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.