In February of this year Hamza Kashgari was one of the first people in the Muslim world to be held accountable for ‘blasphemous’ tweets. Only a few months later Alex Aan was arrested for tweets deemed blasphemous also.
Kashgari wisely promptly fled Saudi Arabia only to be detained in Malaysia by authorities and deported back to the embrace of the blood thirsty Saudi authorities. There he faces the prospect of execution for his tweets. So, what were these tweets that were so offensive that death is the only reasonable retribution?
- On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.
- On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.
- On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.
Clearly unreasonable and vulgar stuff! The most obvious questions that spring to mind are these. Suppose Mohammed was a prophet and not a charlatan and that Allah exists and is all powerful, then is Mohammed really that insecure about what one random person tweets in a virtual realm and is Allah so impotent that he needs people to carry out his ‘justice’ for him? Why are the authorities and many followers of Islam calling for the death penalty? Do they not think Kashgari will be sufficiently punished by Allah in this life or the next? Why do they empower themselves with the responsibility of carrying out the gruesome task of murder? – which is what we’re really talking about here.
Obviously one might think that it is the writings from the Qur’an that inform the overzealous decision making process here. You would be wrong. In fact it was the meek and weak mortal humans who decided the punishment for blasphemy. Again, over ruling the supposed all powerful Allah’s ability to enforce justice as he sees fit. Here is a nice brief history of laws that punish blasphemy from a follower of Islam.
Laws to punish blasphemy are inventions of the human mind – whatever about gods and demons there is no doubt or room for debate on this one – and as such have no need for existence other than to control what people say. This is a very transparent attempt to ensure that no one openly questions religious dogma. When one considers that the Republic of Ireland – republic indeed – passed an anti-blasphemy law only a few short years ago (July 2009) it really strikes the reasonable mind like a sledgehammer. Granted the death penalty is not on the table as a punishment and rather a monetary fine is instead (€25,000 no less) it is a poor reflection on a Western state that has long enough been scandalised by organised religion and its demands. What are the supporters of these laws afraid of? Well, I think that is obvious when considering the clear hypocrisy of humans thinking they need to interfere in the affairs of their deity when they claim he is all knowing, all powerful and has a plan for each and everyone of us.
What is arguably most concerning about Kashgari’s predicament – outside of what has been outlined above – is that there are accusations that Interpol allowed Saudi authorities to use their red notice system to detain and arrest him. Interpol reject the accusations. I truly hope that they are not involved in the perpetuation of barbarism otherwise no one will ever truly be safe to take refuge from a dangerous and, in this case, murderous regime. This story like many others has been under reported since its initial breaking point back in February but Kashgari is still waiting to find out his future for his heinous crimes. As I type he awaits the outcome of not only facing blasphemy charges but charges of apostasy which is certain to lead to death if found guilty. Please follow this link and add your name to the petition for his release. It is unlikely to have any real impact but in the event that it may sway someone, somewhere in a position of influence it is worth the expenditure of a few seconds of your time.
The election of Egypt’s first freely elected President has not brought the relief or sense of closure many hoped for after nearly a year and half of uncertainty. Many questions are left unanswered and Egypt’s future is still quite fragile and tentative. The citizens of Egypt fought to overthrow an autocracy but are now on the precipice between a democracy and a theocracy. Morsi, Egypt’s President-elect was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation which resists western influence and seeks to enforce Sharia law. So how can the citizens of Egypt overthrow an autocracy in an effort to attain liberty only to have the freedom limiting laws of Sharia imposed upon them?
Well Egyptian citizens were not seeking freedom when they revolted. Western media simply romanticized the Egyptians’ motives and portrayed our idealised notion of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ as their motivation. Those revolting were more concerned with economic and social issues, such as high unemployment, corruption, and inflation. Of course free elections and democracy were a part of the revolt but it was the former that occupied the thoughts of the voters and it was for these reasons that Morsi was elected. His Muslim Brotherhood background is not important to most voters providing the economy gets fixed. Another reason he was elected is due to the fact that he is the lesser of two evils. His election rival, Shafik, was Prime Minister under Mubarak so his campaign was tainted by this association. The fear of Sharia was also allayed by the military. During the transitional period the military, The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), commandeered many Presidential powers. The state budget, the legislature, and the promulgation of the constitution are now all under the control of SCAF. Many still fear Sharia may grip the nation, especially given Morsi’s comments, ‘the Qu’ran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader, jihad is our path and death in the name of Allah is our goal’, which is almost identical to the Brotherhood’s creed. This statement, however, was blown out of proportion by the media due its Brotherhood implications and our interpretation of ‘jihad’. Firstly, jihad is merely a struggle for a cause which the Egypt revolt was and secondly the mention of the Qu’ran and Mohammad could just be a nationalistic affirmation; a statement that Egypt will no longer be under the control of the West, which Mubarak was.
I find it difficult to believe that Morsi will continue with strong links to the Brotherhood. Egypt is still quite volatile and has a high Christian population (10%) and a developed middle class which will not accept Sharia. The most important factor, however, is the military. They are notoriously against the Brotherhood and hold all the power. Morsi is only the President-elect and there is every chance that there will be another election in nine months. So it is my prediction that Morsi will distance himself from the Brotherhood over the next nine months and cosy up with the military in an attempt to remain President or the military will call another election in nine months and a stronger candidate with no links to Mubarak will oppose Morsi. Either way, although some Islamic laws may be enacted, I do not think Sharia will be implemented because to stay in power the Brotherhood has to contend with the Christians, the middle class, and most importantly the military. A bigger issue will be if the Military fail to surrender their powers back to the President and Parliament, which will plant Egypt back into the realm of revolution.
Peter Ferguson is a classicist at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He is a member of Atheist Ireland and the Humanist Association of Ireland. Read more of Peter’s work at his website: www.humanisticus.com