Holocaust Denial versus “Insulting” the Prophet Muhammad

11 02 2012

I am terribly annoyed by something I am seeing in online comments about the issue of and punishments for “blasphemy” in Islam, as compared to “censorship” against Holocaust denial.  The debate is in reference to the 23-year-old Saudi journalist, Hamza Kashgari, who is about to be extradited from Malaysia back to Saudi Arabia to face punishment (possible death) for tweeting comments that have been perceived by many as “insulting to the Prophet” and blasphemous.

I’m annoyed by the comparison because the analogy is completely illogical and offensive.  Let’s analyze this:  denying the well documented slaughter of 6 million Jews, non-Jews, gypsies, the disabled, nonconformists, and homosexuals by the Nazis, as compared to the words of a young man that are subjectively perceived as “insulting” to a mortal man (Muslims are quick to remind everyone that the Prophet was a mortal man), who died in the year 632 A.D. – Really, does that make any sense?

The Nazis killed millions, plunging Europe into a horrific set of wars and atrocities, and occupied free lands in their neighborhood while imposing a rabid, terrifying fascist ideology on everyone, and anyone who did not embrace it faced death; the Nazis also conveniently created scapegoats for their sinister agendas.

Hamza Kashgari has harmed absolutely no one.  He has committed no crime.  He is only 23, and has his whole life ahead of him.  And, he apologized for and retracted the comments he tweeted.

There is NO balance in the argument that intolerance of Holocaust denial equals the perceived gravity of the subjective comments (words, no less) of one individual towards another (deceased) individual.  That is a ridiculous argument.  I am not discounting what the person of the Prophet means to Muslims, but the analogy still defies logic.

And, as much as Nazi ideology is considered repulsive, the right of Neo-Nazis to demonstrate in public is still upheld as a First Amendment right in the US.

I counted at least 12 reports of Neo-Nazi public marches in the US in the year 2011 alone, and I didn’t even get through the entire list.  In my search I also saw numerous references to “Nazi terrorist groups” and how law enforcement in the US and Europe is trying to crack down on them.  This is not because of Holocaust denial, but because some of them are truly violent, targeting minority groups, attacking and in some cases killing them.

And as much as censorship is repulsive to First Amendment loyalists like me, I can still understand, as a political scientist, why Germany has to uphold a law that prohibits Holocaust denial.  Look at the context, that’s where Nazism was born.  Not only does Germany feel guilt for that, but also bears a responsibility never to allow such violent hate-mongers to rise again.  It’s too bad that it infringes on the rights of average citizens, but nonetheless, German sensitivities are understandable in this context.

So, back to Holocaust denial, which seems to be the default argument that many grab onto, how would you like it if the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades were denied?  How about the genocides in Bosnia, Darfur, Cambodia, Rwanda, and let’s throw Libya in the list, since the entire R2P mandate was invoked to prevent a “genocide” at the hands of Qaddafi – what if all of these well documented cases were denied?  Not only do such denials fail to disprove that these atrocities actually occurred, but such denials are also offensive.  But yet, we don’t hear about anyone lobbing death threats at someone who has denied the Holocaust, even though it’s terribly offensive.

Hamza Kashgari, on the other hand, has received thousands of death threats (see my earlier posting “Saudi Specter in Syria” for more details about Kashgari’s tweets).  According to the Christian Science Monitor (Feb. 10) –

Kashgari’s harassment is not out of the blue, nor, apparently, based on these tweets alone. He has been the target of religious Twitter users for months. ‘Public shaming through hashtags is now a common Saudi pressure tactic, especially against public officials and government scandals,’ said his friend.

Saudi Arabia‘s information minister has commanded that no one publish any of Kashgari’s writings. Prior to this incident, he was a columnist with al-Bilad, a newspaper based in the eastern city of Jeddah.

‘I have instructed all newspapers and magazines in the kingdom not to allow him to write anything and we will take legal measures against him.’

Gee, that sounds a lot like religious fascism to me!  In case you’re wondering, this is how the dictionary defines fascism:  “A governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing aggressive nationalism and often racism.”  We can certainly throw “religious intolerance” into that description, especially when it comes to the Saudi regime (and we can’t ignore the Iranian regime – e.g., Rushdie death sentence in the 1980s).

If you want to deny the Holocaust, knock yourself out.  I can practically guarantee that you will not receive any death threats for it.  But, just don’t presume that Holocaust denial and blasphemy in Islam are issues of equal measure, because they definitely are not.

Muslims who espouse death for “blasphemy” and “apostasy” – all highly subjective notions – need to transcend the Medieval Europe mindset.  Otherwise, the world will see them as having no value for human life, and will only reinforce the terrible negative stereotypes that already exist about Islam and Muslims.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.

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The Saudi Specter in Syria and the World

10 02 2012

My recent post about Syria, the Russian bear, and Iran passionately describes the plight of innocent civilians being killed in Syria.  While my supportive sentiments for the human rights of Syrians remain steadfast, there are some developments and stories within the stories that are not reaching the mainstream press, and are alarming signs that Syria may be spiraling into another Lebanon (i.e., the civil war in Lebanon, 1975-1990).

One of these signs is the sectarian strife, where reports about Sunnis and Alawites targeting each other, as well as kidnapping for ransom and release of detainees, are surfacing.  Of course, the Assad regime itself has most likely intensified such sectarianism, but nonetheless, the fierce sectarian violence witnessed in the Lebanese civil war is a potential scenario in today’s Syria.  I have already seen at least one anti-Shiite posting on Facebook in reference to Syria.

This brings me to the other specter pertaining to Syria:  the Saudis, with their Wahhabi and very anti-Shiite (read “anti-Iran”) agenda for the region.  No one should be surprised with Saudi propositions for the need to end the slaughter in Syria.  But, we should read between the lines very carefully, considering the source.  Al Arabiya quotes Saudi King Abdullah as calling for “‘critical measures’ to be taken on Syria, warning of an impending ‘humanitarian disaster’.”

Uh-huh.  This is the same Saudi monarch who sent tanks and troops into Bahrain and viciously cracked down on and killed and abused countless civilians to quell the uprising there.  But you see, the Bahraini protesters were mostly Shiites, and once the dust settled in Pearl Square, Shiite shrines were systematically bulldozed.  Starting to see the picture folks?

In my book, the Saudi “government” is never sincere about humanitarian issues.  Look at their own track record inside the kingdom; it’s the epitome of intolerance.  The Saudis are one of the creators of the Taliban, and the supporters and exporters of the most intolerant, ultra-orthodox / literalist, violent, misogynist, and militancy-inspiring ideology in the world, that is, Wahhabism.

If you have any doubts about the Saudis’ human rights track record, go to the Human Rights Watch website and read the country report on Saudi Arabia (http://www.hrw.org/middle-eastn-africa/saudi-arabia).  And, here is another example of Saudi intolerance, reported in David Keyes’ article in the Washington Post (Feb. 9):

“Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari was detained in Malaysia on Wednesday night and is likely to be extradited soon to Saudi Arabia, where he will be tried for blaspheming religion. Kashgari, 23, had fled the kingdom Monday after he received thousands of death threats. His crime? He posted on Twitter a series of mock conversations between himself and the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

‘On your birthday I find you in front of me wherever I go,’ he wrote in one tweet. ‘I love many things about you and hate others, and there are many things about you I don’t understand.’

Another reads: ‘No Saudi women will go to hell, because it’s impossible to go there twice.’

The tweets came to light last week around a celebration of Muhammad’s birthday, and Kashgari’s ordeal began. Hours before he was detained, Kashgari spoke to me by phone from the house in which he was hiding. ‘I was with sitting with my friends and one of them checked Twitter on his mobile phone,’ he said. ‘Suddenly there were thousands of tweets of people calling to kill me because they said I’m against religion.’

… Kashgari noted with sadness that many young Saudis are leaving their country in hopes of escaping the government’s repressive policies. ‘It’s not logical that, if someone disagrees with the Saudi government, that he should be forced to leave the country. Many of those who have been arrested are fighting for simple rights that everyone should have — freedom of thought, expression, speech and religion.’

The young writer surmised that the threats against him were, in part, a result of the tens of millions of dollars the Saudi king allotted to the religious police last spring. Many Saudi dissidents have noted increased repression in the past few months and are terrified of the ascent of Crown Prince Naif, who has served as interior minister for decades.”

Reports are indicating that Saudi King Abdullah has personally demanded Kashgari’s arrest.  If Kashgari is extradited, he faces the possibility of execution for blasphemy.  This is coming from a strong US ally.

All of this does not in any way exonerate the crimes of the Assad regime.  But, we must remain vigilant about scrutinizing sources of information and news, and read between the lines when heads of state in the region so vociferously call for action to help the Syrian civilians.  Clearly, they have their own agendas, and that couldn’t be more the case when it comes to the Saudi king.  Hypocrisy, intolerance, and systematic anti-Shiite agendas constitute the Saudi specter concerning Syria.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.