Islamic Extremism and Freedom of SpeechMurder of Theo Van Gogh, November 2, 2004 | Charlie Hebdo Attack, January 7, 2015 | Curtis Culwell Center Attack, May 3, 2015
The principle of freedom of speech has come into intense and sometimes violent conflict with radical Islam in parts of the world, which considers blasphemy against its religion and its prophet Mohammed a punishable offense. While this can have profound implications for international relations and national security, it also poses a danger for individuals who offend Islam. When Salmon Rushdie published his novel The Satanic Verses in 1988, the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Khomeini issued a “fatwa,” an Islamic legal opinion, calling for Rushdie’s death for blasphemy. Rushdie was forced to live in hiding and under police protection for years afterwards, and several other people involved in the book’s publication were shot and stabbed. In 2004, filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was shot to death for his short film Submission about the mistreatment of women in certain Islamic societies. In 2011, Charlie Hebdo, a satirical French magazine that had published controversial cartoons depicting Mohammed, was firebombed after it published an issue with Mohammed on the cover. In 2015, two Islamist gunmen forced their way into the magazines’s headquarters, killed twelve of their staff, and wounded eleven. Four months later, gunmen attacked the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, when it exhibited art depicting Mohammed and hosted a contest for Mohammed cartoons.
Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses. London: Viking Press, 1988.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Rushdie Fatwa, 1989
‘The author of the ‘Satanic Verses’ book, which is against Islam, the Prophet and the Koran, and all those involved in its publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death,” said Ayatollah Khomeini, whose word is considered law by millions of Shiite Muslims. ”If someone knows them but is unable to kill them, he should hand them over to the people for punishment.”
Salman Rushdie. “The Disappeared: How the Fatwa Changed a Writer’s Life.” The New Yorker, September 17, 2012.
In this article Rushdie chronicles the aftermath of the fatwa against him and his life in fear of Islamic extremists.
Theo Van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Submission. 2004.
The Koran and Ahadith
The violent acts of Muslim extremists continually raise the question of what the true Islamic understanding of blasphemy is. Are violent punishments for blasphemy justified by the teaching of Muhammed? Is there room for toleration of blasphemy in Muslim law? Answers to these questions must take their bearings first of all from the Koran—the Muslim bible—and secondly from the ahadith—the various collections of “reports” about Muhammed and his sayings.