Sticks and Stones

Photo by smellslikeupdog (Flickr)


When I was six years old, I went with my older sister to Vacation Bible School. When it was time to go swimming, I followed the other kids out to the pool and—not paying attention—jumped in the deep end. As I sank, I began to kick. I continued to sink, flailing in panic. I screamed, but no one could hear me. I closed my eyes and awaited the end.

No one noticed me, but my sister saw bubbles on the surface and said to one of the teachers, “I think that’s my brother.” The teacher jumped in, wrapped her arms around me and pulled me up to the surface. She helped me to the edge as I coughed and gasped for air and made sure I was ok. That was the summer I learned how to swim.

Back In The U.S.S.R.

The Russian State Duma passed a bill on June 11 which would make insulting religion a crime. If passed by Russia’s Federation Council, the bill will then be sent to President Vladimir Putin before becoming law next month.

The bill gained support last year among Russian politicians after the female punk band Pussy Riot staged a protest against President Putin in a popular Moscow cathedral. Two band members are currently serving two year sentences for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” Two other band members have fled the country and another was released on probation upon appeal.

Under the new proposed blasphemy law, offending the feelings of a believer will be punishable by a $15,000 fine, up to three years in prison and/or forced labor, like the gulags. And they said the Soviet Union was dead.

The White Cliffs of Dover

These kinds of laws have become a major issue in Europe over the past decade. British soldier Lee Rigby was run over by Muslim extremists on May 22 and then repeatedly stabbed with knives and hacked to death with a clever. Since then, almost a dozen British citizens have been arrested for “malicious comments” on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

As of June 1, the British funded project “Tell Mama” reported 125 incidents of so-called hate speech, 17 assaults and 11 attacks on mosques since the Rigby murder. Britain’s anti hate speech laws have been around for years, but have quite obviously failed to turn the tide of public opinion in the wake of repeated acts of Islamic extremism.

Back in January, a Muslim gang began posting videos on youtube of themselves patrolling parts of London, intimidating a man for “looking like a fag,” several women for not wearing a hijab and demanding anyone carrying alcohol pour it out under implied threat of violence. These gangs proudly boasted their triumphs over the British people before having the videos removed for violating youtube policies concerning violence and bullying.

There has been a trend over the past decade or so of immigrant Muslim extremists taking advantage of England’s tolerance by steadily advancing their agenda of intolerance and hatred against their host country. Such extremists have given all English Muslims a bad name, and the recent death of Rigby has pushed England over the edge.

Perhaps the inability of the English to vent their frustrations has exacerbated the issue. Perhaps the British government should have taken those concerns more seriously instead of attempting to silence its people.

The Perils of Apostasy

Alber Saber was the administrator of an “Egyptian Atheists” page on Facebook until he was sentenced to three years in prison in December 2012. Ayman Yusef Mansu and Gamal Abdou Massoud are also serving three year sentences in Egypt for blasphemy. Bishoy Kamel is serving six.

The Bangladesh government has blocked about a dozen websites in recent months to appease radicals who have collected and published the names of 84 atheists there. Four have since been arrested for blasphemy. Tasneem Khalil was arrested for blasphemy in Bangladesh back in 2007 and was subsequently tortured to death. There have been zero arrests for his murder.

2012 was a busy year for the persecutors of apostates. Alexander Aan was sentenced to two and a half years in Indonesia for posting blasphemy on Facebook. Waleed Al-Husseini served ten months in Palestine, also for posting blasphemy on Facebook. Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji were sentenced to seven and a half years in Tunisia, again for blasphemy on Facebook. Fazil Say was arrested in Turkey for blasphemy on Twitter. Greece charged Philipos Loizos with insulting religion on Facebook.

A History of Violence

Iran routinely hunts down apostates to reconvert or execute them and it is known that at least 15 apostates were incarcerated at some point during 2008. It has been difficult to determine the fate of these 15 or know how many others there have been over the years due to the inability to ascertain accurate information from the draconian government of Mahmoud “We don’t have gays in Iran” Ahmadinejad.

Salman Rushdie had a fatwa issued ordering his death back in 1989 for offending Islam with his novel “The Satanic Verses.” Theo van Gogh was murdered in 2004 for speaking out against radical Islam.

Western embassies were firebombed in 2005 after a Danish newspaper published cartoons depicting Mohammed, inspiring the annual rebellion known as “Draw Mohammed Day” in support of free speech. Terrorist threats caused Comedy Central to later pull a depiction of Mohammed from a South Park episode ironically written specifically to protest radical Islam’s assault on free speech. Apparently the terrorists weren’t big South Park fans and missed the fact that Mohammed was depicted years earlier in the episode “Super Best Friends.”

In 2006 Abdul Rahman was arrested for blasphemy in Afghanistan and only international pressure convinced President Hamid Karzai to intervene and dismiss the charges. Two other Afghanis were arrested for blasphemy at the same time but did not receive international attention. Their fate remains a mystery.

Kacem El Ghazzali, came out as an atheist in a French news report in 2010. He was assaulted by staff and students at his high school in Morocco, denounced by the local Imam and alienated by his family. Death threats forced him to flee and seek political asylum in Switzerland where he has lived for the past two years.

In 2004, a Pakistani Christian refused to convert to Islam when pressured by his employer’s family. So his employer’s son got some friends together and gang raped the man’s two year old daughter. No charges were ever filed for the rape of “Baby Neesha” and after years of hiding the man and his family were finally able to flee to Canada.

Crimes against Christians have become ubiquitous throughout Pakistan. Last year there were 40 rapes, 14 murders, 22 kidnappings and six forced marriages in Punjab province alone according to Pakistan’s leading child rights organization, SPARC (Society for Protection of the Rights of the Child). Most of the rapes involved children between the ages of 8 and 14.

Apostasy remains punishable by death in Afghanistan, Comoros, Iran, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen. On June 9, Syrian rebels murdered 15 year old atheist Mohammad Qataa after he was heard in an argument saying, “Even if the prophet Mohammad comes down, I will not become a believer.”

All Around The World Same Song

Facebook and other online social networks have become battleground zero for non believers around the world seeking the simple satisfaction of speaking their minds. Facebook commonly removes content offensive to religious sensibilities at the request of those accustomed to enforcing blasphemy laws. All of this may seem strange considering Mark Zuckerberg is an atheist, but it has become abundantly clear that Mark Zuckerberg is an opportunist who cares less about free speech and the plight of his fellow atheists than he does about maintaining marketing revenue from advertisers targeting potential customers living under totalitarian regimes.

The United Nations has been debating resolutions against blasphemy for the past decade at the repeated request of Islamic representatives who fear they cannot compete in the open market of ideas.

Whether it’s ex-KGB tyrants in control of Russia, well intentioned tolerant-to-the-point-of-self-destruction appeasers of England or radical Muslims of Asia and Africa, the world is seeing an alarming trend among those who wish to silence the dissention of religious deserters. The age old victimless crime is now claiming victims by the dozen around the globe. But there exists a light in the distance, awaiting us at the horizon of hope.

A Change Is Gonna Come

I anticipate a day will come when we can disagree without our differences stirring passions of vitriol or violence—a day when the imbalance of our beliefs and other distinctions of our diversity no longer give cause for malevolent schism among us. It is my ambition that we might unite ourselves in search of that which is the destination of all individuals endowed with the yearning of wisdom—the destination of truth. I remain at the mercy of my search for truth, just as my atheist brothers and sisters remain at the mercy of those who fear the freedom I enjoy to seek it out through the open exchange of ideas.

Let our words not drop into the depths of darkness, but endure the allure of antipathy. Though we may see only the bubbles of debasement, the screams of others echo from beneath the abyss. While the weight of our pride pulls us under, we must not succumb to the enticement of anger. Let us embrace one another and ascend as one unto the surface of freedom. For liberty awaits within the open airs of our better nature.

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