Where does the Afghan blasphemy case go now?

January 28, 2008

Sayed Perwiz KambakhshThe case of Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, the young Afghan journalist sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam, is a classic “clash of civilisations” issue pitting the principle of free speech against that of respect for religion. I’ve been trying to find out more details to understand where this case stands and how it should be reported.

First, it looks like this could drag on for quite some time. His brother Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi tells us the family has appealed the decision at a court in Mazar-i-Sharif and will take it to the Supreme Court in Kabul if the appeals court upholds the original verdict.

More information has emerged about the case being made against Kambakhsh. We knew some university classmates had accused him of mocking Islam and the Koran and of distributing an article saying the Prophet Mohammad had ignored women’s rights. According to RFE/RL, the article came from a website based in Europe and run by an Iranian exile whose pen name is Arash Bikhoda. “Bikhoda” means “godless” in Persian.

The Age of Faith, by Will Durant (1950)The prosecutors also claim that they found SMS texts mocking Islam on Kambakhsh’s cellphone and a book about religion by the popular U.S. philosopher and historian Will Durant in his apartment. Our reporter was told it was entitled “Religion Through History,” but Durant never wrote any book with that name. Maybe this was a Persian translation of his 1950 book The Age of Faith, part of his massive Story of Civilisation series. Will the prosecutors argue that possession of a book by “philosophy’s best salesman” is somehow criminal?

There have been several protests and expressions of concern from western sources, including the U.S. State Department, Germany’s foreign minister, the French foreign ministry, the United Nations, European Parliament, Reporters without Borders, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting as well as Kambakhsh’s Afghan The Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, 9 Feb. 2002/Claro Cortescolleagues. There may be more out there that search engines don’t reach, but this looks representative enough.

Looking for other reactions from the Muslim world, all I found was a report of support for the death sentence from Afghan Islamic leaders and a strongly worded protest against it from the American Islamic Congress.

My unscientific survey shows strong interest in this case in western countries but little or none in the Muslim world. If the case goes all the way to the Afghan Supreme Court and the death sentence is upheld, we can assume there will be waves of calls for clemency and tensions between western and Muslim countries. Are there any other reactions to this case right now in the Muslim world? Should there be?

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Of course there won’t be a reaction from the Muslim world. This is Abdul Rahman all over again, once again highlighting the absolute folly of not writing separation of mosque and state into the Afghan constitution, the differences between secular, Christian, Muslim even Hindu etc conceptions of relgious freedom, the inherent problem with Islam and the inability of Muslims to confront those problems head on. Because to do so would challenge the very foundations of Islam and usuall incur a few death threats on those Muslims themselves (which is why I always say, the biggest threat to Muslims is other Muslims).

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