How to deal with one madman is tricky enough, but how do you rectify things if the whole world has gone mad? Take Sweden and its apparent determination to deport Reza Jabbari back to his native Iran, most likely to be killed for having converted from Islam to Christianity.
First, there is the growing phenomenon of individuals being targeted for retribution if they have been seen to "insult" Islam. In particular there is the terrible recent case of Lars Hedegaard, who was targeted by an assassin at his home in Denmark earlier this month. The larger tapestry that hangs behind incidents such as the attempted assassination of Lars Hedegaard, Kurt Westergaard and others, however, is not just the attempt to silence a few brave voices, but the attempt to silence an entire planet. I refer of course to the attempt to criminalize – around the world – any speech which is deemed to be offensive to Islam.
This process is not only ongoing among the 57 Islamic countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), but is being considered – rather than laughed out of the room – by, among other countries, the United States of America.
For more than a decade the OIC, originating from Pakistan, has been attempting to bring in legislation via the UN to criminalize "Defamation of Religions." Last December Hillary Clinton made a speech at the Istanbul Process's meeting (in London, shamefully) on "Combating intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief."
Here is the first paragraph:
Well, good afternoon, everyone, and I want to thank you all for participating in this conference where we are working together to protect two fundamental freedoms – the right to practice one's religion freely and the right to express one's opinion without fear.
Right there is the problem. Because her two "fundamental freedoms" might be a square peg or a round peg. But there is absolutely no way that either will ever fit into an OIC-shaped hole. Of course the OIC will continue to talk in generalities. So let us talk specifics. While the OIC pretends to worried about its feelings, let us consider a real-life, concrete, current example.
Reza Jabbari is an Iranian by birth. He is also a convert to Christianity. He is currently seeking asylum in Sweden. Why would this possibly be necessary? Surely if the OIC are being honest, Mr. Jabbari is merely someone with a different opinion from the people who run the country of his birth? And surely if the Iranians are worried about "offense" to religion, they would be standing up to ensure that Mr. Jabbari does not have his Christian faith insulted by the claims of Muslims that he is forever Muslim because he happened to have been born into a Muslim family.
Alas, the realities of the OIC are otherwise. As are those of the Swedish authorities, who appear to be doing everything they can to ensure that Mr. Jabbari is returned to Iran, where he is likely to be imprisoned, sentenced to death, or both. I suppose the Swedes reason that do not have room for him, even with all those empty homes the Jews left behind when they fled Malmo.
But let us take the Hillary Clinton view of things. Iran is one of the countries which has been pushing for an international blasphemy law. If you are Iran, hungry for people like Mr. .Jabbari to be put in their appropriate place, at the end of a crane, would you think, when the American Secretary of State even speaks on your favorite fake subject at your best pet forum, that things are going your own way, or more in what used to be known as the American way?
Put conversely, if you are, say, one of the millions of people who happen to have been born in a country such as Iran or another majority Muslim country, and you had thought that you might like to move around a bit faith-wise -- as plenty of cultural Jews, Christians and atheists do -- would you think that things globally were going in a good-ish direction for you and your religious freedom? Or would you think that the opposite was true and wonder about acting accordingly?
To put the most benign motives on the Obama administration's willingness not to "offend" the OIC, I suppose it is possible that they think that they can encourage the Islamic world in a more tolerant direction. "Nudge" it perhaps? Perhaps Hillary and Barack can sort of "nudge" the Islamic world in a better direction? Sure, it does not understand the idea of freedom of conscience or freedom of religion or freedom of belief right now. And sure, it hasn't had such a good record in any of these matters over the course of fourteen hundred years. But perhaps this time the Islamic world might start to see infidel light?
Well, the administration then is more optimistic than I am. If there is one thing you can say about this subject, after countless discussions over the years, it is that if anything ever does move, it does not move fast.
Some years ago I found myself on the BBC debating a very moderate sort of gentleman, Dr. Tim Winters, who teaches at Cambridge University, England. He is a quiet, reflective type; and as a convert to Islam, he is known as Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad. In Britain, he is widely thought to be just about the most moderate theologian going.
Anyhow – during our discussion we got into a disagreement on the matter of the punishment for apostasy. I mentioned that it is particularly regrettable that the punishment still mandated in all the major schools of Islam -- to this day -- continues to be death. But Tim mentioned something interesting – apparently game-changing. He said that he had recently attended a seminar in Jordan with some muftis from that neighborhood; and that the interesting upshot of all their discussions was that there had been some agreement that death may not after all be absolutely necessary for apostasy. The ultra-moderate compromise was that "maybe a custodial sentence" would do. [See 8 minutes into the video] "Too kind, too kind", I found myself replying.
Anyway, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and all the other people who are meant to be leading the free world are busy launching us – again to take the kindest possible interpretation – on one of the grandest gambles of all time. Their gamble is that if they give the Islamists of the OIC just a little something – a little nod, a little encouragement, just a "harmless" little law -- then we might all just be able to get along.
They are looking at this in exactly the wrong way. Because for every inch of encouragement the free nations of the world give the OIC, the more Reza Jabbaris we sacrifice to them. Literally. And for every one of the Reza Jabbaris we sacrifice to them, a million more free-thinking souls within the Muslim world will reckon that the strong horse in all this, such as the U.S., is the weak horse and the weak horse, such as the Arab World, is the strong horse. And those millions of people will act accordingly. In Tehran first, but then in Sweden, and Denmark, and finally in America. Perhaps the next American Secretary of State can address the next OIC conference by simply saying, "Whatever you want is perfect!"