In August, Swedish artist Lars Vilks drew a cartoon with Mohammed’s head on a dog’s body. He is now in hiding after al-Qaeda in Iraq placed a bounty of $100,000 on his head (with a $50,000 bonus if his throat is slit).
Some of the world’s most repressive governments are attempting to use the controversy to provide legitimacy for their suppression of their critics in the name of respect for Islam. In particular, the Organization of the Islamic Conference is seeking to rewrite international human rights standards to curtail any freedom of expression that threatens their more authoritarian members.
The issues here go beyond the right of cartoonists to offend people. They go to the heart of repression in much of the Muslim world. Islamists and authoritarian governments now routinely use accusations of blasphemy to repress writers, journalists, political dissidents, and religious reformers. Saudi teacher Mohammad al-Harbi was sentenced to 40 months in jail and 750 lashes for “mocking religion” after discussing the Bible in class and saying that the Jews were right.
When politics and religion are intertwined, there can be no political freedom without religious freedom, including the right to criticize religious ideas. Hence, removing legal bans on blasphemy and “insulting Islam” is vital to protecting an open debate that could lead to other reforms.
If, in the name of false toleration and religious sensitivity, free nations do not firmly condemn and resist these totalitarian strictures, we will abet the isolation of reformist Muslims and condemn them to silence.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.
h/t to Daily Alert