Friday, November 4, 2011


"Must-read" is an over-used adjective when talking about books, but sometimes I think it captures my feelings about a book perfectly. Such is the case with an enormously important work written by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea, titled Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide. In 331 pages of text and another 100+ pages of documentation the authors compile a powerful warning to the West and a chillingly informative narrative of exactly what's going on in the Islamic world today.

Marshall and Shea take the reader on a sight-seeing tour of a dozen or so countries in the Islamic world, describing in calm, dispassionate reportage the brutal stifling of thought and the horrific consequences of even the most innocent criticism of Islam. It's not only non-Muslims who are the victims of this oppression. Any member of a minority group, even of another Muslim sect, is subject to fall afoul of Islamic blasphemy codes. The dominant religious group seeks to impose strict uniformity of belief wherever they can, and any criticism, no matter how trivial, is seen as blasphemy against Allah or his Prophet or as "insulting Islam," either of which will get the person jailed, tortured, or murdered.

Moreover, anyone who converts from Islam to another religion or no religion is considered an apostate and is subject to death, not just by courts of law, but by anyone who happens to have the opportunity to take the apostate's life.

Even criticizing such draconian laws can get one killed. In Pakistan in January of this year, Salman Taseer, a Muslim and governor of Pakistan's wealthiest province was murdered by his own bodyguard because he had repeatedly called for the repeal of blasphemy laws and also for the pardon of Asia Bibi, a woman who was sentenced to die because she had been accused (not convicted) of insulting the Prophet.

On March 2nd of this year Shahbaz Bhatti, the highest ranking Christian in the Pakistani government was murdered while visiting his mother because he "was an infidel Christian" and had devoted his life to the causes of religious freedom and human rights.

Lest one think that these crimes are perpetrated by a small number of extremists, Pew Foundation research shows that 78% of Pakistanis approve of killing apostates and "blasphemers".

The murders of Taseer and Bhatti were two prominent cases, but there have been thousands of lesser known victims of religious violence throughout the Islamic world over the last twenty years.

A nun was murdered in Somalia and dozens of churches set afire after Pope Benedict gave a speech in Germany in which he made a statement that Muslims considered insulting.

Several hundred people were killed in riots in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere, after a Danish cartoonist drew a picture of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban.

In an example of almost incredible irony several Muslim reformers have written that Islam, as it is widely practiced, is too violent. They were subsequently subject to death threats from other Muslims who thought the reformers claims were insulting.

One of the most bizarre cases of such violence occurred in September or 2007 in the Sudan. A fifty four year-old school teacher from England named Gillian Gibbons used a teddy bear as a teaching tool in her classroom and asked her students to give the bear a name. Twenty of the twenty three students suggested naming the stuffed animal Mohammed, not after the Prophet, but after the most popular boy in the class. When somehow word of this sacrilege got out Gibbons was arrested and eventually convicted of insulting religion.

The day following her conviction tens of thousands of people armed with machetes and swords filled the streets of Khartoum demanding that she be put to death for blasphemy. Fortunately, the British government was able to extricate her from Khartoum and get her safely back to England, but many others have not been as lucky.

The terror is widespread throughout the Middle East, northern Africa, and Indonesia, but it's also spreading to Europe where politicians and jurists are putting themselves through intellectual contortions in order to appease Muslims who demand that no criticism or satire of Islam be permitted in European society, while at the same time trying to hold on to a residuum of free speech.

Dutch Filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered, Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali was essentially booted out of the country and is living in the U.S. under protective guard, Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was assassinated for his criticism of Muslim immigration, Novelist Salman Rushdie has been living in hiding since 1989 when a fatwa of death was put on him by the Ayatollah Khomeini for Rushdie's novel the Satanic Verses. Much of the rest of Europe has been cowed into submission.

Christian pastors can be brought to trial in Europe for "hate speech" if they criticize Islam in a sermon, an astonishing fact given that madrassas around the globe inculcate hate for Christians and Jews into their students on a daily basis.

The situation in the U.S. is not yet quite so grim because of our First Amendment protections, but the chilling effect of the threat of Muslim violence extends even to our shores. Yale Publishing Co. published a book on the Danish cartoon controversy in which a series of cartoons depicting Mohammed set off the deadly riots mentioned above. But while Yale published the book they refused to show the cartoons which the book was about.

Our own State Department and Department of Homeland Security have censored the language that government employees can use to refer to terrorists. They are proscribed from using words like "salafi", "wahhabist," "caliphate," and "jihadist" because these are said to be offensive to Muslims when used by non-Muslims. They also banned the use of the term "Islamic terrorism," replacing it with the rather inartful but more politically correct term, "man-caused disasters."

In Canada, journalist Mark Steyn and the news magazine for which he wrote were hauled before three separate Canadian human rights commissions because he wrote an essay critical of Islamic fundamentalism and Canadian political correctness. The column offended Muslims, mainly because Steyn maintained that Islam was making inroads into European society and was profoundly changing the culture. Steyn was eventually absolved, but under Canadian law he had to pay all of his legal fees, a fact guaranteed to discourage others from putting themselves through a similar ordeal.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that emerges from Marshall and Shea's extensive research that a dark age is descending upon the globe, an age in which violence is used to inhibit and suppress any criticism and scrutiny of a particular religious belief, to extinguish the great Western legacy of free speech, and to gradually compel its acceptance throughout Western society.

The authors have done us a valuable service by documenting what life is like for those who already live under such conditions and what it will be like for those in the West if they continue to allow the freedom to speak critically about a belief system and its practitioners to be eroded away by fear of violence.

Ayn Rand and the Tea Party

Walter Hudson at Pajamas Media has some good thoughts on the role of religion in politics. His post was triggered by the wish of a group of Ayn Rand's followers to join forces with the Tea Party:
It began without controversy. At a routine board meeting of the North Star Tea Party Patriots (NSTPP), a coalition of activist groups in Minnesota which this author chairs, a vote was taken to admit a new member organization. The new group was the Minnesota Objectivist Association (MOA) which advocates the philosophy of Ayn Rand as expressed in her novel Atlas Shrugged.

Though not a Tea Party organization in name, MOA was nonetheless supportive of the movement’s mission and principles. Signs reading “Who is John Galt?” in reference to Rand’s novel had been a staple at Tea Party rallies since the movement began.

Within days, word got around to the broader NSTPP membership that MOA had been admitted. Pushback began. Some complained that MOA did not have “Tea Party” in their name. Others noted that MOA was not listed on Tea Party Patriots’ national directory.

The concern over these relatively minor points seemed disproportionate. Provision had been made in the NSTPP constitution to include organizations which predated the Tea Party movement yet sought the same ends. A group without “Tea Party” in its name had been admitted before.

After some beating around the bush, the crux of the matter emerged. Ayn Rand was an atheist, and her philosophy of Objectivism did not acknowledge the existence of God. Thus was alleged an irreconcilable difference between the Tea Party and Ayn Rand.

As the controversy progressed, MOA ultimately withdrew from the coalition, citing the episode as a needless distraction to all parties concerned. Precluding debate left some important questions unresolved. What role does religion play within the Tea Party? Must one be a theist in order to be philosophically aligned with the movement?
Hudson goes on to ask whether the Tea Party is just about smaller, fiscally responsible government, lower taxes, and less government regulation or is there some larger unarticulated religious vision also lying at the core of the movement. There might be, but I don't think the Tea Party should exclude those of like mind who don't share their theistic assumptions and commmitments. It should, in my opinion, keep its focus on the above fiscal matters and welcome as allies anyone who agrees with them on those issues.

But read Hudson's post and see what you think, whether you're sympathetic to the Tea Party or not.