Recent events reveal how readily Muslim rage can be manipulated for political expediency. Protesting “Islamic blasphemy” has become as a new weapon of mass destruction, one targeting and paralyzing both Western and pluralistic Muslim interests.
In a closely coordinated series of events, an efficient terrorist attack eliminating American diplomats was launched in Benghazi and executed under the convenient cover of “blasphemy on tap.” More than a week later, both governments and Muslim leaders remain powerless to intervene, and France, fearing reprisals following the publication of cartoons ridiculing these protests, has preemptively closed 22 embassies globally. In Pakistan, fearing reprisals, the intimidated government announced a national holiday which increasing the likelihood of a continuation of violence that has already claimed 33 lives.
Protesting blasphemy is the most effective mobilizer threatening unstable nations still finding their footing after the Arab Spring. Yet we cannot ascribe this to the teething troubles of infant democracies. Look instead to a more mature Muslim state where blasphemy as a means to strangle liberal democracy has been crafted to a high art: look to Pakistan.
Pakistan, by enshrining Islamist blasphemy laws and Islamist values upon its once-Western democratic organs, has in the 65 years since its founding suffocated both religious freedom and political autonomy. The world’s first Muslim democracy remains neither democratic nor fundamentally Islamic.
Little do the Muslim masses in Cairo or Benghazi, in Sydney or Karachi understand their own exploitation by viciously extreme Islamists. Muslim rage, while devastating to American interests, renders only Muslims in the Muslim world more vulnerable to manipulation. Muslim rage weakens only ourselves, and our nations.
Experts in blasphemy and apostasy in the Muslim world, scholars Paul Marshall and Nina Shea — as they write in their sobering treatise “Silenced” — depict a frightening climate escalating globally, particularly when viewed from the safety and privileges of liberal democracies where freedom of speech remains sacrosanct, even when used irresponsibly.
Sadly, freedom of speech and true democracy are far from cherished in today’s Muslim world because a free, empowered populace becomes difficult to govern. No, the Muslim world, whether one examines Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan or the Arab Gulf, increasingly operates on the starkly ideological version of Islam — political Islamism — which seeks to impose uniform expressions of Islam, while extinguishing diversity and restricting all manner of personal freedoms.
While the movie and now the French cartoons are despicable, it is the claims of blasphemy which must be condemned, not the acts that are defined as such. As an observant Muslim, let me state unequivocally: Blasphemy is a fictional crime without a victim, the prosecution of which is no less than blasphemy itself. Protesting or criminalizing blasphemy against Islam is a grand hoax, irrespective of how deeply wounded our feelings as Muslims may be.
The Quran itself renounces any coercion in faith: “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2:256). No one owns the right to dictate another’s belief, for that is a matter of free will between man and his Maker. Yet Islamists patently defy this central creed, and instead arbitrate others, acting as proxies of God. By prosecuting crimes or exacting “vengeance” on behalf of God, or God’s messenger, Muslims render themselves equals to their Maker – shirk -- the most offensive sin in Islam.
A powder keg of brilliantly manufactured outrage followed the 2005 Danish cartoon event which resulted in the loss of 241 lives. These protests have cost 33 lives already. But the casualties did not end there. Operating in an increasingly charged blasphemy climate with global reach has introduced new rules, both codified and not, into the public arena that have already suffocated traditional and highly prized values central to healthy democracy. At the center of these narrowing strictures is the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
The OIC is a 57-member entity claiming to represent “the collective voice of the Muslim world.” Led by Pakistan, author of the world’s harshest blasphemy laws, which have demonstrably led to vigilantism and loss of life, the OIC has broadened the application of abusive blasphemy laws across the world, efforts which remain largely uncontested.
Since 1999, the OIC has introduced and passed 17 non-binding resolutions at the United Nations General Assembly and Human Rights Council that have called for wholesale revisions to international free speech rights in order to specifically protect Islam. This is Islamist lawfare par excellence – the abuse and misuse of law for the attainment of strategic and political advantage. “Islamophobia,” along with protesting blasphemy in response to “Islamophobia,” has become a masterful tool in the hands of Islamists advancing their goals. By claiming Islamophobia, Islamists intimidate freedom just as much as the mobs threatening consulates and citizens at this very moment.
In the opponent of the proxies of God who arbitrate blasphemy, we face a jihad of sword and pen. The Islamist sword in the form of rioting mobs today is pitted against a jihad of the democratic pen. Americans and anti-Islamist Muslims everywhere must ensure that the pen – freedom of written and spoken speech – prevails, if religious freedoms and liberal democracies are to be preserved. What we dislike, and abhor, we protest not by burning mobs but by writing — the jihad of the pen.
To be sure, to debase any belief system is never admirable and often despicable. However, debasing Islam does not constitute a crime, and in the eyes of Islam itself is not a punishable act. The answer? Defending not Islam, or the prophet, or the Maker — who hardly require the meager defense of mortals — but the ideals of liberal democracy. Brave work it is indeed to engage in the jihad of the pen against the jihad of the sword. If Islam is to keep the imposter of political Islamism from usurping our ideals, belief and rightful values, we must, as Muslims, oppose the Islamists ourselves. The alternatives do not bear thinking about.
Borrowing from Hillel, I ask all Muslims: if we are not for ourselves, who will be for us? And, if we are indeed for ourselves, what, indeed, at this point in history, are we? And, most of all, if not now, then when, Muslims, when?