Haram Month #10 – Blasphemy and blood

Tell me something: why is it that we often see violent responses to religious satire or blaspheming of Islam from the Islamic community, and not so much from other religions? When Christianity is depicted in a mocking and blasphemous way, there is hardly any response from Christians beyond Christian social conservatives pushing (unsuccessfully) for censorship and calling for it to be denounced. When Islam is depicted in a satirical fashion or outright blasphemed, bloodshed and mass outrage usually seem to follow.

One of the most infamous examples is when, in 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published satirical cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, one of which is the famous cartoon drawn by Kurt Westergaard depicting a bomb in his turban. Protests in the Middle East followed, and so did attacks on EU offices in Gaza and Danish and Norwegian embassies in the Middle East. In 2010, Westergaard even survived an attempted axe attack in his own home by an angry Muslim who wanted to get revenge on him for drawing Muhammad.

The Muhammad cartoon drawn by Kurt Westergaard

Also in 2005, violent anti-American protests and riots occurred in Afghanistan resulting in about 17 deaths in response to reports claiming that US interrogators in Guantanamo Bay desecrated copies of the Quran in order to torment inmates.

In 2007, a Swedish artist named Lars Vilks drew another satirical depiction of Muhammad which was published by local newspaper Nerikes Allehanda. He depicted Muhammad as a roundabout dog with Muhammad’s head. The depiction was met with protests in Iran as well as in Sweden from members of the Islamic community and was condemned by a number of Islamic countries. Not only did Vilks receive death threats, but in 2010 two pipe bombs were detonated in Stockholm by an unknown terrorist seemingly with the intent of avenging Vilks’ depiction of Muhammad, as well as the presence of Swedish troops in Afghanistan. Vilks was targeted again in 2011 in a plot by two terrorists in Gothenburg who wanted to stab him. He is on al-Qaeda’s wanted list alongside Kurt Westergaard and ISIL has placed a bounty of $150,000 on his head for his assassination. In 2015, two shootings were carried out in Copenhagen, Denmark, one of which targeted an art exhibition dedicated to blasphemy and freedom of expression in which Lars Vilks was a key speaker. The shooter was a man named Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, who became extremely religious and swore his allegiance to ISIL before carrying out the attacks.

Staying in 2015, there was an exhibtion in Texas, USA held at the Curtis Culwell Centre featuring drawings of the prophet Muhammad hosted by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (aka Stop Islamization of America). The group offered a $10,000 prize for the best drawing of Muhammad. The event was attacked by three Muslim shooters, one of whom tweeted before the attack his hope that Allah would accept him and his comrades as mujahideen. ISIL claimed responsibility and deemed the attackers “soldiers of the Caliphate”.

In 2011 when the Christian pastor Terry Jones burned a copy of the Quran in public, protests broke out across the Muslim world including Afghanistan where protests also turned violent resulting in the deaths of UN staffers and NATO soldiers.

In 2012, a short film titled The Innocence of Muslims was released on YouTube. Its anti-Islamic content (or perceived anti-Islamic content) was seen as cause for protest across the world, and these protests turned violent in places like Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Pakistan and Tunisia, while in Libya Islamist attacks attacked the embassy in Benghazi and stated that it was in response to the film.

In 2011, the offices of Charlie Hebdo were burned in an arson attack. Charlie Hebdo was known for reprinting the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons, as well as publishing their own depictions of Muhammad. In 2012, the magazine’s website is attacked and riot police had to be deployed near their offices. Then in 2015 And just this week Charlie Hebdo have been receiving receiving death threats for the cover of their latest edition, which depicts a nude Muslim man and woman frollicking on the beach in order to mock both the burkini ban in France and the traditional Islamic dress code.

Oh and let’s not forget that after Salman Rushdie released his novel The Satanic Verses in 1988, the Ayatollah placed a death fatwa on him and he became the subject of multiple assassination attempts.

I am convinced that there is no coincidence here. And again, we don’t see this very often from other religions, particularly the Christians. For instance, the photograph Piss Christ received mixed responses from Christians – some thought it was blasphemous, others considered it symbolic of what the world has done to their faith. A print was vandalized by protesters, but that was in 2011 – over 20 years after the artwork was original photograph was released – and no Christian shootings and suicide bombings happened over it.  It makes one wonder why the adherents of Islam think it OK to kill people, or threaten to kill people, for insulting their religions more than the adherents of other religions. Better yet, why do we question the value of freedom of speech over it, and not over other religions? I think the answer might surprise you if you think about it.


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