Not Selling Islam

Last week Hamza Kashgari, a Saudi writer was arrested for Tweeting his opinion that he and the Islamic prophet Mohammad were essentially equals; he faces execution. For Christians that have endured Piss Christ, and The Holy Virgin Mary, such comments seem fairly innocuous, but Ismah, the doctrine of Muhammad’s infallibility says otherwise. Still, execution remains a stretch. Kashgari fled for his life to Malasia, which does not execute blasphemers, but he was extradited to Saudi Arabia in violation of his right to a hearing. Worse, Interpol, a US sponsored agency, facilitated this arrest and violation of his human rights.

As offensive as Kashgari’s treatment sounds, the blame really lies with Tyrants like King Abdullah, not with Islam. Jakarta alone contains more Muslims than all of Saudi Arabia, yet Indonesian women vote, drive, and make careers for themselves. Apart from some very isolated islands, the Christian minority is not persecuted. Indonesia is majority Shafi’i, a stricter interpretation of Shariah than the Saudi Hanafi, so why is Saudi Arabia a pariah to modern sensibilities?

The difference is Indonesia’s constitutional republic versus Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy. Amnesty International (founded by a communist) likes to focus on the abuses of free nations like the US, but in a constitutional republic (i.e. democracy (sic)) human rights abuses are few and fleeting. The concept of individual worth and absolute individual rights is solely Christian, but even when it is applied in an Islamic setting, it yields similar results. Despite widespread corruption, and recent failed Presidencies, Indonesia’s economy is on a tear as it is pulling itself out of poverty and developing a stable middle class. Its sovereign credit rating was raised by Moody’s last year to investment grade. By comparison, Saudi Arabia is oil rich, but little else. Its economy is growing at half the rate of Indonesia, despite windfall oil profits. This is not an isolated case; wherever the individual is respected and his rights protected, there is prosperity.

From the Pharos through ancient Rome, to the Kings of England and France, dictators have always claimed to be gods or at least divinely ordained. Dictators enjoy the veneer of religious authority because the dark reality of their power is thuggery, violence, and repression. Mr. Kashgari wielded only the power of his words, posing no real threat to Islam and its 1.6 billion Muslims. However, free speech is a threat to King Abdullah, hence the persecution. The death penalty for impolitic speech is only found in a tyranny.

As the myth of Damocles illustrates, a tyrant’s power is as fragile as a sword hanging from a single hair. Dictators like Abdullah are rightly afraid that their unjust reigns can end quickly, and violently. With the fall of dictators in all directions of Riyadh, Abdullah cannot afford to be less than paranoid. The repression of Mr. Kashgari is no sales pitch for Islam, but it is really a lesson in the value of constitutional rights.

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