I never thought that far-right, Dutch firebrand politician Geert Wilders would cave in to pressure or that I would have to write a defense of blasphemy.
Wilders initiated a cartoon drawing contest of the Prophet Mohammad slated for November in the Dutch Parliament. After the news leaked, there were huge protests in Pakistan with 10,000 opponents calling for canceling diplomatic ties with the Netherlands and the expulsion of the Dutch ambassador.
Imran Khan, the new prime minister of Pakistan, vowed to raise the issue at the U.N. with the cooperation of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation).
Social media is rife with Muslims calling for the deaths of Wilders and the cartoonists.
Wilders eventually cancelled the contest “to avoid risk of victims of Islamic violence.”
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi called this “a great moral victory for the Muslim Ummah.”
But is it a victory?
As an observant Muslim, I am offended by the mockery of any faith or religious figure including my Prophet. In addition, 1.6 billion Muslims are also offended and being offended is our right. I respect their freedom to be offended.
However, taking the liberty of drawing offensive cartoons is also the right of those who reside in the free world. I respect this freedom to offend.
We know that blasphemy laws exist in many Muslim countries, so if there is an issue in Iran, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, one can see from where that is coming. By the way, the law against blasphemy is not Quranic but was instituted by Muslim rulers after the death of the Prophet Mohammad to control the tribes and ensure compliance.
The blasphemy law as practiced in Pakistan with impunity is evil, obsolete and a way of victimizing its minority communities.
The Pakistani flag has a white stripe which signifies the representation of 23% of its non-Muslim population, which existed at the time of Pakistan’s creation. Today this population has been reduced to approximately 3%. Major victims of the blasphemy laws are Christians and Ahmadiyyas.
In recent years in Pakistan, many Christian women have been forced to convert to Islam. Churches have been burned down. Ahmaddiyas are not allowed to call themselves Muslims and are constantly persecuted.
In 2010, a Christian woman named Asia Bibi was jailed and sentenced to death for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Prophet Mohammad. Facts of the story have always been in dispute, and she still languishes in jail.
When Salman Taseer was governor of Punjab state in Pakistan and spoke out in support of Asia Bibi, he was gunned down by his own bodyguard and accused of blasphemy. The killer that shot him now has the status of a saint and his grave has been turned into a holy pilgrimage site.
Whether one draws a cartoon of the Prophet or not is beside the point. The Prophet, whom Muslims are trying to protect, was — in his lifetime — cursed, abused and ridiculed. However, there is no historical tradition of him ever subjecting to death the people who abused him. On personal attacks, he just looked the other way and, in fact, forgave his persecutors.
Ironically the so-called “protectors of the faith” will kill in the name of the very faith they call the religion of peace!
So we have to weigh the freedoms that exist in democratic countries with the laws that oppress and silence in parts of the Muslim world.
When the influence of blasphemy laws shows itself in the West, we have much to worry about.