Hamza Kashgari, a Saudi columnist may face death for sending three tweets. Addressing the Prophet Muhammad he wrote, “I have loved the rebel in you,” but “I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.” He also wrote, “I shall shake [your hand] as equals do … I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.”
The Saudi Twitter-sphere exploded with responses to Kashgari, with commentators accusing him of blasphemy. A Facebook account was immediately set up calling for his death and in no time over 13,000 Muslims subscribed to it.
Kashgari escaped to seek asylum in New Zealand, but he was detained in Malaysia. Despite pleas from several human rights organizations and a High Court injunction obtained by his lawyer to not extradite him back, where he would not receive a fair trial, he was quickly deported in a private plane. Malaysia does not have an extradition treaty with Saudi Arabia.
What makes this case even more disturbing is the fact that Saudi Arabia is reported to have used Interpol’s “red notice” system to locate and arrest the 23 year old journalist. Police in Kuala Lumpur said Kashgari was detained at the airport “following a request made to us by Interpol.”
Muslim dissidents face dire consequences in Islamic countries. To a great extent the western media and the western governments are to be blamed. Not only they don’t condemn these human rights violations, they are often reticent to report them. This silence is interpreted as a green light by the governments in Islamic countries and a seal of approval.
Muslim dissidents face constant threats to their lives and in western countries, their voices are systematically gaged. The actions of the Saudi government, the Malaysian government and the thousands of fanatical Muslims who demanded the death of Kashgari are deplorable. But not a single government or news media condemned them. Human rights organizations pleaded for his release, but none reproached the conduct of these two Muslim countries and the reaction of the people calling for this man’s death.
Those who speak out blame the victim instead of the abusers. Jago Russell, the chief executive of the British charity Fair Trials International, which has campaigned against the blanket enforcement of Interpol red notices, said: “Interpol should be playing no part in Saudi Arabia’s pursuit of Hamza Kashgari, however unwise his comments on Twitter.”
Unwise!? There is nothing unwise in criticizing any religion. All religions are regularly criticized. Why Islam should be an exception? Comments like this give Muslims the confirmation that Islam is above criticism.
Why not tell the truth and call the blasphemy law inhumane, evil and barbaric? Killing someone for expressing his views is not civil. Why not call a spade a spade?
Millions of people in Islamic countries live in constant fear. They are the ones who can bring moderation. Instead of protecting them and supporting them, the western media ignores them and in most cased cooperates with Islamic fundamentalists to shut them up. Critics of Islam are called “haters” and “Islamophobes.” Thus name calling is designed to silence the legitimate criticism of Islam and the result is more extremism.
TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) claims to be a nonprofit organization devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading.” They hold Conferences and video sites and invite prominent speakers. One would expect that such an organizing cares more about truth or at least human rights than ideologies. Not so! TED that sees nothing wrong in inviting speakers to berate Christianity brazenly is at the service of Islamic extremism and acts as its propaganda machine.
They organized a conference for Sheikha Al Mayassa, a fundamentalist Muslim woman to tell the audience that abaya, the all covering Islamic dress she was wearing, is not a religious dress, but a “cultural” habit and that it is “liberating.” Liberating? How can abaya or any veil be liberating? “Because,” Al Mayassa explained, “women can wear their pajama underneath it and no one will notice.” That maybe Al Mayassa’s definition of liberation, but there are millions of Muslim women who find Islamic dress code oppressive and suffocating. They are not free to choose a different clothing and if they do they will be harassed, beaten, jailed and even killed.
I am in touch with thousands of people who live in fear in Islamic countries. I knew Al Mayassa was deceiving her audience. So I commented in the comment section, “Abaya is not cultural; it is an Islamic dress. For every woman who wears it willingly, there are many others who are forced to wear it. What is lacking in Islamic countries is freedom – freedom to dress, freedom to speak and freedom to decide how to live one’s life. This is the problem with Islam, which this speaker is not addressing.”
I asked for explanation. This person responded, “You’ve been making deliberately inflammatory comments. If you continue we will have to remove your account.”
The truth is that for Muslims, anything that is not complimentary of Islam is inflammatory. Take the example of Kashgari’s tweets. They are not irreverent or inflammatory at all, and yet thousands of Muslims were inflamed by them and want him dead.
In her speech, Sheikha Al Mayassa spoke about the “wisdom” of the Arab rulers. A quick search revealed that she is the 14th daughter of Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the current Emir of Qatar. This explains why TED could not tolerate my comments. They wanted to make their gutst feel at “home”. And at home, critics are swiftly silenced. Any time you see a westerner going out of his/her way to defend Islam, follow the money trail.
Muslims are cocooned in a web of deception. What they perceive as real is unreal. As long as their belief is not challenged they will continue believing in those absurdities and will behave in the way they do. To them, this is how things have been forever. The media, the governments and many people in the west validate their deception and with thier silence unwittingly fan their fanaticism.
Hundreds of news sites reported the detention of Kashgari, but none condemned his arrest. No government of any western country denounced the Saudis and the Malaysians for this crime and violation of human rights.
Kasghari described his intentions in terms of human rights: “I view my actions as part of a process toward freedom. I was demanding my right to practice the most basic human rights—freedom of expression and thought—so nothing was done in vain. I believe I’m just a scapegoat for a larger conflict. There are a lot of people like me in Saudi Arabia who are fighting for their rights.”
There are millions of people like Kashgari in all Islamic countries. All they want is to be free. Isn’t this the basic human right? But they are denied freedom, not just by their oppressive governments, but also by westerners who think respecting a religion, no matter how egregious it may be, is more important than human rights and even human lives.
A religion that demands killing its detractors has no place in the 21st Century. We have to be concerned about people’s lives not their beliefs. Where truth is sacrificed, lives will be sacrificed.
Kashgari is not alone. There are millions of Muslims like him. They don’t dare to speak out. If we want peace, it is this group that we need to support. But instead of supporting them we throw them under the Islamists bus in the hope to appease the extremists.
Only truth will set us free and truth is that killing people for having different views is barbarity. Is it not? Then why not say it? Why not denounce and ban a creed that promotes such barbarity? Why do we bow to lies and shun the truth? Why we value lies more than lives?
Islamic laws, such as punishment for apostasy must be discussed publicly. Their merits and demerits must be evaluated. Discussion about their faith for Muslims is taboo. Even though a great number of them would welcome such a debate, they fear for their lives. Kashgari’s fate is a reminder to all Muslims of what could happen to them if they dare to speak their minds. But those of us who can speak have the obligation to do so. A religion that teaches to kill the unbelievers and rape their women affects everyone, especially the unbelievers. You can’t say it doesn’t concern you. If it doesn’t concern you, it will concern your children.
Discussions about Islam will help Muslims to see the absurdity of many of their tenets such as killing people for leaving their faith. These discussions will save lives, while censorship and silence will cost lives. If we don’t discuss Islam openly, Muslims can’t see there is something wrong with their faith, they become more reclusive, more radicalized and more lives will be lost.
Even if the westerners don’t want to take part in the discussion about Islam, the least they can do is not stand in the way of those who want to bring moderation. Censoring the critics of Islam and berating them as “Islamophobe” and “hater” will only encourage the extremists and fuel their fanaticism. It sends a clear message that might is right – we fear you and we will not do anything to upset you.
Islam is badly in need of criticism. It is time to promote this discussion and provide a venue for a debate. This would abate fanaticism and encourage moderation. Everyone will benefit.
Those who are trapped in darkness can’t be blamed for not seeing. Those who can see and don’t do anything are to be blamed.