by Jerry Gordon (November 2011)
Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide
by Nina Shea and Paul Marshall
Oxford University Press (2011)
Next to my desk is a framed autographed lithograph of the Muhammad cartoon with a bomb–shaped turban drawn by Kurt Westergaard in 2005 and published along with 11 others in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. It was a gift for an interview I did with the feisty Westergaard when he was in North America in the fall of 2009. We had arranged an event for him in Manhattan. Westergaard’s cartoon had spurred riots, massive property damage to Danish Embassies and more than 200 deaths across the Muslim Ummah in 2006. Many believe those riots were orchestrated by the 57 member nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (renamed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in June, 2011). Westergaard’s caricature of a terrorist Muhammad caused the second great arc of Islamic outrage over artistic license and alleged blasphemy.
The first occurred in February, 1989, when the late founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a death fatwa with a $5.2 million bounty on the life of Indian–born Salman Rushdie, British author of The Satanic Verses. Like the Westergaard Muhammad cartoon controversy, what followed in the wake of Rushdie’s alleged blasphemy was murder, terror bombing and multiple deaths that circled the globe from the Muslim Ummah to the West reaching the UK, and even the US. Rushdie went into 24/7 witness protection under the UK Home Secretary that lasted for more than a decade. Khomeini, the author of the death fatwa, died within four months of issuing this Islamic theocratic diktat in June, 1989. The legacy of Khomeini’s death fatwa lived on in competing developments by Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan to impose Islamic anti-blasphemy and apostasy laws on the West.
The Westergaard Muhammad cartoon blasphemy eruption in 2006 was preceded in the Netherlands by the assassination in 2002 of Rotterdam mayor, Dutch politician and anti-immigration advocate Pim Fortuyn by a member of the Green party, allies of Dutch Muslim émigré interests. This was followed in 2004, with the murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, whose collaborator on the short film Submission was prominent Dutch Somali apostate, politician and author Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She was placed under 24/7 protection of the Royal Protective Service. Ali is currently a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC and a fearless advocate of women’s and human rights. Van Gogh’s murderer, Dutch Moroccan, Mohammed Bouyeri declared, “From now on this will be punishment for anyone in this land who challenges and insults Allah and messengers.” The next person in the dock in Holland was the Hon. Geert Wilders, leader of the PVV (Freedom Party) in the Hague parliament. His short film Fitna (chaos in Arabic) critical of Islam was released online in 2008. That defiant act of Wilders' resulted in an Interpol warrant for his arrest issued by a Jordanian court and his prosecution in a Dutch court started in January, 2010 on charges of incitement to hate of a religion, Islam. His acquittal of all charges by an Amsterdam District court in June 2011 was one of the few victories against the spread of anti-blasphemy codes in the EU under pressure from the OIC.
Westergaard had been the subject of assassination attempts when a Somali-Muslim attacked his residence with an ax intent on killing him in the name of Allah. At the conclusion of my interview, I asked him what he and other critics of Jihadist Islam should do. He said: “if you want to do something about free speech, then the only choice is USE IT, exercise it.”
That remark was echoed in interviews we conducted with others accused of blasphemy against Islam in the EU; Hon. Geert Wilders of The Netherlands, journalist historian Lars Hedegaard in Denmark, Swedish artist Lars Vilks (the target of the ‘Jihad Jane’ assassination plot that originated in the US with Irish accomplices) and activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff in Austria. The common thread for Wilders, Hedegaard and Wolff was alleged violation of hate speech laws against a designated religion, Islam. The outcomes of their trials were symptomatic of the plague of blasphemy in EU courts. Wilders was acquitted of all charges instigated by a leftist-Muslim alliance that played out dramatically in an Amsterdam district courtroom. However, Hedegaard and Sabaditsch-Wolff were convicted and fined on “racism’ and religious hate charges against Islam in matters brought by leftist media in municipal courts in Copenhagen and Vienna. This may have been facilitated by EU adoption of religious hate speech conventions, some believe under pressure brought by the OIC, with the willing assistance of elitist groups. Bat Ye’or has discussed that in our interview and review of her latest book, Europe, Globalization and the Coming Universal Caliphate.
Enter the timely book, co-authored by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea, Silenced: How Apostasy & Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide. It is a powerful indictment of the Saudi-based OIC that strives, as the authors say “ostensibly to protect Islam from criticism but also serves the purpose of shielding from criticism those who claim the right to rule in the name of Islam. [It is] intended to demand that Western governments punish all those within their borders who have purported insulted Islam.”
Shea and Marshall are, respectively, Director and Senior Fellow of the Washington, DC-based Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom. Both are widely published authors and writers on the topics of religious persecution. In addition to her post at the Hudson Institute, Shea is also a Commissioner at the Congressionally-chartered US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Silenced will be the subject of an important Capitol Hill conference on November 4th, 2011 sponsored by The Federalist Society with presentations by the authors and international experts on religious persecution and dhimmitude, including representatives of heterodox and reformist Muslim groups.
The OIC’s Anti-Free Speech Agenda
Silenced contains important documentation of the agenda of the OIC and its prominent members – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan. That agenda, as the title conveys, is to impose Islamic Sharia doctrine on Western freedom of speech.
That agenda is reflected in a series of actions taken by the OIC, beginning, as many believe, with the adoption in 1990 of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam based on Sharia Islamic law. Then starting in 1999, the OIC and other major members introduced 12 resolutions annually at both the UN General Assembly and UN Human Rights Council. Those resolutions sought criminalization of any criticism of Islam using the same “vague and subjective” standards of OIC member countries. This penetration of Western human and civil rights laws with anti-blasphemy and apostasy codes by the OIC was propelled by notable Salafist theologians like Egyptian Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who, as the authors note, held: “that henceforth, those living in non-Muslim jurisdictions, whether Muslim or not, can or should be controlled by amorphous and arbitrarily applied apostasy and blasphemy rules.” The authors quote Pakistan’s envoy to the UN Human Rights Council, Marghoob Saleem Butt, stating the intent of the initiatives was to end “the unrestricted disrespect and disrespectful enjoyment of freedom of expression.” They went on to say, “whether called defamation, hate speech, incitement to hostility, or Islamophobia, the essential issue is criticism against or within Islam.”
The OIC's anti- blasphemy agenda has been presented in the EU, obsessed with multiculturalism until recent declaration of failure by major leaders in the UK, France and Germany. The authors note the adoption in 2008 of new hate speech guidelines by the Council of Europe (CoE):
. . . [would make individuals] subject to prosecution, offending authors, artists, and including those who have directly or indirectly contributed to the circulation of such statement or work of art; publishers, editors, broadcasters, journalists, art dealers, artistic directors or museum managers.
They point out that the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe used operative terms like “gratuitously offensive speech,” “no right to offend” and the new language of “religious freedom of citizens and their religious feelings not to be insulted.”
Human rights commissions in neighboring Canada have subjected Islam critics like Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn (Maclean’s Magazine columnist and noted author), to veritable star chamber proceedings brought before the Canadian Human Rights Commission by the extremist Canadian Islamic Congress. Allegations that ultimately were discharged. That didn’t help, as Levant noted, “The real punishment is the process.” Then we have the example, as cited by the authors, of two Australian pastors who lectured about Islam in a private class and were convicted of defaming Islam and sentenced to a lifetime gag order.
US Complicity under the Obama Administration
The Obama Administration, either by design or unwittingly in their quest to reach out to the Muslim Ummah, may have encouraged the assault on free speech both here and abroad. Silenced co-author Shea, in our interview with her, noted this about President Obama’s June 4, 2009 Cairo Speech at Al-Azhar University:
That speech had a little noticed statement to the effect that he was going to do everything he could as President to fight against negative stereotyping of Islam wherever they appear: not just against Muslims, but against Islam.
Obama’s Cairo “New Beginnings Speech” also contained the comment about loosening the bonds of Federal counter-terrorism laws that have allegedly intimidated American Muslims from performing the obligation of Zakat.
One of the purposes of Zakat, we noted in a New English Review article on the subject “Zakat and Terrorism,” is to support the way of Allah or Jihad.
The day following Obama’s Cairo address, US Attorney General Eric Holder noted:
The President's pledge for a new beginning between the United States and the Muslim community takes root here in the Justice Department where we are committed to using criminal and civil rights laws to protect Muslim Americans. A top priority of this Justice Department is a return to robust civil rights enforcement and outreach in defending religious freedoms and other fundamental rights of all of our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the housing market, in our schools and in the voting booth.
The next “New Beginnings” initiative of the Obama Administration directed at stifling free speech occurred in the fall of 2009. The Silenced authors noted:
On October 2, 2009, the United States, seeking to “reach out” to Muslim countries, joined with Egypt to introduce a nonbinding resolution urging states to enforce their hate speech laws, which was adopted by consensus. State Dept legal advisor Harold Koh, praised the resolution as among the Obama Administration’s most important successes. Though in the United States, hate speech crimes have been found unconstitutional, in this resolution, the United States encourages their enforcement in the rest of world, which could also lead to efforts to reinterpret the First Amendment at home.
There is disquiet currently in the US about the Obama Administration’s record of apparent complicity in furthering the OIC agenda in this country given recent capitulation by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to demands of Muslim advocacy groups for self censorship. That is reflected in the deracination of any criticism of Islam from official lexicons, banning training materials and acknowledged experts in Jihad doctrine and terrorism assessment from courses providing training in counter-terrorism. Muslim advocacy groups in the US have even tried to rationalize access to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act for possible criminal prosecution of Islam criticism given allegations of “racism” committed against a religion, Islam. In December, the State Department will hold a summit with the executive director of the OIC, which had been given special envoy status under the Bush Administration. This conference will be a furtherance of declarations made by Secretary Hillary Clinton at an international conference in Istanbul about implementing measures adopted in March 2011 at the UNHRC about “discrimination on the basis of religious belief”– a code word for Islamic blasphemy. This comes dangerously close to threatening free speech, including criticism of religion, considered protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution and reflected in a number of Supreme Court rulings.
The Victims in the Ummah and the West
Silenced details occurrences of political and societal repression, including extra-judicial rampages, killings, and destruction of several groups comprising potentially millions in the Ummah. Today the Ummah stretches from the Atlantic Sea Frontier of Morocco through Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia and the Indonesian archipelago in the South China Sea.
The first victims are heterodox Muslim sects like the Baha’is and Ahmadiyyas. The second are non-Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and other religions. The third are apostates-converts who have left Islam by choice. The fourth are minority Muslim communities like the minority Shia in predominately Sunni lands like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, or vice versa, minority Sunni and Sufis in predominately Shia countries like Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Alevi community in Turkey. The final category is Islamic reformers and political dissidents.
Prominent among those non-Muslims threatened in the Muslim world are the remaining Jews in Iran and Yemen, Christian Copts in Egypt and the rapidly dwindling Christian communities in the Levant, Iraq, Pakistan and Indonesia, and the Hindus in Bangladesh and the Zoroastrians in Iran.
Iran has less than 25,000 Jews, while Yemen has less than 350. Both groups are subject to restrictions and, many have fled to Israel and the West.
Lebanon’s Christians (Maronite, and Orthodox), Syria’s Syriacs and Iraq's Assyrian Chaldeans number upwards of two million. Christians account for 2 percent of Pakistan’s population, upwards of 9 percent in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, and between 7 to 10 percent in Egypt. The most threatened Christian groups in the Muslim realm are in Pakistan and Egypt. In Africa, Nigeria is riven by sectarian warfare between the Muslim northern provinces and the Christian and animist South. One Jihadist group, Boko Haram (for whom Western Culture is forbidden) is indiscriminate in its murderous acts. It kills both Christians and those who simply disagree with its aims. In Somalia, the al-Qaeda affiliate Al Shabaab seeks to make the country Christiantrein by killing, often beheading Christians, including children. The Silenced authors noted one recent grisly example of extra-judicial assault on Christians in Pakistan:
On August 1, 2009, about 1000 people believed to be connected to the Taliban linked Sipah-e-Sahaba militant group, attacked local Christians in Gojra, Pakistan. Over 40 homes were razed, and at least seven Christians were killed, six of whom, including two children were burned alive.
As the late Shahbbaz Bahtti, the sole Christian in Pakistan’s cabinet, who was Minister of Minority Affairs, declared following the Gojra riots against Christians: “the blasphemy law is being used to terrorize minorities in Pakistan.” In March 2011, Bahtti himself was murdered for his opposition to the blasphemy law.
Earlier in January, 2011, Salman Taseer, the liberal governor of the Punjab province was assassinated by a member of his own security detail for his vocal opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
The special case of the Copts in Egypt is perhaps most troubling. There is considerable doubt about whether their Diaspora and host Western countries could absorb them. Moreover, as attested in the Hudson Institute conference on “The Coptic Winter: What Does the Massacre at Maspero Mean for Egypt's Christians?” the status of the roughly 8 to 10 million Copts is complicated by the rise of vigilantism of Muslim mobs inspired by Salafist preachers who call for jihad against the West. This is complicated by the breakdown of justice under a fractured, post-Mubarak regime. Youssef Sidhom, the editor of the Christian newspaper, Watani (Homeland) in Egypt, was “stunned by the emergence of the extremist Salafists.” He noted, “they announced that their role is to defend ‘real Islam’ and that the tool they would use is the early Islamic penal code.”
Dr. Mark Durie, Australian Anglican pastor and international human rights advocate, author of The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom noted that as a result of the Maspero massacres young Coptics may be rebelling against the dhimmitude that older generations had acceded to for centuries. He noted in a blog post: “A Double-Bind Upon the Copts: dhimmitude in action”:
The Copts are in a double bind. If they protest against the abuses brought upon their heads by the dhimma system, they are treated as rebels, and the value of their blood and possessions discounted accordingly: the more they protest, the less right they have under Islamic law even to exist. On the other hand, the more they acquiesce, the more voracious and emboldened their persecutors will become. This is what happened in Elmarinab: after the Christians made major concessions, their radical Muslim neighbors just demanded further concessions.
The heterodox Muslim sects like the Baha’is and Ahmadis in Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia are also victims of the OIC blasphemy and apostasy codes. These heterodox groups are outlawed in Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia. They are deprived of free speech and what passes for civil law with questionable rules and standards. They are the objects of attacks and mass killings, including terrorist bombings. Why? Because, they believe in Prophets later than the “divine” Muhammad, Allah’s exemplary messenger.
Ahmadi mosques were attacked in Lahore, Pakistan in May, 2010. The massacre was perpetrated by the Pakistan Taliban with resulting destruction and mass casualties. Human Rights Watch reported the toll:
On May 28, 2010, extremist Islamist militants attacked two Ahmadiyya mosques in the central Pakistani city of Lahore with guns, grenades, and suicide bombs, killing 94 people and injuring well over a hundred. Twenty-seven people were killed at the Baitul Nur Mosque in the Model Town area of Lahore; 67 were killed at the Darul Zikr mosque in the suburb of Garhi Shahu. The Punjabi Taliban, a local affiliate of the Pakistani Taliban, called the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility.
On the night of May 31, unidentified gunmen attacked the Intensive Care Unit of Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital, where victims and one of the alleged attackers in Friday's attacks were under treatment, sparking a shootout in which at least a further 12 people, mostly police officers and hospital staff, were killed. The assailants succeeded in escaping.
While these groups cling to their beliefs, their leaders are imprisoned and, as is the case with Baha’is in Iran and Egypt, maintain fealty to Qur’anic doctrine. The Ahmadis, however, believe in the separation of mosque from state. However, we note the irony that Ahmadi world leader Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad is not above criticizing critics of the orthodox Islamists that seek his Muslim sect’s destruction. During a trip to the Netherlands he issued a press release criticizing the Hon. Geert Wilders.
Apostates, those who leave Islam by choice, may be subject to death fatwas and corporeal punishment under Shariah Islamic law for being the equivalent of political traitors to Islam. In Iran, there is the case of Youcef Nadarkhani, a 32-year-old pastor, who was arrested in October 2009 and later sentenced to death for converting to Christianity. As noted in this FoxNews report, a retrial had been ordered by Iran’s Supreme Court at the behest of Supreme Ruler Khamenei, bowing to pressure from international human rights groups.
The pastor’s attorney, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, and religious rights organizations say Nadarkhani is facing possible execution for apostasy and for refusing to renounce his religion, contradicting reports by Iranian state media have indicated Nadarkhani was found guilty of rape, extortion and security-related crimes.
The case reportedly had been referred to Iran's supreme leader, a move some say shows the Islamic Republic is feeling pressure in the face of growing international support.
Dadkhah told AFP on Monday that an Iranian court has decided to seek the opinion of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — the Islamic Republic's spiritual leader and highest authority.
The Silenced authors noted the similar case in 2006 of Afghan convert to Christianity, Abdul Rahman. Rahman was imprisoned and threatened with death. Under intense international pressure, especially from the US and UK, he was released and sent to Italy which had granted him asylum. The case illustrated the conflict between an Afghan constitution, developed in accordance with Sharia despite objections raised by the USCIRF, which offered limited religious freedom, while imposing the Hanafi Islamic penalty of death for apostasy.
Both of these apostasy cases in the Ummah conflict with the provisions of Article 18 of the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights that guarantees the rights of individuals to change their religious beliefs.
Prominent international apostates, among them authors and activists, Nonie Darwish, Wafa Sultan, Ibn Warriq, Ali Sina, and others formed a group in 2009, Former Muslims United (FMU), to champion the civil and human rights of those who elected to leave Islam. Over the course of the past three years, FMU has conducted a campaign to bring to the attention of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in the US to the public threats to apostates. FMU has developed information on the virtual silence of American Muslim leaders to requests that the latter abjure death threats and corporeal punishments for apostates under Sharia. That was dramatically demonstrated in the results of two waves of mailings of the Freedom Pledge sent to more than 163 Muslim leaders and Imams requesting they execute a pledge against Shariah punishment for apostasy. Only two positive responses were received. One from M. Zhudi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for and Democracy and another from Dr. Ali Ayami of the Washington, DC-based Center for Democracy for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia. Among those who chose to remain silent when presented with the FMU pledge were Dalia Mogahed, an adviser to the Obama White House on Muslim outreach matters and the controversial Ground Zero Mosque Imam Abdul Feisal Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan, as well as the leadership of Muslim advocacy groups, CAIR and ISNA.
The FMU concerns about these threats to apostates have been visibly brought to the fore by the case of teen-age convert to Christianity Rifqa Bary. Bary fled her Muslim parents’ home in Ohio, only to become embroiled in juvenile court proceedings in both Florida and Ohio that caught the attention of the media in 2009 and 2010. As one illustration of the long reach of apostasy punishments against the life of Ms. Bary, a death threat was sent via email from Sri Lanka the original home of both her and her émigré Muslim family saying that “the Christian bitch must die.” In August, 2010, an Ohio juvenile court granted her freedom to remain here, just days before she reached her majority. The matter has not ended as far as CAIR and Ms. Bary’s aggrieved parents are concerned. They launched a $10 million lawsuit for defamation against a prominent defender of Ms. Bary, counter-Jihad blogger and activist, Ms. Pamela Geller, which they withdrew in September, 2011.
The palpable reality of Muslim vigilante corporeal punishment of apostates from Islam in the US was brought to public attention in the summer of 2011, when it was revealed that an Iraqi émigré was seized by Muslims in St. Louis and a Jewish Star of David carved on his back for his remarks in a poem in support of Israel and Jews.
The Peculiar Status of Muslim Critics of Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes
Silenced presents the views of several Islamic scholars, critics of the OIC anti-blasphemy and apostasy agenda. These critics argue that the Qur’an never countenanced such punishments. Rather these critics have said that anti-blasphemy and apostasy codes were “post-prophetic” developments. They allege that the codes are based on the Hadith – the interpretations or the sayings of Muhammad and rulings of Islamic jurisprudence which were politically motivated. Our view of this aspect of Silenced is that a compact discussion of the prevailing Sharia doctrinal basis for anti-blasphemy and apostasy laws would have significantly enhanced the presentation. Similarly, discussion of Qur’anic imprecations against Jews, Christians and Mushrikun (polytheists) and the development of the system of dhimmitude governing the subjugated status of non-Muslims would have helped to explain the rejectionist positions of doctrinal Islamic authorities.
The Muslim critics of apostasy and blasphemy include, the late former President of Indonesia, Kyai Haji Abdurraham Wahid, the late Egyptian professor Nasr Abu-Zayd, fellow Egyptian Quranist Sheikh Suhby Mansour and Abdullah Saeed. The Silenced authors point out that the late Abu-Zayd and Mansour were ejected from their native Egypt and declared apostates. Mansour espoused human rights and tolerance among Muslims, Christians and Jews. He received political asylum in the US in 2002. Sheik Mansour is a cofounder of Americans for Peace and Tolerance and was involved with its campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. Mansour was a fellow at USCRIF and founded the International Qur’anic Center in Virginia. Abdullah Saeed had his writings banned by Islamic authorities in his native Maldives (a Sunni Republic) and fled to asylum in Australia.
Wahid in his foreword to Silenced, “God Needs No Defense” suggests that apostasy was bound up in the politics of the great sweep of early Jihad, when it allegedly meant punishment for desertion from the Caliph’s army that constituted treasonous behavior. We demur from Wahid’s views that the Qur’an and the message of the prophet Muhammad were benign and exemplary of concern for human rights. The late Abu-Zayd in his essay, “Renewing Qur’anic Studies in the Contemporary World” suggests that blasphemy and apostasy rules prevented reform of Muslim societies. The authors quote him as saying that:
Charges of apostasy and blasphemy are key weapons in the fundamentalist’s arsenal, strategically employed to prevent reform of Muslim societies and instead confine the world’s Muslim population to a bleak, colorless prison of socio-cultural and political conformity.
In “Re-thinking Classical Muslim Law of Apostasy and the Death Penalty” Abdullah Saeed, follows the line of argument by Wahid and Abu-Zayd that these codes were political and tied to the politics of early Jihadist Islam that “human rights discourse is not Western, but shared by Muslims.” The later is contravened by prevailing Islamic doctrine that human rights are only those shared within the Ummah.
Warnings and Prescriptions
The authors at the conclusion of Silenced issue four critical warnings:
- Western hate speech laws are proxies for Islamic blasphemy rules;
- Religious hate speech laws are dangerously vague permitting rulings that violate basic free speech, freedom to worship and individual rights under Western constitutional provisions such as our First Amendment in the US and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
- Western Courts, especially in the EU, have convicted and punished critics for committing sacrilege against Islam; and,
- Religious speech controls exacerbate social comity and may encourage violence.
They offer four prescriptions:
- Policymakers should learn about religions, specifically, Islam;
- Policymakers must discern within Islam who are the extremists and their supporters and who are not;
- The West must reaffirm the central importance of freedom of expression and religion as central to democracy; and,
- The West must defend religious freedom and debate of religious views.
Silenced presents a well documented indictment of Western acquiescence to the demands of the OIC to advance its agenda of world Islamic domination by seeking to overturn fundamental individual rights of free expression. Warning! The OIC wants to silence free speech around the globe.
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