(RNS) — The gruesome stabbing of the writer Salman Rushdie within the peaceable mental retreat of Chautauqua, New York, raises essential questions concerning the growing battle between non secular conceptions of blasphemy and freedom of speech. This isn’t a brand new battle by any means, however the assault on Rushdie on American soil alerts a disturbing flip of occasions.
Rushdie first shot to world discover in 1989 after the previous supreme chief of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa, or Islamic edict, calling for his dying for writing “The Satanic Verses,” a novel that offended many Muslims with its depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. The fatwa helped provoke Muslims worldwide in opposition to blasphemy, led to violent protests and eventually culminated within the assault on Rushdie by a younger Lebanese Muslim man final month.
Even earlier than the fatwa, Rushdie’s native India had turn out to be the primary of 13 countries to ban the e-book on the grounds that it will damage the non secular sentiments of Muslims underneath Indian Penal Code Section 295(A). The transfer was supported by many intellectuals and politicians on the time, together with CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria’s father, Dr. Rafiq Zakaria.
Part 295(A), although not a real blasphemy legislation, has been utilized by communities in India to diversified extents in opposition to perceived insults of their religions. It was carried out by the British in 1927 on the behest of the Muslim group and has its roots in a court docket case, Rajpal vs. King Emperor. In that case, a Hindu writer, Mahashe Rajpal, was acquitted for publishing a pamphlet, Rangila Rasula, essential of Muhammad’s private life. Rajpal, nevertheless, was killed in open court docket for committing blasphemy by a Muslim teenager, Ilm-ud-Din, revered as a saint in Pakistan to at the present time.
Since then, 79 international locations internationally have adopted some type of legal guidelines with various penalties to criminalize blasphemy, defined as “speech or actions thought of to be contemptuous of God or of individuals or objects thought of sacred.”
In Pakistan, as an illustration, draconian blasphemy laws impose extreme punishments for perceived insults to the prophet or desecration of the Quran and prohibit Ahmadiyyas from utilizing Islamic terminology and symbols and from “preaching their religion or pos(ing) as Muslims.”
The legal guidelines get pleasure from extensive assist from the inhabitants and carry criminal penalties starting from imprisonment for 3 years and a superb to life imprisonment and the dying penalty. Greater than 1,865 people have been charged and imprisoned in Pakistan underneath blasphemy legal guidelines since 1987.
Using blasphemy as a pretext for mob violence or focused assaults, notably in connection to perceived insults to Islam or desecration of the Quran (or false accusations thereof), is equally widespread. From high-profile murders of artists, journalists and teachers in Europe to the lesser-known, but way more widespread, frenzied mob violence in opposition to non secular minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh, there’s a lengthy world monitor document of blasphemy-motivated violence.
In Pakistan, at the very least 129 individuals have been killed in extrajudicial violence. Mushtaq Ahmed, a mentally disabled man, was stoned to dying for alleged blasphemy only a few months in the past. As just lately as final week, a violent mob of hundreds of Muslim extremists practically lynched a Hindu sanitation employee, Ashok Kumar, falsely accusing him of desecrating the Quran throughout a private dispute.
Equally, mob violence in Bangladesh over a false blasphemy allegation final October led to the deaths of 14 Hindus and destruction of 343 Hindu temples and 1,650 properties. Throughout the border in India, Kanhaiya Lal, a Hindu tailor within the state of Rajasthan, was beheaded by radical Islamists for a social media publish supporting a ruling BJP spokeswoman, Nurpur Sharma, who made essential feedback about Muhammad on nationwide tv.
The collective silence about many of those incidents by American intellectuals and public figures has fueled partially the normalization of blasphemy legal guidelines and its resultant violence all over the world. Even former American President Jimmy Carter, who wrote an op-ed in 1989, “Rushdie’s Book Is an Insult,” contributed to the justification tradition.
Whereas the Rushdie stabbing has largely been condemned, little or no of the dialogue has centered on the guts of the problem, the rising battle between blasphemy and freedom of speech. As an alternative, a lot of the dialog has solely centered on one aspect of that battle, the best to free speech.
And therein lies the rub.
Supporting free speech with out concurrently affirming that that proper inherently consists of the best to criticize faith, whether or not that faith is Islam or some other faith, is meaningless. Regardless of the motivation — concern of offending Muslims or being accused of Islamophobia or another purpose — the underside line is that it results in self-censorship and defeats the very precept and function of free speech.
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Maybe extra dangerously, it tacitly acknowledges that blasphemy legal guidelines are certainly justified to guard the sensibilities of faith and supersede the best to freedom of expression.
As a Pakistan International Ministry statement so clearly put it in response to the republication of Prophet Muhammad cartoons in 2020, “Such a deliberate act to offend the feelings of billions of Muslims can’t be justified as an train in press freedom or freedom of expression.”
Sadly, failure to confront the non secular blasphemy aspect of the equation head on and converse out persistently in opposition to it, at any time when and wherever it happens, will solely result in extra Rushdies on American soil.
(Samir Kalra is managing director of the Hindu American Basis. The views expressed on this commentary don’t essentially replicate these of Faith Information Service.)