The aftermath of the murder of Avijit Roy sees the authorities acting – but it appears a case of too little, far too late. Turkey blocks the website of the Turkish Atheism Association. An anti-“blasphemy” campaigners in the UK have a slightly sinister message. The fifth of our weekly round-ups of “blasphemy” news.
The murder, last Thursday, of Avijit Roy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, continued to attract an outpouring of grief and tribute. An obituary in the UK’s Independent newspaper noted that Roy “pulled no punches” in his writing, while the Dhaka Tribune said that his work made him “invincible” even in death:
“He believed atheism is a rational concept to oppose any unscientific or irrational belief… Despite being under the threat of extremists for long, Avijit was also hopeful observing that there are many like-minded people around the world who would uphold the spirit of humanism and secularism.”
Excellently, the Dhaka Tribune also relates in some detail some of Roy’s criticism of religion in general and the Quran in particular.
Our partners IHEU published a message from his daughter Trisha Ahmed, including:
“The reason I’m sharing this is less for me and more for my dad. He was a firm believer in voicing your opinion to better the world. … To say that I’m furious or heartbroken would be an understatement. But as fucked up as the world is, there’s never a reason to stop fighting to make it better. I’ll carry the lessons he taught me and the love he gave me forever. … What would help me the most right now is if everyone (even people I’ve never met) could share his story.”
Another humanist of Bangladeshi origin, Alom Shaha, took up this call, writing “Avijit Roy was hacked to death for his secular views. Let’s share his story“. Shaha relates the killing clearly to anti-“blasphemy” violence and the attack on freedom of expression that it represents:
“After the Charlie Hebdo killings there was much debate about whether the cartoonists had provoked the killers, about the cartoonists “punching down”, about whether there should be limits to giving offence and so on. The brutal, cowardly murder of Avijit Roy shows how dangerous such arguments can be. Challenging religion is challenging those in power, and many pay a heavy price – we betray people like Avijit when we are half-hearted in our commitment to free speech.
Let’s not be mistaken about why Avijit was killed: he said and wrote things some people didn’t like. There will be more such killings. More people will die because they say, write or draw things that other people don’t like. More people will die until we are all united in stating unequivocally that anyone who commits such atrocities is entirely in the wrong, that it is unjustifiable to kill people who “offend” you, that blasphemy is a ridiculous notion and that no one should ever, ever be killed for “insulting” a religion or drawing a cartoon.”
One of Roy’s last blog posts, in English, written for Blasphemy Rights Day last September, summarised his book on the “virus of faith” and mentioned the importance of the international book fair, at which he would later be killed. Roy’s blog also covered the threats against himself and others. On Farabi Shafiur Rahman, one of those who had made public posts on social networks about his desire to see Roy killed, and who has since been arrested in connection with the murder, Roy wrote in September about how the authorities seemed reluctant to take any action against him:
“It has been revealed that Farabi is linked to the radical Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, and a terrorist organization, Hizbut Tahrir. Last year, Farabi threatened to kill a Muslim cleric officiated at the funeral of Ahmed Rajib Haider (the aforementioned freethinker who was hacked to death). Under tremendous public pressure, Farabi was arrested, but to everyone’s surprise, he was granted bail within few months. Since then, he has continued to threaten many progressives in Bangladesh; however, no official action has been taken against him.”
As Roy was a US citizen, the FBI has joined the investigation. Roy’s wife Rafida, also seriously hurt in the attack, has flown to the US for treatment and recovery.
The number of websites blocked in Turkey is approaching 68,000 with the recent addition of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s official site, as well as specific pages from the country’s most popular Internet forums.
The latest bans came after the government appealed to a local court, citing blasphemy laws. The Feb. 27 ruling of the Ankara Gölbaşı Civil Court of Peace came soon after the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB), a government body, filed a criminal complaint.
The ruling imposes a blanket ban on the websites of Charlie Hebdo and Turkey’s first atheism association, while blocking individual pages of Ekşi Sözlük (Sour Dictionary) and İnci Sözlük (Pearl Dictionary), two hugely popular forums, as well as pages on news website T24, which recently published the controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoons.
The court imposed sanctions on a total of 49 websites, ruling that they “humiliated the religious values of the people.”
An unnamed Indian national has reportedly been arrested in Saudi Arabia for posting a “blasphemous” image of the Kabba holy site “plastered with Hindu deities” on his Facebook page.
“Indian Consul General B.S. Mubarak confirmed that the Indian national has been jailed for violating the Kingdom’s cyber laws.
“This happened a month ago in Jeddah and the Saudi law enforcement authorities are currently conducting an investigation,” he told Arab News on Wednesday. “We are trying to help him in the best possible way,” he said.
… The public prosecutor, according to a report in a local newspaper, is calling on the courts to punish the man severely for allegedly posting the blasphemous material.
Under the Kingdom’s cyber laws, anyone involved in the transmission or storage of material violating religious values and public morals, can be jailed for up to five years and fined up to SR3 million.”
A group in the UK, Muslim Action Forum (MAF), has revealed a somewhat sinister-sounding campaign with the slogan: “Be Careful With Mohammad”. Despite also highlighting actual acts of anti-Muslim bigotry, and despite the massive scale of sectarian, Muslim-against-Muslim violence in the Islamic world, MAF state that “depictions of our Holy Prophet peace be upon Him is the worst kind of ‘Hate Crime’ that can be perpetrated on the 3 million Muslims in the UK and 1.7 billion Muslims worldwide.” They claim they plan to “launch a series of legal challenges in the English Court system”:
“the MAF set out details of their plan to outlaw depicting Mohammed in the UK, through “amendment of some existing legislation and the presentation of a Private Members Bill that promotes the idea of Global Civility.”
They describe “Global Civility” as a “new direction” and argue that the “desecration” of “collective human dignity”, through “insult, denigration or humiliation is morally and ethically wrong”. Their website rails against “reckless and malicious expressions”.”
Against this planned lobbying:
“Stephen Evans, National Secular Society campaigns manager, said: “We trust all prospective MPs will appreciate that there is no homogeneous ‘Muslim community’ and reject such unreasonable demands to undermine everybody’s fundamental rights and freedoms. Free speech is the bedrock of liberty and a free society – and integral to combating the spectre of Islamism. Now more than ever we need to preserve and strengthen freedom of expression, not capitulate to extremist demands.””
The inevitable Pakistan section…
An Islamist plot to somehow force Europe to ban all “blasphemy” continues to brew, wasting everyone’s time with its hot air and inevitable failure:
“Jamaat-e-Islami Secretary General Liaqat Baloch has called a meeting of the steering committee of Tehreek Hurmat-e-Rasool (PBUH) today (Wednesday) at Mansoora to discuss the proposals for gearing up the movement to curb the European media and societies’ campaign for committing blasphemy.
The committee which was formed a fortnight ago comprised of Federal Minister for Railways Khwaja Saad Rafiq, JUI-S Secretary General Maulana Abdul Rauf Farooqi, Qari Yaqoob Sheikh, Maulana Yusuf Ahrar, and others.”
However, Pakistan appears to have finally unblocked Youtube for the first time since the anti-Mohammad Youtube video fandango in 2012.
Khaled Ahmed, for the Indian Express, gives a lively summary of the absurd appeal in Pakistan of the self-confessed assassin of Salman Taseer, the extremist former police officer Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri is hailed as a hero by those who put their perceptions of “blasphemy” above the value of human life, and Ahmed in this article gives a humorous take-down of the nasty pieces of work defending him, noting among other things, “The ex-judge leading Qadri’s defence admires the killers who attacked Charlie Hebdo in Paris…”
Meanwhile, The Diplomat asks: “Can Pakistan’s judiciary take a stand against religious extremism?”
“The Mumtaz Qadri case isn’t just a verdict on a single terrorist’s life; more importantly it targets religious fundamentalism, the elephant in the room before the Peshawar school attack, and is epitomized by Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy law. Taseer was murdered for castigating the law and warning against his misuse.
How crucial will the outcome of the Qadri case be as far as reforming the blasphemy law is concerned?
“Mumtaz Qadri verdict will not reform blasphemy laws per se but will have an indirect effect,” said Yasser Latif Hamdani a Lahore-based lawyer and the author of Jinnah: Myth and Reality.
“The case is important because the issue is not as much about Qadri’s life or death but whether or not killing someone in the name of religion can be legally condoned,” he added.”
“Experts have warned that implementation of the Blasphemy Law could lead to the radicalization of Muslims.
Tobias Basuki, a political analyst from Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said that fear of being charged under the Blasphemy Law or attacked by hard-line groups had discouraged moderate Muslims and minority groups from joining debates on religion, especially Islam.
“Minority groups have been silenced, especially in the past 10 years, because of [former president] Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s inaction. After all that now we’re heading toward a condition where silencing others is acceptable,” said Tobias at a seminar on Tuesday.”