While upholding the individual right of citizens in all countries to express their views on any religion or on any aspect of any religion as they wish, I have only the utmost contempt for any speech or writing or supposed work of art that springs from hate and whose goal is to denigrate and desecrate what others deem sacred. Therefore like countless other Non-Muslims in the United States and all over the world, I abhor any intentional and provocative desecration of the religious symbol of other people. In particular, I join millions of others in condemning in the strongest terms this utterly disgusting, unwarranted, and hate-filled You Tube creation called Innocence of Muslims. It is an abominable provocation, an inexcusable affront to a billion and a half members of the human family. As I see it, contrary to the phrase often used in the media, this is not an American film, but the work of a bunch of malicious or demented individuals who happen to have American citizenship.
Practically all traditional religions have or have had strict rules on blasphemy. The idea behind this is to honor the sanctity of what the tradition regards as sacred. It is appropriate that one demand of the faithful more than a modicum of reverence for the scriptures and symbols of one’s religion. Given that in all societies and at all times there have always been skeptics and unbelievers who did not care to respect such demands it seemed appropriate for religious establishments to impose severe penalties on those who desecrated in one way or another, in public or in secrecy, whatever was regarded as sacred. Lack of respect and overt insult to the sacred in a religious framework is what one calls blasphemy.
In ancient times punishment for blasphemy used to be severe, certainly in the framework of Abrahamic religions. These ranged from excommunication and exile to hanging, decapitation, and burning at the stake. Shocking as such treatments might strike those who have been awakened to enlightened values and modern worldviews, they seem(ed) perfectly normal to those whose love for or devotion to their god is (was) so intense that they feel (felt) it was their moral and religious responsibility to protect God’s honor by bloody means, if necessary, not only to punish the impious but also to teach the rest that they better beware of what they say or write about what is proclaimed as canonically sacred.
Now one point needs to be noted here: In olden times, by and large, only the followers of the religion were held accountable for acts or words of blasphemy. One not belonging to the faith was not meted out the same punishment as a believer who blasphemed, perhaps because they were not within reach. This point must be stressed, because now things have changed, at least for some of the followers of Islam. For the first time in history – perhaps since the publication of the cartoon in a Danish newspaper – Non-Muslims are also subjected to Islamic laws of blasphemy. This is an ominous turn and its consequences, actual and potential, can be devastating to civilization at large, both within and beyond the Islamic world. Furthermore, in the good old times, only the perpetrator of blasphemy was answerable to his or her behavior. Now, as we are seeing, people who are utterly innocent of the theological crime, and even those who publicly condemn such behavior, are considered fair targets of the rage of the so-called believers. Islamophobia in the USA is wicked and pernicious, and so is USA-phobia in the Islamic world.
I am quite sure that the vast majority of modern Muslims are appalled by this development which brings undeserved ignominy to their great religion with a rich tradition of scholarship, science, poetry, and magnificent art. Many of them are nauseated by the extremist reactions and mind-blind bigotry of their some of their co-religionists.
We may hope that more leaders in Islamic countries, both lay and religious, imams and ayatollahs, will proclaim to their people that violent reactions to blasphemy perpetrated by foreigners is contrary to the teachings of their faith, and also enjoin their followers to show the same respect to other faiths, including Non-Abrahamic, as they rightly expect for their own. We may also hope that the United Nations will pass a resolution to the effect that every member nation repeal medieval blasphemy laws from their books.
In this harsh context in human history, let us pray and wish for peace, understanding, and mutual respect among the peoples and religions of the world, even between believers and non-believers. After all, we are all siblings in the eyes of God.