Thursday, March 8, 2012

Fatal Tweet

Two stories circulating in the news illustrate the horrific oppression that exists in so much of the Islamic world, and neither of them have to do with the massacres taking place in Syria. Two men are about to lose their lives in state executions, the first because he's a Christian pastor who converted from Islam at the age of nineteen and is refusing to have his children indoctrinated in Islam, and the second is a young Saudi who was insufficiently reverential toward the Prophet.

Yousef Nadarkhani is a young pastor condemned to death in Iran on the charge of apostasy. It may seem odd, given the thousands of people condemned to die in Syria and elsewhere in the Islamic world every day, but Nadarkhani's case has attracted world-wide attention.

Here's a news summary of his case which provides a note of hope:
Hamza Kashgari's predicament is less well-known. The Washington Times brings us up to speed:
Hamza Kashgari is a 23-year-old journalist who wrote for the daily al-Bilad in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. On Feb. 4, the observance of Muhammad’s birthday, Mr. Kashgari sent out three tweets expressing what he would say if he met Islam’s founder.

“On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you,” the first read. “On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more,” went the second. The third tweet said, “On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.”
In the West mixed expressions of praise and doubt are unremarkable, but in more enlightened climes like Saudi Arabia they can cost you your life.
The messages immediately caused controversy. Some welcomed and retweeted them, but thousands more angry Saudis called for Mr. Kashgari’s head for supposedly insulting Muhammad. He deleted the offending messages but soon lost his job. Last week, he attempted to flee to safety in New Zealand but was intercepted as he tried to pass through the Muslim country of Malaysia and whisked back to Saudi Arabia in a private jet. He is being held incommunicado in Jeddah while a prosecutor collects evidence to bring a case against him for “disrespecting God” and “insulting the prophet.” A conviction on either charge could bring the death penalty.

Freedom of thought is a capital crime in the Saudi kingdom. On Monday, Sheikh Saleh bin Fowzan Al Fowzan of the supreme committee of scholars in Saudi Arabia said, “We should first verify that this man did insult … Muhammad in his article on Twitter … if verified, then he must be killed.” There are reports that those who expressed public support for Mr. Kashgari’s message also could face the same charges; even a retweet could lead to the chopping block.

This is not merely a Saudi internal affair. When an Islamic theocracy may execute someone for a tweet, it’s an affront to humanity. “I view my actions as part of a process toward freedom,” Mr. Kashgari said shortly before his arrest. “I was demanding my right to practice the most basic human rights - the freedom of expression and thought - so nothing was done in vain.” These words may be his epitaph.
Those of us who value our right to freely express our opinion about whatever matters we choose without having to fear the state's wrath should thank God every day that we live in a time and in a country which places a high value on freedom of speech. Much of the world throughout much of the last fifteen hundred years has not. We should also keep in mind that those who want to execute Nadarkhani and Kashgari want to spread their theocracy around the globe and will use whatever means they can to accomplish it.

At the moment there are movements afoot to insinuate sharia law into the courts of Europe and even in the U.S. It's a step toward the imprisonment of our minds, toward holding them hostage to religious beliefs that seem alien, incomprehensible, and false. It's not at all a stretch to say that if we are apathetic or uninformed about that threat our children and grandchildren could well grow up in an America in which it is not merely impolite or vulgar to speak ill of religiously revered figures, but an act which could get one fined, imprisoned, or even killed.