Today a tragic event happened in France – there was a shooting at the headquarters of a humor magazine Charlie Hebdo and 12 people including the famed editor of the magazine, and while we don’t know who exactly was responsible for the attacks, (most probably the Yemeni Al-Qaeda), we know that it was motivated by the cartoons ridiculing Prophet Muhammad and that the perpetrators were Muslim extremists.
The reactions were swift. Some rushed to react in a bigoted manner towards the Muslim minority in the west, discussing this topic in a semi-racial and generalized manner. I’m sure my article here will be considered in the same vein. I don’t care – the other repulsive reaction came from those who said that the coverage of of the situation was “racist” or were quick to rush to the defense of Islam as a religion or garbage sites like Salon which mentions the event only once and only to take shots at Richard Dawkins.
Islamophobes and Islamophiles are both beyond my hope – I don’t have the mental energy to deal with any of them. But those of you who might be interested in discussing a difficult subject with more nuance – go ahead and read.
And let me assure you that I would be writing the exact same article if I were a Muslim.
While we must fear people like Marine LePen gaining propaganda fuel from this event, and we must fear people reacting in a racial manner to Muslims and possible discrimination, the Muslim community needs to understand that the problem towards apostasy and blasphemy is rooted deep within their own community.
Muslim reformists should not deceive themselves into thinking that this extremism is only a tiny minority of “fake” Muslims that is being exaggerated by the hostile colonialists media. While extremists such as these shooters indeed are a minority (though not that tiny) within the Muslim community, they are not the disease, they are merely the symptom of a greater disease that is much more prevalent. And Muslims reformists, in alliance with secularists, have a duty to cure this disease, albeit slowly. The first step is admitting – stop shifting the blame and accept that the demon lies within and not without.
This disease, in particular, is the Muslim attitude towards blasphemy, and the attitude towards apostasy.
This website collects a series of polls regarding these issues, and as you might have guessed, the results are not pretty.
Policy Exchange: One third of British Muslims believe anyone who leaves Islam should be killed
NOP Research: 78% of British Muslims support punishing the publishers of Muhammad cartoons;
Pew Research (2010): 84% of Egyptian Muslims support the death penalty for leaving Islam
86% of Jordanian Muslims support the death penalty for leaving Islam
30% of Indonesian Muslims support the death penalty for leaving Islam
76% of Pakistanis support death the penalty for leaving Islam
51% of Nigerian Muslims support the death penalty for leaving Islam
Die Presse (2013): 1 in 5 Muslims in Austria believe that anyone wanting to leave Islam should be killed.
The majority of Muslim countries condemned these attacks. Iran did – but wasn’t Iran the same country which issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and didn’t many Muslims pour into streets in support of that fatwa? Wasn’t Iran the same country which executed someone for insulting the Prophet Jonas and right now has someone else waiting to be executed for insulting the Prophet on the Facebook? Didn’t Mohammad cartoons receive violent riots in many countries? All those Muslim countries condemning the murders today have anti-blasphemy laws.
More importantly, don’t Muslims constantly vilify and marginalize apostates and blasphemers within their own communities? This ranges from moderate Muslims like Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid who had to flee his country and the Sheikh of Al-Azhar nullified his marriage because of his blasphemy (Al-Azhar another body which condemned the attack today), to ex-Muslims who live in fear of death and they all face discrimination and bigotry in all Muslim communities.
These are not indications of a tiny minority. Whether in countries where these hateful attitudes are a majority, and whether in those countries where the opinion is in a minority, the numbers are not small and insignificant. There’s something wrong with the Muslim community.
So, of course from time to time these attitudes bubble into violent actions like those which happened in Australia by an Iranian Sunni convert or the today’s attack on the French magazine, but Muslims cannot just wash their own hands off of this. The disease is the hateful discriminatory attitude towards blasphemy. The disease is the assumption that just because YOU believe your prophet is sacred others should treat him as sacred as well.
Muslims need to learn that people will inevitably disagree with them. That some people will blaspheme, some people will be too critical of their faith, some people will ridicule their faith, and some people will leave it. They should accept and tolerate this. They should live with it.
Abortion clinic bombers are a minority. School shooters are a minority. Serial rapists are a minority. But whenever these people surface, we need to ask what cultural situations led them to be created. Progressives usually do this, but exempt Muslims from a similar examination. Which is an unfortunate lack of coherence on their part.
I am certain that Muslims will move towards a better and more tolerant attitude. But until they do, it is my moral duty to mention the problem.