Muslims disapprove of film-related violence while other Muslims push for anti-blasphemy law

Since I talk a lot about the distressing failure of “moderate” Muslims to condemn the violence of their coreligionists, it’s only fair to point out instances when they do.  Some of these cases have been compiled by MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) in a new piece called “Harsh self-criticism in Arab world over violent reactions to anti-Islamic film“.

Their piece compiles a number of anti-violence pieces aimed at the thugs who are attacking embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East, and rioting generally over the stupid film “Innocence of Muslims.” They introduce it thus:

The attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and embassy in Cairo on the night of September 11, 2012, and the spread of violent protests to many countries in the Middle East have sparked unprecedented criticism in the Arab press of Arab and Islamic society and its way of dealing with the current crisis. Many articles claimed that violent protests harm the Prophet Muhammad and his way and are contrary to Islam’s moral standards, and that it would have been better to show the moderate and tolerant face of Islam by responding through artistic and cultural expression.

Several columnists expressed fear that Arab society is sinking into ever-increasing extremism, and argued that Arabs and Muslims should distance themselves from violence and terrorism, which are the source of the West’s suspicion of Islam. They stated that today’s Arab and Islamic society contributes nothing to human civilization and is to blame for its own state.

It should also be mentioned that Arab leaders, Muslim scholars, and other officials issued harsh condemnations of the attack in Benghazi, and emphasized that using violence to protest the controversial film is forbidden and contrary to Islam and to the way of the Prophet. For example, Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi declared that the murder of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi was contrary to Islam and that “for Allah, the sanctity of life is greater than the sanctity of the Ka’ba.”

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and its officials, the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the Egyptian prime minister, officials in Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya, and even Salafi elements all called to avoid violence and harming embassies and diplomats, claiming that it is contrary to Islam; some even issued fatwas forbidding it. The violence was also condemned by the head of the International Union of Muslims Scholars (IUMS), Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi, as well as by the leaders of the Gulf states and the Mufti of Saudi Arabia.

The rest of the piece simply documents the revulsion of Islamic journalistic at at Muslim violence. There’s quite a bit of this pushback, and it shows that not all Muslims are either prone to violence or, by inaction, enablers of violence. I only wish this kind of criticism was more common, and that governments of Islamic nations stood up so strongly against the bullies who cut off heads when their faith is offended.

Oh, and those of you who have claimed that MEMRI is simply a mouthpiece of Jewish or Islamophobic interests, explain this piece!

Meanwhile, as the General Aseembly opens at the United Nations, Muslim nations, led by Indonesia, are pushing for a worldwide ban on blasphemy against religion. They won’t get it through, as such a ban is opposed by many secular and Western states. As The New York Times reports this morning, Obama stepped up to the plate at the UN:

Mr. Obama appeared to relish the larger canvas of the United Nations and his subject, freedom of speech and why in the United States, even making “a crude and disgusting video” is a right of all citizens.

“As president of our country, and commander in chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day,” Mr. Obama said. “And I will defend their right to do so.” For that, he received cheers in the cavernous hall.

The president worked to explain — before a sometimes skeptical audience that has never completely bought into the American idea that even hateful speech is protected — why the United States values its First Amendment so highly.

“We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can become a tool to silence critics, or oppress minorities,” Mr. Obama said. “We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.” He said Americans “have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their view.”

Can anyone—even those of you who don’t like Obama—take issue with that?



  1. Posted September 26, 2012 at 4:06 am | Permalink

    Again from the Times of Malta, reporting from a geographical crossroads. Also today another comment from Laiq Ahmed Atif, president of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Malta. The title of his editorial: “Time to repeal blasphemy law” (see Quoting him:
    “Since the blasphemy law was passed in 1987 by the military dictator and President Zia-ul-Haq it has devastated Pakistan like a virus, infecting and grievously weakening the whole fibre of society”

    “The law was extremely misused and, even today, it is being used for personal gain. The religious leaders speak in its favour and say it is according to Islamic teachings.

    I truly believe this law has no moral and religious grounds and should be revoked and repealed at the earliest because it spreads hatred” Great! Finally!

    He finalises with “I would like to recall a brief quotation from the writings of the fourth head of our community who sums up blasphemy perfectly. He says: “Blasphemy is condemned on moral and ethical grounds, no doubt, but no physical punishment is prescribed for blasphemy in Islam despite the commonly held view in the contemporary world.

    “Having studied the Holy Quran extensively and repeatedly with deep concentration, I have failed to find a single verse which declares blasphemy to be a crime punishable by man.

    “Although the Holy Quran very strongly discourages indecent behaviour and indecent talk, or the hurting of the sensitivity of others, with or without rhyme or reason, Islam does not advocate the punishment of blasphemy in this world nor vests such authority in anyone.” – Cherry picking from the Holy Book sure, but this is the most sensible thing a religious can do: cherry pick from their beloved only book using reason and ethics and morals developed in the few last centuries…

    • Sigmund
      Posted September 26, 2012 at 4:59 am | Permalink

      The Ahmadiyyas are constantly accused of blasphemy in Pakistan and so we might expect them to have a vested interest in repealing the law.
      Unfortunately their laudable intentions aren’t shared by the Ahmadiyya student group at the University of London who campaigned this year to have ‘Jesus and Mo’ banned on campus for offending their religious feelings.

    • zendruid1
      Posted September 26, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      …using reason and ethics and morals developed in the few last centuries…

      …with a large dose of Stoic precedence.

  2. Posted September 26, 2012 at 4:10 am | Permalink

    Mr. Obama said. “We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech-….this part of the speech is important and the leaders of Pakistan, Indonesia and other theocracies should hear this and tell it to their people.

    • GM
      Posted September 26, 2012 at 4:38 am | Permalink

      Good luck with that.

      We often forget that because we’re so focused on battling creationists here in the West, but our problems with religion are nothing compared to the problems the few non-religious people in places like Pakistan face. And because that’s where the bulk of world’s population growth is going to be in the next few decades we can expect huge problems – Pakistan in particular is quite advanced on the path towards becoming a Malthusian hellhole, (it will probably get to more than 300 million by 2050 in what is mostly desert, with shrinking glaciers in the Himalayas and correspondingly reduced flow of the major rivers that they rely on for agriculture) but in contrast to all the other places that are already Malthusian hellholes or will be such in the future, it will be one that’s nuclear-armed and full of religious fanatics (and of course, we have the vicious cycle in which the religious fanaticism is feeding the population growth and the population growth is feeding the religious fanaticism as it reduces education opportunities and creates a huge mass of angry unemployed young men). I don’t like that prospect at all.

      So the question is how do you turn that kind of place around into something that’s secular enough to be moved into a different development trajectory? Looks absolutely impossible given that at present the penalty for blasphemy is death…

  3. GM
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 4:23 am | Permalink

    Of course one can take issue with that – blasphemy should not be just tolerated but encouraged, and understanding and mutual respect have limits set by the validity of the position one is arguing, i.e. if you are claiming something really absurd and clearly wrong then there is no place for tolerance and “respect” for your position – it is in fact other people’s duty to actively correct you.

    Of course, politicians defending free speech and religious freedom is better than politicians being proponents of a given religion, but too often by doing so they are also defending epsitemological relativism which I do have a problem with and we all know this is the case here.

    Obviously, it would not have been wise due to personal safety considerations for anyone to come out and do that, but it would have been nice if at least someone had come out and said the truth which is that Islam is something so ridiculously stupid that the question here is not why someone made a movie mocking it but why is not everyone mocking it all the time. Instead there were countless opinion pieces and TV programs that focused on all sorts of other (mostly irrelevant) things but not a word in that spirit…

    • Sigmund
      Posted September 26, 2012 at 4:39 am | Permalink

      Blasphemy is, of course, in the eyes of the beholder. The odious Pastor Terry Jones sees the Koran as a blasphemy against his God and thus it is his religious duty to defile it – the same way a pious Islamic mob would defile a work of art that even hints at criticism of their religion.
      Blasphemy, kind of like Pascals wager, can only function when there is unanimous agreement that there is one faith to be protected. Start introducing the idea that there are other beliefs that don’t happen to agree and frequently condemn each other, and the whole notion of a consistent application of the law is doomed. You end up with situations like the Irish blasphemy law that doesn’t protect beliefs but instead makes outrage at offense the moveable limbo bar under which each competing group of holy rollers seek to squeeze.

      • Posted September 26, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

        Blasphemy is, of course, in the eyes of the beholder.

        More precisely, it’s a truly victimless crime.

        Most jurisdictions give the accused the right to call witnesses, even uncooperative ones. By all rights, the very first witness the accused should call to the stand should be the god blasphemed against.

        If, in the ensuing hilarity, the case isn’t dismissed with extreme prejudice, at the very least the terrestrial nature of the power politics at play will be laid bare.



    • Divalent
      Posted September 26, 2012 at 5:39 am | Permalink

      I, too, can take issue with the statement “… it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy …” as it equates blasphemy with bigotry, as if it is something universally odious that we nonetheless should tolerate.

      • Posted September 26, 2012 at 5:48 am | Permalink

        Ah! We’re parsing it wrongly.

        It’s not “… it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against (bigotry and blasphemy)”, but “… it is more speech — (the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry) and blasphemy”!



  4. Hopalong Cassowary
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 4:52 am | Permalink

    Meanwhile, there’s
    this–Piss Christ is back on tour!

  5. Posted September 26, 2012 at 5:03 am | Permalink


  6. Posted September 26, 2012 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    Interesting podcast on blasphemy fro POI:

  7. JBlilie
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    I heard almost all of Obama’s speech to the UNGA, live (Yay NPR!), and it was excellent!

  8. jose
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    This post honors both you and Obama. Very heartening!

  9. DV
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    If you can believe it some Christians in a fit of victimization-envy have actually felt the need to try to outdo the sensitivity of Muslims and grasped at straws to take issue with Obama’s speech.

    • raven
      Posted September 26, 2012 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      It doesn’t right now.

      The height of American xian theocracy was the Pruritans.

      They hung 25 alleged witches at Salem. They also hung a few Quackers and Unitarians as heretics. Roger Williams founded Rhode Island to get away from the creeps.

      That is one reason why the constitution is a secular document.

      FWIW, thanks to the fundies, millions leave the xian religion every year. Somewhere around 2030, xians will go below 50% of the US population.

      US xians are killing their own religion, seeming not to realize it but whining about it a lot. Xians, creating atheists since 33 CE.

      • DV
        Posted September 26, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

        Regardless of whether the future belong to christians or not, the point is that Obama did not actually say that.

    • Posted September 27, 2012 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      It’s infuriating how the right looks at propositions of fairness and equality as oppression.

      It ain’t fair and equal unless they’re getting their way.

      This is the attitude of a three-year-old.

      (actually, some three-year-olds are more mature than that)

  10. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Thanks for that! It was truly heartening.

    unprecedented criticism

    Very heartening.

  11. raven
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    It’s been hard to make any sense of some Moslem’s reactions.

    1. In Pakistan, they rioted and killed 15 of each other to protest the offending video. Similar events occurred in other countries.

    This isn’t smart. “We are insulted, so we will destroy our own property and kill some Moslems.”

    It’s shooting yourself in the foot, although much worse if Moslems are ending up dead.

    I suspect something else is going on here. It’s a cover for ambitious extremists to gain power. Much of religion is just a cover for the human drives for sex, money, and power.

    The real solution would have been to just make an insulting video back. Free speech works both ways.

  12. Tim Harris
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    I am glad to see this sort of response here at last, but can I say that I find this statement really rather astonishing: ‘…it shows that not all Muslims are either prone to violence or, by inaction, enablers of violence’. Well, no, they bloody well are not, and it is incredible to me that anyone should have supposed that they are, although I am delighted that the suppoaition has been corrected. Those voices in the Islamic world who speak out against the kind of violence readily resorted should be encouraged and not condescended to.

  13. Tim Harris
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    ‘readily resorted to by thugs and fanatics’ – that should read.

  14. raven
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    The other puzzling thing about these riots, self inflicted property damage, killings, and threats is:

    Why are religious worshippers doing it?

    According to the theists, god, allah, and jesus are supposed to be the most powerful beings in the universe, which they created themselves.

    Such powerful beings should be able to defend themselves easily.

    Believers claim their gods are all powerful and then act like they are sick, drunk, don’t care, or are dead.

  15. Posted September 26, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    I’d say on balance, Obama’s statement is an excellent one, given the confines that a head of state must operate under. It’s a precarious tightrope, where the overall message has to be concise and banalized to the point that the most people possible can get on board and start agreeing on basic things that enable entire groups of societies to progress. hat’s a tall order, and my hat’s off to the message crafters.

    Now my picking of the nit: “Americans “have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their view.”

    This is the mallard that gets my goat. When we want to make excuses for war, enlist more people for war, or deify people who either perpetrate wars or get caught up in them, we trot out the freedom canard. All the wars we have ever fought (and are now fighting) are really about protecting our freedoms. Freedom ain’t free. Johnny came marching home, from out in the field where he fought to protect my right to criticize my President on a website. That’s why he blasted those (gooks, ragheads, etc.) – because them others don’t like me criticizing my President or members of my Congress or reading what I want to read. Puh-leese.

    That canard gets trotted out so often it barely gets noticed, but it never fails to irk me. I guess matters closer to the truth are just too damned painful to face square-on, esp. as one is going off to war or mourning someone who didn’t survive one intact. So that’s my snipe — there just had to be a note of jingoism in there, to make it palatable to enough fence-sitters back home, so they pull the proper lever in November. /snipe

    That being said, it was on-balance an excellent bit of political oratory — something no one in the previous administration could have pulled off.

  16. blitz442
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    “Can anyone—even those of you who don’t like Obama—take issue with that?”

    Yes, this pinhead can.

    He does seem to have gotten an earful in the comments section though.

  17. Nick Evans
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    I take issue with the idea that freedom of speech is somehow an American invention, but it’s not clear whether that’s the NYT’s gloss.

  18. MadScientist
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Screw film violence – how about the genuine violence exhibited by people?

    • Git
      Posted September 26, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      What about the violence inherent in the system?!

      • Posted September 26, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        Wot — are you being repressed?


  19. Posted September 26, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    First, thanks for including that wonderful part of the president’s speech. I only wish he would occasionally remember that a growing part of the American population has made a choice to have no religion in their life.

    Next, it’s also worth noting that American Muslims, were either disinterested, not bothered, or like most of us too busy with life to act out in protest against this stupid bit of video.

    For those interested, Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” interviewed King Abdullah II of Jordan last night, his comments about this “protest” and the varying forms of “Arab Spring” are most interesting.

  20. E.A. Blair
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me earlier, but I may have an explanation as to why “moderate” Muslims do not speak out.

    Consider the current political climate in the US. The Republican party, infused by fundie religion, is actively purging its ranks of anyone who could be considered centrist. In GOP terms, “moderate” is a term laden with as much opprobium as used to be reserved for “liberal”. In the United States in 2012, if you are a moderate or even liberal Republican (the latter of which has been considered extinct for a long, long time) you keep your trap shut if you want your political career to survive.

    By the same token, if you live in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan or Yemen and you don’t think the YouTube trailer is worth getting upset about are you going to speak up about it? Of course not. You keep your trap shut if you want to survive.

    And if the American Taliban gets its way, how long do you think it’s going to be before US critics of religion are going to have to think twice or thrice about speaking up?

  21. Steve in Oakland
    Posted September 27, 2012 at 3:45 am | Permalink

    The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that Hillary Clinton is now saying that the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya and the lynching of the ambassador there was an Al Queda plot, and the “anti-Mohammad movie” was not the real reason for the attack.

  22. jeffery
    Posted September 27, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

    The problem is that Muslims seem to believe that part of “exercising” their religion is to try to stifle any opposition to it, or criticism of it, by any means necessary. Our founding fathers were well aware of this nasty tendency on the behalf of religious belief systems; that’s why FREE SPEECH is given “equal billing” (notice the “or”). Of course, this sets up an “unstoppable force meets an immoveable object” scenario; fanatics of all stripes will always continue to try to press their agenda on everyone else: the only real solution is the adoption of rational, considerate practices on both sides (although the truth must out, which can be painful). Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much hope for this in the Muslim world. Voltaire: “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

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