Thursday February 16, 2012
In Defense of Hamza Kashgari
On the anniversary of Prophet Muhammad’s birth, Saudi columnist Hamza Kashgari did something a bit unusual on Twitter: he said that the prophet was someone about whom he had likes and dislikes, and that if he ever met him, he would afford him no more respect than he would afford a friend and an equal. Will most devout people like Kashgari’s attitude? Of course not. But are his comments so bad as to cause a major uproar and calls for his head? Apparently, the unfortunate answer to that is “yes.”
Kashgari’s tweets caused a major uproar all over social media, with tens of thousands of people joining a Saudi Facebook group calling for Kashgari’s punishment, and many calling for his head. Kashgari deleted the tweets, apologized and repented, but the virtual mob was not satisfied. A widely-shared video online was that of a religious leader weeping over Kashgari’s offence before declaring his repentance futile and demanding his execution. In fear for his life, Kashgari fled his country and headed to New Zealand, but was caught by the Malaysian police on the way and was extradited back to Saudi Arabia where he will now face trial.
It's one thing for some mob of fanatics to be making threats, and it's something else entirely for there to be international police cooperation, potentially involving Interpol, to capture and assist in the punishment of an individual whose "crime" is exercising his right to free speech. To be a proponent of free speech is to respect people’s right to self-expression, no matter how distasteful or offensive their views may be. And Kashgari's case is notably mild, as his language, while lacking the veneration widely expected in his society, wasn't even extreme in any way that indicated he was deliberately seeking to infuriate. If there is to be international cooperation, it should be in defense of Kashgari's right to speak his mind without fear of death, not cooperation to assist in bringing him closer to that potential fate. The international community should not be silent in the face of international accommodation of mob-inspired "justice," it should be raising its voice in defense of elementary human rights.
"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." -- Article 19 of the UN Declaration for Human Rights
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