Sunday, December 30, 2007

Free Speech, Teddy Bears and Islam's Response - reprise

Disclaimer: This post is intended to discuss aspects of free speech and international issues relating to free speech in the secular West and Islam. Readers must note that Omani Law is not in this regard based on Shari'a, but on English Common Law in line with His Majesty's 1996 decree, and there is no issue with the laws of the Sultanate. All religions in the Sultanate are afforded the protection of the law and respect is in all cases to be shown. Nothing in this post contradicts the social, cultural, political, religious or economical values of the Sultanate of Oman. I would ask any commentators to do the same.

So, here we are again. On a comment to my earlier post on the infamous Sudanese Teddy Bear incident and the lack of moderate Islamic reponse Balqis said there were (only) two opinions on the Teddy bear incident voiced from the Muslim people in Oman who wanted to make them in public on Sabla and Omanforum.
1/ those who actually agreed with the Sudanese (people I consider to be effectively living in the Middle Ages, ie The Wackos) and
2/ those who didn't agree with the punishment but thought she should have known better, or been more respectful, or punished more leniently, and who anyway viewed it was a good opportunity to show the world how easy it is to offend (precious) Muslim sensibilities and serve as a warning for them to be more careful. I'll label them The Apologists.
(OK, I paraphrased, go and check the comment in full if you’re curious).

She also states 'There's no fear to speak about it, no need to do it loudly cause that's not Islamic etiquette'. Hmmm.

Firstly, I'm afraid I see no evidence what-so-ever that it is standard Islamic etiquette to be subtle and quiet. Whenever there is anything anywhere that can be portrayed as an insult to Islamic sensibilities, the extremely loud and vociferous calls for heinous punishment and retribution seem to be everywhere including the Omani Fora, and that also usually includes rioting in the streets of Pakistan and Iran.

But I am trying to be logical and, in true secular western tradition, actually think I can have a discussion based on observable reality and facts. It's too big a point to just comment back, hence this post. Note - I fully realise it is generally impossible to have such a meaningful discussion with those who are already totally convinced that they have all the correct answers nicely written down in a book from circa 1400 years ago. I would urge interested readers to look at the personal and poignant essay by the Iranian woman Azam Kamguian of the International Humanist and Ethical Union here . Her story seems to be more typical of what passes globally these days for Islamic etiquette.

But, what about those arguably more liberal Omani Muslims who thought the Sudan incident was a total joke, should have been no big deal at all, and who were in no way offended? (because, hey, they realise it was just a freaking teddy bear.) I think the tone of Balqis' comment (to say nothing of the crap I see regularly on Oman Forum) shows exactly why these really moderate people often don’t speak up - because they would be accused of not being good/true Muslims, and they really can’t be bothered arguing with such people. And I certainly would avoid at all costs being accused of 'not being a true Muslim' if I was such a moderate Omani. Why?

There are so-called Moderate Muslims (like Amjad seems to be) who actually say they believe that the correct and fair punishment for what someone merely thinks inside their head (ie denying one’s Muslim faith and therefore being considered to be an Apostate) should be death (and a death delivered by humans now rather than a punishment to given by God after a natural life). I find that extremely worrying. And it certainly doesn’t fit my definition of moderate. I think it borders on insanity, and is an attitude that would be right at home with those of the Spanish Inquisition, Stalinist Russia and Pol Pot’s Cambodia to name but a few.

In my opinion, it is this violent approach to the punishment of Apostasy (and blasphemy), and the extensive support throughout the Muslim world this approach receives, that is the No.1 reason for the significant problems between Islam and the secular West. It is an excuse that is often used to justify horrific acts of evil enacted upon perfectly good and reasonable people. I would be very interested in how many of the so-called moderate commentators Balqis refers to believe Apostasy and Blasphemy should be punished by violence.

Until the vast majority of the Muslim faithful change this extreme view, cease to act with violence upon it and cease to agree with those who call for violence in a religious situation, there will never be a reasonable and truly moderate accommodation between the secular West and Islam. In addition, the forces of true moderation within the Muslim community will remain vulnerable and at risk of violent persecution. This must never be allowed to happen in Oman.

You see, its not like the Teddy Bear case is rare, or unusual, or restricted to totally bat-crazy dark age shit-holes like Sudan. At present, the death penalty for Apostasy is the law in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Yemen, Iran, Sudan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Mauritania. In Pakistan even 'simple' blasphemy is also punishable by death. And even where death is not the explicit law of the land, we hear reports of the calls from many Mosques and Immams for such extreme extra-judicial punishments to be delivered by the faithful anyhow, in places such as England, France, Bangladesh and Denmark. Salman Rushdi being a classic example. I personally know of people in Oman who have been arrested, had their life seriously threatened, and had to leave the country following the mere accusation of blasphemy.

There was the famous case recently of the man in Afghanistan who was sentenced to death for converting to Christianity, and even more shocking the Christian man arrested in Pakistan in 2003 and charged with having thrown litter on the ground near a mosque in Lahore. This was deemed an offence under section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which provides up to two years’ imprisonment for defiling a place of worship. He was held in a Lahore prison but transferred to hospital in May, suffering from tuberculosis. He died after his police guard attacked him in the hospital. The police officer stated that he had done his religious duty.

The Barnabas Fund report (admittedly a Christian Charity) concludes:
The field of apostasy and blasphemy and related 'crimes' is thus obviously a complex syndrome within all Muslim societies which touches a raw nerve and always arouses great emotional outbursts against the perceived acts of treason, betrayal and attacks on Islam and its honour. While there are a few brave dissenting voices within Muslim societies, the threat of the application of the apostasy and blasphemy laws against any who criticize its application is an efficient weapon used to intimidate opponents, silence criticism, punish rivals, reject innovations and reform, and keep non-Muslim communities in their place.

There are, of course, serious Islamic religious scholars – and by no means would all these scholars to be considered Moderates - who disagree that the penalty should be death, most especially because such a penalty is not actually part of the Qur'an at all, but is based on interpretation of the Hadith. It would unfortunately seem that these scholars are in the minority, as apparently all 5 major establishment authorities on Shari'a Law go with Death. There is some disagreement on whether death applies to men only or women too. Some kindly see women as only deserving of life imprisonment until they repent or die of natural causes. Some also differ slightly on the suitable punishment depending whether the person is born of Muslim parents or is a convert.

Oman has a potentially huge role to play in this global moderation, especially with the benefit of having a more reasonable Ibadhi interpretation of Islam as a national majority and a demonstrable tradition of religious tolerance. Oman's natural strengths of reasonableness, understanding and diplomacy could, under the guidance of His Majesty, provide for the whole world a light at the end of this tunnel of increasing darkness and extremism.

So, step up and help. Help get rid of the justifications for violent retribution for simply being insulted. Help push back hard against those who want to drag us all back to the Dark Ages, threaten us into the Sudanese/Saudi/Iranian/Pakistani version of Islam and to an interaction based on isolationism, fatwas, jihad and hatred. Or you're part of the problem.

Background: There is an excellent discussion, many more links than I can be bothered to copy here, and several enlightening essays on being an Islamic Apostate [and being an Apostate in general] in Wikipedia

Balqis also highlighted an interesting comment piece in the International Herald Tribune as an example of, albeit international, moderate response IHT comment


  1. Dragon, thanks for having my back on this issue. I'll post a couple additional comments shortly, but I wanted to refer to the latest storm in a teacup, this time soccer related: We are offended by the opposition team's uniforms. I kid you not.

  2. Suburban,
    Glad to entertain. Nice link BTW. lol! Things are just starting to get silly. I hope Blue Chi notices what a slippery slope the aim of avoiding offending anyone can lead to...

    At least lots and lots of Muslims agreed the lawyer in the soccor case was being a total idiot, bringing both the club, Turkey and Muslims into disrepute.


If you wish to post anonymously, please pick a nickname by selecting the Name/URL option, or at least sign off your comment with one! I will delete comments I find objectionable or needlessly inflammatory. Sorry for the word verification.... OMG the spam has gotten BAD these past 12 months... trying to avoid making one log in...