Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Nina Shea, Director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute. She is the co-author (with Paul Marshall) of the new book, Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide.
FP: Nina Shea, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Tell us what inspired you to write this book with Paul Marshall.
Shea: We have been tracking and opposing the punishment of religious minorities and Muslim reformers in many Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries under apostasy and blasphemy codes for decades. As religious freedom advocates, we saw a horrific and spreading pattern of human rights violations that is being ignored in US foreign policy and in the media – though particularly egregious individual cases have been sporadically reported without much attention to their overall effect. This pattern of human rights violations should especially concern us because the practices and policies it evidences undermine the individual freedoms essential to liberal democracy. Even our national security is compromised since apostasy and blasphemy codes are used by Islamic radicals to crush their opponents and thus pose obstacles to moderation within Islam. So, it undermines a number of critical American interests.
FP: What does Silenced do that no book has done before?
Shea: It does two things: It surveys in descriptive and overwhelming detail the limits coercively imposed in the name of Islam on fundamental freedoms of religion and speech in about twenty key OIC countries. It also links this phenomenon to a new trend in the West. The OIC is waging a campaign to have those same limits enforced by the West within its borders and that campaign is making substantial headway, particularly through self-censorship in establishment organizations and through the adoption of hate speech laws in many countries.
FP: Tell us about the political effects in Muslim societies of blasphemy and apostasy laws.
Shea: One effect is that criticism of anything and anyone claiming Islamic legitimacy is essentially forbidden and, in the more Islamicized societies, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, northern Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, those accused of apostasy and blasphemy sins can be punished by death. Since Islam prescriptions reach into every realm of life—personal dress, social relations, arts and culture, science, politics, etc. — these codes preclude genuine democracy, shut down debate and intellectual inquiry, stifle scientific and economic innovation, and stagnate culture, as the late Indonesian President Wahid wrote in the Foreword to Silenced and as the UN Arab Development Report also documented. Those who propose to abandon such codes, such as an Afghan journalist, an Iranian ayatollah, and a Pakistani governor and a cabinet minister recently did in their respective countries, are brutally crushed. Muslim converts to Christianity and members of religions that come after Mohammed, such as the Bahai’s and Amadiyas, are viewed as de facto insulters of Islam and killed or harshly punished and discriminated against. These apostasy and blasphemy codes should be one of the main concerns posed by an Islamist takeover of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, not the banning of alcohol and movies that our media tends to focus on.
FP: What is happening in terms of the move toward new blasphemy laws in the West — and the trend to stifle truth-telling about Islam in the West?
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