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Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Importance of Blasphemy


As a deeply religious person, I have no fondness for blasphemy. My religion and its holy books are sacred to me. And I understand perfectly well why a Muslim would not relish a cartoon of a naked Mohammed.

But the debates over freedom of speech and the sensitivity of religious feelings also miss the point.

Blasphemy is the price we pay for not having a theocracy. Muslims are not only outraged but baffled by the Mohammed cartoons because they come from a world in which Islamic law dominates their countries and through its special place proclaims the superiority of Islam to all other religions.

Almost all Muslim countries are theocracies of one sort or another as a legacy of the Islamic conquests which Islamized them. 

Egyptian President Sisi’s gesture of attending a Coptic mass was so revolutionary because it challenged the idea that Egyptian identity must be exclusively Islamic.

And Egypt is far from the most hard line of Islamic countries in the Middle East, despite a brief takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood in the aftermath of Obama’s Arab Spring.

In a theocracy, not only is government Islamic from the top down, but society is also Islamic from the bottom up. 

Citizenship is linked to religion and even in countries such as Egypt, where non-Muslims may be citizens, there are fundamental restrictions in place that link Islamic identity to Egyptian citizenship. For example, Egyptian Muslims who attempt to convert to Christianity have found extremely difficult to have the government recognize their change of religion by issuing them new identification cards.

While we may think of blasphemy in terms of the Charlie Hebdocartoons, each religion is mutually blasphemous.

Muslims argue that the West should “respect prophets” by outlawing insults to Mohammed and a panoply of prophets gathered from Judaism and Christianity. But the Islamic view of Jesus is equally blasphemous to Christianity. And Islam considers Christianity’s view of Jesus to be blasphemous.

If we were to truly prosecute blasphemy, the legal system would have to pick a side between the two religions and eitherprosecute Christians for blaspheming against Islam or Muslims for blaspheming against Christianity. And indeed in Muslim countries, Christians are frequently accused of blasphemy.

Malaysia’s blasphemy laws were used to ban Christians fromemploying the word “Allah” for god and to seize children’s books depicting Noah and Moses. The reason for seizing the children’s books was the same as the reason for the attack on Charlie Hebdo; both were featuring cartoons of prophets.

While Charlie Hebdo pushed the outer limits of blasphemy, every religion that is not Islam, and even various alternative flavors of Islam, are also blasphemous.

It isn’t only secularist cartoonists who blaspheme against Islam. 

Mohammed seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure,” St. Thomas Aquinas wrote. Maimonides called him a madman.

To Bill Donohue, there may be a world of difference between Charlie Hebdo and Aquinas, but not to a Muslim.

In a multi-religious society, in which every religion has its own variant theological streams, the right to blaspheme is also the right to believe. Liberal theology can contrive interchangeable beliefs which do not contradict or claim special knowledge over any other religion. But traditionalist faiths are exclusive.

Everyone’s religion is someone else’s blasphemy. If we forget that, we need only look to Saudi Arabia, where no other religion is allowed, as a reminder.

Muslims who question freedom of speech are not calling for a special status for all religions, but only for their religion. They don’t intend to censor their own Hadiths which claim that Jesus will return and break the cross or that the apocalypse will climax with Muslims exterminating the Jews. Their objections aren’t liberal, but exclusively theocratic. They want a blasphemy law that exclusively revolves around them.

Islam relates to other religions on its terms. It grants special treatment to Christianity and Judaism, despite nevertheless persecuting them, because of their relationship to Islam. It persecutes other religions even more severely because of their greater distance from Islam. Islamic theocracies are not respectful of religion, but respectful of Islam and disrespectful of all other religions.

Religious people need not embrace the extremes of French secularism or the anti-religious positions of the ACLU to see that some distance between religion and state is a good thing for both. A separation between religion and state should not mean compulsory secularism, but at the same time it avoids the religious tests for office which existed in colonial times in stateswith established churches that banned Catholics, Quakers and Jews, among others, from holding political office.

A neutral state allows us to believe what we please. Islamic efforts on blasphemy however warp us all around the theology of Islam.

When governments prosecute tearing the Koran or drawing offensive cartoons under hate crime laws, they are eroding the separation between state and mosque. Their efforts, even if well intention, lead inevitably to a theocracy which not only hurts critics of Islam, but destroys the religious freedom of all religions.

The legal distinction between secular blasphemy and interreligious disdain disappears in a theocracy. Each religion has beliefs that offend the other, actively or passively. When one belief becomes supreme, then religious freedom vanishes, as it has throughout the Muslim world where the practice of Christianity and Judaism are governed by how closely Muslims choose to be offended at other religions.

While some religious people may take issue with the celebration of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, equating them with such things as the infamous “Piss Christ”, there’s a fundamental difference between blasphemy against the innocent and the guilty.

Piss Christ or a museum which exhibited photos of naked women dressed in Jewish ritual garments are committed against the unresisting making them the theological equivalent of spiteful vandalism. There are no Jews or Christians murdering artists or bombing museums. By attempting to enforce the theocracy of blasphemy laws, Muslims made the Mohammed cartoons into a symbol of free speech.

It was not the 

Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, who specialized in offending all religions, who made their Mohammed cartoons into a symbol. It was their Muslim enemies who did it by killing them. It is intellectually dishonest for Muslims to create martyrs and then complain about their martyrdom.

Blasphemy against Christianity and Judaism fizzles because the lack of a violent response makes those responsible seem like bullies. Instead of revealing flaws in those religions, works like Piss Christ or Monster Mohel reveal the flaws in their makers.Their attempts at blasphemy prove self-destructive.

Muslim violence against the Mohammed cartoons however turns them into the bullies. The Hebdo cartoons did no damage to Christianity or Judaism. They did a great deal of damage to Islam, not because they were well done, but because Islam is shot through with violent anger and insecurity.

The spiritual power of religion balances between violence and non-violence. Most religions believe that there is a time to fight, but only Islam believes in violence as the first and final religious solution.

Mohammed cartoons exist because of the Islamic inability to cope with a non-theocratic society. Islamic 

Cartoonophobia is not only a danger to cartoonists. It’s a threat to all of our religious freedoms.



  1. Excellent! I would like to cross-post that on my own site.

    Every day, Muslims recite sura one of the Koran that ends with (I am paraphrasing) an exhortation to Allah "to lead me in the right path-not the path of those who have incurred Your wrath or those who have gone astray. According to a Hadith, Mohammed explained that the former refers to Jews and the latter refers to Christians. Are those not blasphemous to Christian or Jews? Yet we do not retaliate with violence or death. (In fact, Duke University will allow Muslim students to recite that sura every Friday in their chapel.)

  2. Common 'tater16/1/15

    Very well said. Unfortunately, when the POTUS, BHO, makes a statement (paraphrase) that "those who criticize the prophet Mohammed shall not prosper," he makes a mockery of our Constitution. When the SCOTUS and Congress say and do nothing, we are effectively a theocracy.

    What you did not point out, is that in Muslim countries, they use blasphemy laws diligently against other Muslims that do not follow a particular country's brand of Islam as well as against political opponents. So really, these laws are used equally to quash both religious dissent and political dissent. No different than the Nazis whom they adored, and no different than the far left, who adore the Islamists. After all, these ideologies are really all the same: One Party, One belief system, or chop-chop square, the gulag, or other form of removal.

    What most Americans do not realize, is that with BHO making his comment about Islam, and our Congress doing nothing, the Bill of Rights was suspended. He has made it clear that he intends to use the US to support our avowed and very vocal enemies such as Iran, ISIS, and associated Jihadists. Hang on to your hats, this could be a wild ride for the next two years.

  3. Anonymous16/1/15

    "It is intellectually dishonest for Muslims to create martyrs and then complain about their martyrdom."
    But that's their M.O. and unfortunately it seems to work.

  4. You had me at, "Blasphemy is the price we pay for not having a theocracy."

    Daniel Greenfield for president.

  5. Anonymous16/1/15

    Brilliant observations and analysis. Thank you, Daniel!

  6. I can understand that in Pakistan or Maylaysia or Iran but most of these attacks are by first and second generation nationals in the countries they are attacking. They haven't the history of living in a theocracy. But they want one, never having experienced it themselves. I would be as if French people today were rioting and starting a civil war to bring back absolute monarchy. That's what so baffling to the polite salon society of the west.

  7. Anonymous16/1/15

    Islam disqualifies itself as a monotheistic religion. Monotheistic religions reject murder not because it makes it easy to live together. It does so because if the King of Kings wanted obedient subjects he would have made mankind like ants. Ants will never do anything outside of what purpose they were created for.

    The Lord wants willing servants that can learn and transform themselves. That can learn their mission in life. Murder cuts that short. It is not just a sin against the person harmed but towards the ultimate being that created that person.

    Islam says the opposite. It only believes in itself when it sees bodies. If so it believes in nothing higher. Almighty Zeus can arise too if we murder cartoonists that make fun of Zeus. Of course Zeus is forever defeated because ultimately numbers of followers means nothing compared to underlying truth. Most religions seem to know that. One idiot religion doesn't.

    1. Anonymous19/1/15

      "One idiot religion" AND a similar idiot Ideology - Progressive Liberalism.

      They both "ants" who seem willing to follow their King (or Queen, as it may be).

  8. Anonymous16/1/15

    In the western world, those who cannot 'cope' with criticism are called immature narcissists, Obama is their C.E.O.
    Beheading, and other types of murder, are considered the obvious way to end disagreements, aside from Islamists, only the Red Queen and Henry the VIII seem to have championed this solution, and of the two, one is fictional.
    Have not posted here in a while, my sense of futility and sadness over today's world, does not lend itself to clever or printable posting. Most days, I am glad I am getting old, but the fear for my grandchildren is palpable.

  9. “Muslims argue that the West should “respect prophets” by outlawing insults to Mohammed and a panoply of prophets gathered from Judaism and Christianity.”

    Come on. No Muslim has ever gone on a rampage like that at Charlie Hebdo over a blasphemy aimed at Moses or Jesus, and no Muslim ever will.

  10. Helly17/1/15

    Highly quotable.

    I would only add Cartoonophobia is particularly destructive to Moslems. They are forever the greatest victims of Islamic excess.

  11. Anonymous17/1/15

    "A separation between religion and state should not mean compulsory secularism"

    Absolutely true. But religious adherence requires sacrifice, forbearance, patience, discipline. Secularism does not. For that reason; for the very basis of human nature, secularism will always be more attractive. Separation between religion and state will therefore always lead to creeping secularism. It is inevitable in an open society. Can the theocracies endure that? Can the religious adherents in such a society endure that?

  12. Absolutely brilliant. The best analysis I have read or heard from anyone. And I say that as a conservative Christian minister who has lived and worked as an archaeologist in Islamic countries.

  13. Anonymous17/1/15

    Chesterton wrote if you want to know what a society holds as sacred, look at what they consider sacred. We in the West tolerate a great deal of religious blasphemy, but just try to counter any politically correct nostrum. More than a few have had their lives destroyed by doing so (cf. Brendan Eich). That's the theocracy we live in now.

  14. "Mohammed cartoons exist because of the Islamic inability to cope with a non-theocratic society." Muslims do not purchase these cartoons which funds these magazines. They are purchased by those who do not like Muslims and want to provoke them. Muslims would hang Nazi flags and swastikas if they wanted to provoke Jews. These are banned by France's anti-ethnic laws (race/racist has been banned) along with Holocaust denial. Islam did not kill Charlie, nor did the Muslim community. Charlie was not fighting for equality or social justice. Charlie was a pornographer pandering to religious extremists, but by most of the world's standards deserved better. Most Muslim countries are not theocracies and only about 20% of Muslims live in the Middle East.

  15. John,

    The cartoons existed specifically because of violent Muslim reactions to them. You obviously know nothing about Charlie and yes, Islam's blasphemy laws did kill Charlie cartoonists.

  16. Anonymous18/1/15

    John, this is deadly serious stuff. Don't let the fact that it involves cartoons blind you to this.


  17. This is a well-thought and convincing post.

  18. I agree that the cartoons existed specifically because of violent Muslim reactions to them, which was my point. And they are purchased and supported by those who want to provoke those reactions. Charlie was and is in the business of selling a product, not just artists wanting to share intellectual commentary. Lewd depiction of the Prophet and others was not a social commentary on terrorism. It was intended to demean, degrade and ridicule a particular religion. That religion is being used by some terrorists to justify their personal agendas of seizing money, property and power. Most Muslims live in peaceful coexistence with their neighbors. While some Muslim countries provide very harsh penalties for blasphemy, the Qur’an itself proscribes no punishment rather leaving that to Allah. You could as easily say the French refusal to enforce its anti-ethnic hate laws is what killed Charlie's employees. They were in fact killed by a small radical group who were provoked and no legislation, dialog, cartoons or commentary will prevent it from happening again. Purchasing their product only fuels the hatred.

  19. “ but only Islam believes in violence as the first and final religious solution.” there simple is no argument in this article to support this claim. It simple lists some bromides of our political system and law which we all agree to (like a distance between religion and society as a benefit to both) to slip in other concepts like compulsory secularism which also have no argument. Religion is like any pursuit of the cognitive goal of truth, it stands on it’s own or not by reason, not by the words or deeds of it’s adherents (it also includes revelation by it’s adherents, but they must supply reason to us, outside their revelations) In all religions there is the concept of re-birth, and if some interpret this as war against sinners, it does not make it true. We know this by reason because, among others, Muslim scholars re-birthed the Greek texts, that were suppressed by the Catholic scholars, that then led to the Enlightenment, among other things like the protests in Protestants. We also know the difference between sophistry and reason; this article being the former.

  20. John,

    No the cartoons are supported by those who believe in free speech. Muslim violence makes it important to assert free speech, as does every act of repressive censorship.

    Islam has been used to justify seizing money, property and power all the way back to Mohammed. The warlord you refer to as the Prophet.

    If Muslim terrorists are un-Islamic, so was Mohammed.

    Most Muslim countries treat non-Muslims as second class citizens. That is not peaceful co-existence.

    Finally, criticism and even mockery of Islam is not hate speech. It's a blasphemy law that you want, so why not just cut out the taqyia and admit it?

  21. Timothy,

    The evidence is over a thousand years of history and it's in the evening news. It's literally all around you.

    Islam is not Religion, general, it's a specific ideology and you ought to address that ideology specifically and how it manages such things as dissent.

  22. Anonymous18/1/15

    John, it seems Muslims are in a constant state of provocation--easy provocation. At what point do they learn to exercise control over their emotions and actions and act like responsible human beings? Each time something like this happens people rationalize the thuggish conduct of these cultists who are like tinder boxes always about to go off.

    I would love to read a flat out condemnation of these acts of violence without qualifiers.


  23. Yes, I should and did respond to ideology, but I will stick to the ones in my own back yard, like my previous comment. To deny the legitimacy of Islam, that it is not one of the three who are people of the book, is playing into the terrorists hands; that is just what they want you to say, and every time it is said, those that say it are to some degree responsible for fomenting terrorism. You are part of the problem. Terrorists don't want moderate and modernity to come to Islam, and you are their handmaiden in that effort. The terrorists will say that no matter what Islam does, it will be condemned, so terrorism is the only answer.Terrorism is an intelligence and law enforcement issue, and our country is very good at that sort of thing. To improve intelligence on the ground we need to develop moderate assets, in the Islamic world, which is what Obama is doing quite well. Do you think low oil prices are just a fluke? We will bleed the terrorists out with them. Obama also got Iraq to change regimes to stop the flow of ISIS, and most are on board for it in Syria, even Iran. Now all we need to do in this country is stop the fools who deny the moderates a place, so we can develop assets. You should get with the program. Otherwise you can join the neo-cons, who bin Laden played like a fiddle, until Obama tamp down the holy war talk. Even if we granted your point of Islam not being a religion, which you have no argument for, it is still important to develop moderate assets, which you are not helping with your position. And by the way, Islam was integrated into India, which had advanced religious beliefs, when the western world was still living in caves; it has obvious religious appeal. Indian epistemology was brought to the west to Greece through Alexander the Great, and those skeptical traditions remain the bedrock of epistemology in the west. It was in part Islamic scholars that rebirthed the Greek texts, that had been suppressed by the Catholic church, which began the protest, that started Protestants. Islam one day will solve it's problem of terrorism, and it is their problem; we need to work on the ideologues in this country. Jesus's teachings today still resonate; we project the conflicts in our own minds, rather than dealing with them in our self. You should heed his words.

  24. Anonymous19/1/15

    Mr. Dallas,

    Actually, the koran does specify that those who insult muhammad are to be killed, in 33:61. See here: http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/016-insulters-islam.htm

  25. Dealing with the reality of what Islam is, is what we have to do and what any sensible person has to do.

    Moderate and modern Islam does not exist in any significant way. Take a look at the largest Muslim countries, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran etc...

    The terrorists are just one branch of a larger clash of civilizations and they are backed and funded by Muslim governments.

    Where exactly are these moderates? Obama is claiming the Muslim Brotherhood as a moderate group.

    The low oil prices are directed at the US oil industry.

    Islam won't solve its problem of terrorism, because violence is how it expands.

  26. It simply is an empirical fact that we have made progress in defeating terrorism by changing the clash of civilization meme to a law enforcement/intelligence issue. Again, even if it were, strategically it makes no sense to call it that, because then you are operating under the terms of the terrorists. Bad move. I will desist from further comments. It is clear that you are unable to distinguish empirical claims from theoretical ones. For the sake of battling terrorism, I suggest you study our western canons of knowing the difference from an empirical claim and a theoretical one. These tasks are for those who are experts in that field, and I suggest you learn at their feet. No credible religious scholar would assert Islam is not part of Monotheism, or there are no moderates. Wether or not the adherents are living up to it's constructs is another question, which no is the obvious response to terrorists. To deny the constructs to Islam would be to deny them to Judaism and Christianity, but this entails the ability to parse religious discourse, which you can not even begin to attempt, if you can not discern the difference between empirical claims and theoretical ones. Jesus suggested you take the log out of your eye before you consider the sliver in another. That too would be prudent advice you should consider.

  27. It's an empirical fact that not only have we not made progress in defeating terrorism, but terrorists have significantly advanced in their power and scope.

    It never makes strategic sense to deny reality unless your goal is to lose the war.

  28. Anonymous15/4/15

    Some brilliant points:
    "...each religion is mutually blasphemous.",
    "A neutral state allows us to believe what we please.",
    "Most religions believe that there is a time to fight, but only Islam believes in violence as the first and final religious solution."
    and one understatement:
    "...a threat to all our religious freedoms" because science and faith and society depend on free speech. Without free speech we cannot correct our mistakes. So we cannot bring Heaven to Earth, we can only bring Hell to Earth.



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