Human Rights
Commission, raised questions about Pakistan's policies in Kashmir,
he was charged with having blasphemed in one of his classes. In
Bangladesh, Salahuddin Choudhury was imprisoned for hurting "religious
feelings" by advocating peaceful relations with Israel. In Iran,
Ayatollah Boroujerdi was imprisoned for arguing that "political
leadership by clergy" was contrary to Islam, and cleric Mohsen Kadivar
was imprisoned for "publishing untruths and disturbing public minds"
after writing Theories of the State in Shiite Jurisprudence, which
questioned the legal basis of Ayatollah Khomeini's view of government.

Other charges brought against Iranians include "fighting against God,"
"dissension from religious dogma," "insulting Islam," "propagation
of spiritual liberalism," "promoting pluralism," and, my favorite,
"creating anxiety in the minds of ... Iranian officials."

Muslim reformers cannot escape being attacked even in the West. In
2006, a group called Al-Munasirun li Rasul al Allah emailed over 30
prominent reformers in the West, threatening to kill them unless they
repented. Among its targets was Egyptian Saad Eddin Ibrahim, perhaps
the best known human rights activist in the Arab world. Another was
Ahmad Subhy Mansour, an imam who was imprisoned and had to flee Egypt,
in part for his arguments against the death penalty for apostasy. The
targets were pronounced "guilty of apostasy, unbelief, and denial
of the Islamic established facts" and given three days to "announce
their repentance." The message included their addresses and the names
of their spouses and children.

Mimount Bousakla, a Belgian senator and daughter of Moroccan
immigrants, was forced into hiding by threats of "ritual slaughter"
for her criticism of the treatment of women in Muslim communities and
of fundamentalist influences in Belgian mosques. Turkish-born Ekin
Deligoz, the first Muslim member of Germany's Parliament, received
death threats and was placed under police protection after she called
for Muslim women to "take off the head scarf."

But the story gets worse. Western governments have begun to give
in to demands from the Saudi-based OIC and others for controls on
speech. In Austria, for instance, Elisabeth Sabbaditsch-Wolf has been
convicted of "denigrating religious beliefs" for her comments about
Mohammed during a seminar on radical Islam. Canada's grossly misnamed
"human rights commissions" have hauled writers-including Mark Steyn,
who teaches as a distinguished fellow in journalism at Hillsdale
College-before tribunals to interrogate them about their writings on
Islam. And in Holland and Finland, respectively, politicians Geert
Wilders and Jussi Halla-aho have been prosecuted for their comments
on Islam in political speeches.

In America, the First Amendment still protects against the
criminalization of criticizing Islam. But we face at least two threats
still. The first is extra-legal intimidation of a kind already endemic
in the Muslim world and increasing in Europe. In 2009, Yale University
Press, in consultation with Yale University, removed all illustrations
of Mohammed from its book by Jytte Klausen on the Danish cartoon
crisis. It also removed Gustave Dore's 19th-century illustration of
Mohammed in hell from Dante's Inferno. Yale's formal press statement
stressed the earlier refusal by American media outlets to show the
cartoons, and noted that their "republication...has repeatedly resulted
in violence around the world."

Another publisher, Random House, rejected at the last minute a
historical romance novel about Mohammed's wife, Jewel of Medina, by
American writer Sherry Jones. They did so to protect "the safety of
the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else
who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel."

The comedy show South Park refused to show an image of Mohammed
in a bear suit, although it mocked figures from other religions. In
response, Molly Norris, a cartoonist for the Seattle Weekly, suggested
an "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day." She quickly withdrew the suggestion
and implied that she had been joking. But after several death threats,
including from Al-Qaeda, the FBI advised her that she should go into
hiding-which she has now done under a new name.

In 2010, Zachary Chesser, a young convert to Islam, pleaded guilty
to threatening the creators of South Park. And on October 3, 2011,
approximately 800 newspapers refused to run a "Non Sequitur" cartoon
drawn by Wiley Miller that merely contained a bucolic scene with the
caption "Where's Muhammad?"

Many in our media claim to be self-censoring out of sensitivity to
religious feelings, but that claim is repeatedly undercut by their
willingness to mock and criticize religions other than Islam. As
British comedian Ben Elton observed: "The BBC will let vicar gags pass,
but they would not let imam gags pass. They might pretend that it's,
you know, something to do with their moral sensibilities, but it
isn't. It's because they're scared."

The second threat we face is the specter of cooperation between our
government and the OIC to shape speech about Islam. A first indication
of this came in President Obama's Cairo speech in 2009, when he
declared that he has a responsibility to "fight against negative
stereotypes of Islam whenever they appear." Then in July of last year
in Istanbul, Secretary of State Clinton co-chaired-with the OIC-a
"High-Level Meeting on Combating Religious Intolerance." There, Mrs.

Clinton announced another conference with the OIC, this one in
Washington, to "exchange ideas" and discuss "implementation" measures
our government might take to combat negative stereotyping of Islam.

This would not restrict free speech, she said. But the mere fact of
U.S. government partnership with the OIC is troublesome. Certainly it
sends a dangerous signal, as suggested by the OIC's Secretary-General,
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, when he commented in Istanbul that the Obama
administration stands "united" with the OIC on speech issues.

The OIC's charter commits it "to combat defamation of Islam." Its
current action plan calls for "deterrent punishments" to counter
"Islamophobia." In 2009, an official OIC organ, the "International
Islamic Fiqh [Jurisprudence] Academy," issued fatwas calling for
speech bans, including "international legislation," to protect "the
interests and values of [Islamic] society." The OIC does not define
what speech should be outlawed, but the repressive practices of its
leading member states speak for themselves.

The conference Secretary Clinton announced in Istanbul was held in
Washington on December 12-14, 2011, and was closed to the public,
with the "Chatham House Rule" restricting the participants (this
rule prohibits the identification of who says what, although general
content is not confidential). Presentations reportedly focused on
America's deficiencies in its treatment of Muslims and stressed
that the U.S. has something to learn in this regard from the other
delegations-including Saudi Arabia, despite its ban on Christian
churches, its repression of its Shiite population, its textbooks
teaching that Jews should be killed, and the fact that it beheaded
a woman for sorcery on the opening day of the conference.

* * * The encroachment of de facto blasphemy restrictions in the
West threatens free speech and the free exchange of ideas. Nor will
it bring social peace and harmony. As comedian Rowan Atkinson warns,
such laws produce "a veneer of tolerance concealing a snake pit of
unaired and unchallenged views." Norway's far-reaching restrictions on
"hate speech" did not prevent Anders Behring Breivik from slaughtering
over 70 people because of his antipathy to Islam: indeed, his writings
suggest that he engaged in violence because he believed that he could
not otherwise be heard.

In the Muslim world, such restrictions enable Islamists to crush
debate. After Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, was murdered early
last year by his bodyguards for opposing blasphemy laws, his daughter
Sara observed: "This is a message to every liberal to shut up or be
shot." Or in the words of Nasr Abu-Zayd, a Muslim scholar driven out
of Egypt: "Charges of apostasy and blasphemy are key weapons in the
fundamentalists' arsenal, strategically employed to prevent reform of
Muslim societies, and instead confine the world's Muslim population to
a bleak, colourless prison of socio-cultural and political conformity."

President Obama should put an end to discussion of speech with the
OIC. He should declare clearly that in free societies, all views and
all religions are subject to criticism and contradiction. As the late
Abdurrahman Wahid, former president of Indonesia, the world's largest
Muslim country, and head of Nahdlatul Ulama, the world's largest
Muslim organization, wrote in his foreword to Silenced, blasphemy laws

. . . narrow the bounds of acceptable discourse. . . not only about
religion, but also about vast spheres of life, literature, science,
and culture in general. . . . Rather than legally stifle criticism
and debate-which will only encourage Muslim fundamentalists in
their efforts to impose a spiritually void, harsh, and monolithic
understanding of Islam upon all the world-Western authorities should
instead firmly defend freedom of expression. . . .

America's Founders, who had broken with an old order that was rife
with religious persecution and warfare, forbade laws impeding free
exercise of religion, abridging freedom of speech, or infringing
freedom of the press. We today must do likewise.