Low Noise
Friday Ephemera

Act Casual, Say Nothing

In response to this post on Muhammad Abdul Bari, a commenter noted this cartoon and asked the following question:

“The cartoon lists a bunch of problems that it claims Muslim societies have. Will Western government and society mocking the most sensitive issues of Islam make those problems better or worse?”

Variations of this question are raised on a fairly regular basis, usually with no expectation of an answer - for example see here. Another version of the same was voiced by Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister, Ijaz-ul-Haq, who asked, apparently in all seriousness:

“How can we fight terrorism when those who commit blasphemy are rewarded by the West?”

This question should, I think, be turned around, quite emphatically. Given jihadists pointedly cite Muhammad’s purported ‘revelations’ as their mandate and motive, how can the spread of Islamic terrorism be resisted if Muhammad and his teachings remain beyond criticism? How does one respond when the Bali bombing ‘mastermind’ Mukhlas Imron asks his captors: “You who still have a shred of faith in your hearts, have you forgotten that to kill infidels and the enemies of Islam is a deed that has a reward above no other?” – and then quotes Muhammad’s own exhortations as his license for atrocity?

In his book, The Truth About Muhammad, Robert Spencer stresses the same key point:

“If the terrorists are correct in invoking his example to justify their deeds, then Islamic reformers will need to initiate a respectful but searching re-evaluation of the place Muhammad occupies within Islam… If peaceful Muslims can mount no comeback when jihadists point to Muhammad’s example to justify violence, their ranks will always remain vulnerable to recruitment from jihadists who present themselves as the exponents of ‘pure Islam’, faithfully following Muhammad’s example.”

Spencer’s book – and the question it raises – has, of course, been banned in Pakistan, supposedly for containing “objectionable material.” Viewed in this light, the blasphemy laws of which Mr ul-Haq is so enamoured, and which so often serve as a license to intimidate and extort, are very much part of the problem. Blasphemy laws exist in order to make people afraid of saying certain things and, by extension, afraid of thinking certain things. And it’s hard to see how such a fundamental problem will be solved if people are afraid to think about it.

By all means, fund my blasphemy.