Today at Radio Japan, one of the news that I translated really struck a chord with me. I argued for putting it as one of the headlines, and I succeeded. People really need to pay attention and consider the implications of this story.
The news was about a governor murdered in Pakistan. (Coverage from BBC News, Time) Salman Taseer was the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province. He was assasinated by his own bodyguard on Jan 4th in Islamabad. According to the police, the guard gave his reason as:
“This is the punishment for a blasphemer.”
The guard was referring to Taseer’s critical views of Islamic blasphemy laws in Pakistan. The blasphemy law came into focus November last year, when a Christian woman was sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Taseer came out against the law, and called for her pardon.
Taseer himself did not blaspheme against Islam. He only protected the rights of others to blaspheme against Islam. For that, he was murdered. However you may feel, there is one conclusion that cannot be denied. His murder was a direct consequence of the Islamic religion.
At this point, I can imagine the usual responses and arguments against this conclusion.
1. “The guard wasn’t following the true Islam, because true Islam is a peaceful religion.”
How do you know better than this guy? If you asked him, he would say that his is the true Islam, and your weak version that protects blasphemers is the false one. By the way, there are many phrases in the Koran that seems to sanction the killing of unbelievers. You can see for yourself by going to Quran.com and search for “kill”, “slay”, “unbeliever” or “blasphemer”. Two of the results are shown below after a few minutes’ searching.
2:191 And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al- Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers.
4:89 They wish you would disbelieve as they disbelieved so you would be alike. So do not take from among them allies until they emigrate for the cause of Allah . But if they turn away, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them and take not from among them any ally or helper.
And I’m sure that there are many more in the Koran. (It’s a large tome.) There is also the Hadith, which is a collection of the sayings and deeds of the Prophet. Have fun searching.
The point is not that the guard’s violent version of Islam is the true one. There might not even be a True Islam© which is universally agreed upon.
The point is that the guard took the inspiration for the murder from his religion. His understanding of Islam compels him to kill someone for supporting the right to blaspheme. Not all Muslims would agree with him, of course, but not all would disagree either. Therefore, the Islamic religion was a direct cause of this murder.
Think of it this way. If the Islamic did not exist, if there was no Prophet Mohammad to blaspheme against, the blasphemer (or the supporter of blasphemy) would not have been killed. It’s that simple.
2. “How can you say that Islam makes people evil? I know a lot of good people who are Islamic.”
Yes, and I have the same stories to tell. One of the postdocs in my lab is a Muslim, and he is one of the nicest guys that I’ve ever met. He takes the time to teach me a few experimental techniques, even when he’s busy. He’s thoughtful towards other students and staffs, plus he’s a smart guy.
So what? The contents of Islam (as described in the Koran, the Hadith and other teachings) contain both moral teachings and life-destroying commands. It’s not different from any other kinds of books, stories or creation myths.
If a person turns out to be moral after being exposed to Islam, this does not mean that he is moral because of Islam. Rather, he is moral even though he is Islamic. If Islamic teachings contain both good and evil verses, he must have some moral sense above and beyond the teachings, to be able to differentiate between the two and ignore the evil ones.
The point is, the fact that “Someone who is good is also Islamic.” does not contradict the fact that “Islam inspires some people to murder.”.
3.”Why do you keep focusing on the evil side of religion? Religion is a necessary force for good in the world.”
Let me tell you a story. Suppose someone claims that there is a drug that cures colds, but the drug’s side effects may cause some people to experience a murderous urge. When you point out this side effect, people ask you “Why do you focus on the side effects of the drug? Look, it can cure the cold!”
I focus on the evil side of religion to show that there are side effects of religion. That’s the whole point. I do not understand why people can just point out the benefits of religion and consider the discussion closed. The fact that religions have deleterious side effects cannot be ignored or whitewashed away.
Finally, this news reminds me that there is a huge misunderstanding out there about blasphemy and giving offence. There is no right not to be offended. Let me state it again. The right to stop someone from insulting, offending or blaspheming against anything, does not exist. If it did, people would have the right to kill each other for any comment or action that can be taken as an insult to any entity that can be imagined. I cannot stop you from insulting Zeus, Thor, Mickey Mouse, Frodo Baggins or Anakin Skywalker. This is the price we pay for having a free and open society.