Alexander Aan was just another bureaucrat holding down a desk at the Department of Planning until his Facebook Atheism page came to the notice of Indonesian authorities in Obama’s old stomping grounds. Now Aan is facing a five year jail sentence for using social media to spread the message that Allah does not exist.
Alexander is being charged with “defiling” Islam by using passages from the Koran to challenge the Islamic religion. And while the State Department and the media routinely go on the attack against any manifestation of what they call “Islamophobia,” it isn’t likely that they will be rushing to Aan’s defense. This isn’t exactly the first time that atheists have run afoul of the Islamic codes under which the Muslim world operates.
Two years ago, the Palestinian Authority arrested Waleed Hasayin on similar charges of blaspheming against Islam on Facebook. Waleed Hasayin had written that, “Muhammad was no different than barbaric thugs who slaughtered, robbed and raped women” and that “Islam has legitimized slavery, reinforced the gap between social classes and allowed stealing from the infidels, taking women in captivity during wars and sexual abuse of women slaves.”
For these and other truthful statements, he was arrested and his family demanded that he be sentenced to life in prison. He has since written a letter of apology in hopes of being released.
The regimes imprisoning Aan and Hasayin are funded by the United States. Indonesia is on the list of the top twenty countries benefiting from USAID funding and the Palestinian Authority, including its security forces and prisons, is mostly subsidized by American taxpayers. The arrests were accompanied by mob protests and violence reflecting populist Muslim hostility toward non-Muslims.
Underlying these individual incidents is a legal code that goes to the very definition of what it means to be a citizen of a Muslim country. Muslim countries recognize a limited set of legal religions. Non-Muslims who are members of legal religions have fewer rights and run the usual risks that come with being a minority group. Non-Muslims who are not members of official religions do not. This includes Muslim sects that the Islamic system does not recognize as legitimate. It includes Muslims who wish to convert to another religion, and it includes atheists who are not a recognized religious group.
Religious identity is linked to civic participation in public life in a way that most Americans are not aware of. It appears on identity cards, it is a basic requirement for doing anything from attending a university to getting married. Without membership in an officially recognized religious group, the atheist is a non-person.
But atheists no longer have to live in the Muslim world in order to be subject to Islamic rules. At Queen Mary, University of London, a public research university with roots going back nearly a thousand years, the Atheism, Secularism and Humanism Society attempted to hold a discussion on “Sharia Law and Human Rights.” The discussion came to an abrupt end when a man entered the room and warned that they would be murdered if they said anything critical about Mohammed.
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