Thousands of Islamists have pressured the Pakistani government to keep in jail a woman who was just acquitted by the Pakistani Supreme Court. Two European countries have offered to take her in.

Her lawyer has fled the country in fear for his life.

She was acquitted of blasphemy. Yes, speaking ill of the Prophet… or something. In Pakistan, they kill you for this.

The woman is a frail mother of several in her fifties. She is a landless agricultural worker by trade. She is a Christian in a country that is 98% Muslim.

If she did anything resembling blasphemy, she should be released for reason of insanity anyway. How could such a person so provoke her bloodthirsty neighbors and not be mad?

The silence of “moderate Muslims” on this case is making me deaf.

Yes, much of Western public opinion is Islamophobic. Perhaps the spectacle of thousands of bearded adult males demanding that a slight woman who has been declared not guilty of this grotesque “crime” be hanged, perhaps, it does not help.

12 thoughts on “Islamophobia!

  1. This is of course a terrible case Jacques, but can you really find no ‘moderate Muslims’ who have not condemned this? Try Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish classical liberal and Muslim, now based at the Cato Institute. I don’t mention Akyol in order to support him in every respect, there is a lot I disagree with him about, but he has a clear record of criticising persecution by Muslim states.You can also try American Islamic Forum for Democracy, I haven’t seen anything from them on the Bibi case, but generally speaking they have a strong record of condemning Muslim autocracies and emphasising the superiority of American democracy. I don’t entirely support them, a bit conservative-nationalist for my taste, but anyway they are not soft on the errors and crimes of Muslims in power. Also worth looking at this US libertarian Muslim group Minaret of Freedom We can at least surely draw a little comfort from Asia Bini’s acquittal. She has now been released from prison. Whether or not she will be allowed to leave the country is unclear, so it’s hard to say anything with finality about this case. As far as it is possible to say anything at present, it is surely right to give some credit to the Muslim judges who acquitted her at a real risk to their lives from violent fundamentalists and some credit to the new president Imram Khan (though I have yet to be convinced he is a good thing overall) for authorising the release despite the real danger of retaliatory assassination. It seems a little odd to pick on this case to complain about the state of Islam when it might just represent a sign of progress in Pakistan, though it is early to say for sure. You are right to highlight Bibi’s humble background which is the case for most Pakistani Christians living under a double oppression of religious discrimination and associated low economic status. The blasphemy law is of course an extreme scandal, used to satisfy localised grievances against the most defenceless as well as being a scandal to freedom of conscience, but not every Muslim country goes so far. On the issue of Muslim selective outrage, my experience of the Muslim conservatives in power in Turkey that this selective outrage is just as much applied to Muslims. The government has very little to say about the extreme persecution of Uighur Muslim Turkic people in China or the Rohinga Muslims in Burma. The most I’ve heard is that the Turkish government is engaged in quiet diplomacy on their behalf, well it’s very quiet and does not seem to have made any difference. Outrage about ‘İslamophobia’ is itself very selective and depends on state interests of the moment. The Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who looks like a genuine case of Islamophobia to me enjoys very privileged relations with Erdoğan and admires Erdoğan’s ‘illiberal democracy’. Orban of course also has a good relations with the Christian Nationalist-America First-West against the Rest currents of Trumpist support in the US (though Orban’s Polish allies seem to be the more privileged partners) . Trump himself seems a lot more interested in the fate of one Christian pastor in Turkey (fortunately now released), than the situation of other American nationals in Turkish jails who happen to be Turkish-Muslim (but not necessarily practising Muslims) in origin. I don’t want to use whataboutery to excuse bad things, but surely it is clear that there is a bit more going on than Muslims uniquely being obsessed with the rights of co-religionists only, with no dissenting voices. Anyway, exactly what is the US doing with such close relations with autocratic Muslim states like Saudi Arabia, which is worse than Pakistan in the complete denial of any right to practise Christianity? Indeed why does it have a rather privileged relation with Pakistan under a succession of Presidents since the formation of the state. The US alliance with Saudi Arabia enjoys fervent support from Christian evangelicals and outright fundamentalists, along it seems with just about all conservatives in the US. It’s all very tangled isn’t it?

    • Barry: I wrote you a longer response but I lost it, I think. Long and short. I should n’t have to look for Muslims condemning this atrocity They should be all over the media. (And, in cet par, why do YOU think they are not?) Questionable geopolitical alliances should not in any way stop individuals from shouting at (at) obscenities. I am familiar with official assassination for religious reasons. Your ancestors and mine used to do it. We stopped three hundred years ago. We are more civilized than when we did it . Those who still do it are savages. You are right about the bravery of the Supreme Court Justice who acquitted the poor woman. It shouldn’t take any bravery.

  2. The last sentence in my previous reply should read: “…the bravery of the Supreme Court Justices who….” They are brave men indeed. I don’t know that they are Muslims (See below.) You say about death for blasphemy, ” Not every Muslim country goes so far.” No, some have been improved by leftover colonialism, namely some concept of individual rights, even of separation of religion and government. Plus, there is Turkey, of course that was explicitly and vigorously Westernized by Ataturk. (Or, there used to be Turkey.)

    You seem to be answering someone else. Mine is not a protest, a cry of outrage against Muslim countries. (Are you reading too much left-wing trash? I know I have asked you before.) My title is “Islamophobia.” It’s against a religion. I believe that death for blasphemy is in Islam, right close to its core, right in the middle of it. In fact, many Muslim countries are only lukewarmly Muslim, in terms of religion. Rather, they are culturally Muslim. They abstain from food and water during the daytime of Ramadan (also of sex, no kidding), which must be hard. And then, they gorge on gourmet food with family and friends as soon as the sun is officially down. The populations of those countries have trouble getting as worked up as those brave Pakistani men. Their political class is often secular. I have liked every predominantly Muslim country where I have spent time, especially Turkey. I always have friends with Muslim first and last names. My strong impression is that my friends are bad Muslims and many if not most of the inhabitants of so-called “Muslim countries” are bad Muslims. That’s why the ones and the others are likable.

    You listing of Muslims and Muslim organizations with their hearts in the right place is not convincing. That’s because I don’t believe that you know who is a Muslim in some of the names you name. Like me, you know who has a Muslim name. That’s not much. You are trying to give credit to Islam based on the example of,people who may or may not be Muslims. Wouldn’t you guess from my first and last name that I must be a Christian? That would be dead wrong.

    Dragging in US policy going back fifty years is irrelevant. Does the US strategic alliance with backward Saudi Arabia explain or justify the blood thirstiness of thousands of Pakistani men. Is the US supposed to use its economic heft and its military might to replace the Saudi family with a more democratic something or other. We tried something like that next door, remember? Did you applaud then?

    Sorry for the parallel (again), but like progressive opinion in the US, you seem to have a soft spot for the crimes of Muslims, specifically. I mean of those who declare that they are Muslims. What would be your reaction – besides “good riddance” – if you learned that one American state had condemned me to death for suggesting that something was going on between Jesus and Mary-Magdalene, or that the state of Utah had executed me by firing squad for expressing public doubt about the scripturally inscribed gold plates Joseph Smith found in upper New York State? That wouldn’t be normal, would it?

    You write of Asya Bibi: ” She has now been released from prison.” Well, where do you think she is living since she is not allowed to leave the country of her birth, the Sheraton? And, by the way, still nothing about Asya Bibi from the exemplary organizations you name.

    • Jacques

      The organisations I mentioned are ones which claim to be composed of Muslims and I have no reason to believe they are pretend Muslims. Do you have a reason? Whether or not they happened to highlight the Asia Bibi case is a secondary issue compared with their overall record of condemnation of state enforced religion and all autocratic regimes in the Muslim world.

      Your repeated suggestion that I get all my news and opinions from left wing sources is false, tedious and not an addition to reasoned debate.

      I have no idea in what way I have a soft spot for the crimes of Muslims, as you suggest. Ever since I have been in Turkey I have been an advocate for Atatürk’s secular legacy and a critic of religious, i.e. Muslim, conservatism. To a very large degree your ideological homologues in Turkey, that is those at the intersection of small state and conservative traditions have defined themselves by opposition to Atatürk’s legacy and enthusiasm for the religious right. As someone who mixes libertarianism with radical republican thought going back to antiquity, along with radical secularism, I have always been immune to the appeal of Turkish Islamists, unlike the conservative fans of Menderes who became the fans of Erdoğan, and have often defined themselves as like American conservatives.

      If you are going to single out Islam and Muslims then it is highly relevant to point out that American conservatives, particularly the most Christian conservatives, have been enthusiasts for the alliance with Saudi Arabia. I was against the invasion of Iraq unlike the overwhelming majority of US conservatives outside paleocon circles. The failure of US reconstruction of Iraq was something I expected and foresaw. It is in no way evidence to support the longstanding US support of the petrodollar-Wahabi-monarchist autocracy in Saudi Arabia, an autocracy which threw up the 9/11 terrorists an unintended but foreseeable consequence of its rule in partnership with fundamentalists.

      I’m delighted to hear that you have favourable memories of visiting Muslim countries. Personally I don’t have any bias against Christians and Christian countries. I’m in the middle of teaching Kierkegaard this semester, so teaching a Christian philosopher to Muslims (well a mixture of practising Muslims, minimal identity Muslims and outright non-believers from a Muslim culture), a funny way of being biased towards Islam and against Christianity. Since a dominant part of my life since coming to Turkey has been criticising the Islamists I don’t see I have any case to answer about being soft on bad things done by Muslims. I find that such critical activity draws my attention more and more to the peculiar enthusiasm of the most radical American Christians for the Saudi alliance. I condemn equally persecution by Muslims and Christians. I fail to see what evidence I have given of bias towards Muslims. Because I criticise those conservative Christians who support the special US relationship with Saudi crossover between Muslim theocracy and Muslim monarchism? Or because I criticise Islamophobes like Orban who have a special relationship with Erdoğan?

      As far as ı can make out you are insinuating I am somehow soft on the persecution of Asia Bibi. I don’t see how I can condemn her persecution any more clearly than I did in my last comment, so I won’t try. I did not say her situation is now OK, I said she is out of prison but the situation is now unclear. You are trying to put words into my mouth and deny what I have clearly said. This is a dreadful situation, it is not the last word or the only point of reference for discussing the state of Islam. It is too soon to say she is OK, it is also too soon to assume the worst, she has after all been acquitted which however you loom at it is clearly a good thing. If we are going to say that this or that person, organisation or religious group has failed to condemn some evil in the world, we are going tıo be lost in an endless process of finding something that has been overlooked by some group, which of course throws up endless examples.

      All Muslim countries have been touched by western colonialism or at the very least a large dose of western influence, intervention, dependency and the like. It is then inevitable that all modernising, secular and liberalising trends have been influenced by this process and it is true that all such processes can be found first and most strongly in the west. It is also the case that the growth of this kind of western culture was heavily influenced by Medieval Muslim philosophy, particularly Averroes who was a very major influence on Aquinas, who we can think of (or at least many do) as the starting point for western Enlightenment, liberalism etc. For a long time in western Europe to accuse someone of Averroism was to accuse that person of scepticism and free thinking.

      After about 200 years in which the growth of western Europe, and European offshoot states, has had a powerful impact on the Muslim world, we can’t talk anymore about some pure Islam existing outside this context. The people who react against western influence themselves draw on western ideas of nationalism and culture (a word that appeared in the vocabulary outside agricultural contexts first in the Enlightenment) to express views which are very distinct from how the Muslim world understood itself in its stronger than the west phase. Atatürk’s legacy itself draws on the idea that the early Turkish Muslim leaders were closer to the people than the corrupt Ottomans (particularly later Ottomans) who had absorbed Persian and Arab ways of thinking along with ‘Byzans’ (the lingering Roman empire in the east until the fall of Constantinople). It is certainly too soon to say that Atatürk’s legacy is over in Turkey. He is becoming more visible as the half of society that was never fully convinced by Erdoğan has hardened its opposition, and Erdoğan himself still tries to present himself as the perfect heir to Atatürk though mingled with contrary attempts to link himself with favoured Ottoman Sultans.

      It is of course correct to say that the political state of Muslim countries is disappointing, but I don’t see how focusing on the Asia Bibi case in such an extreme way clarifies the issues. There is considerable variation in the Muslim world. A substantial number of Muslim countries do not apply Sharia law, so are secular. This applies to Turkey, the Balkans, central Asia and largely in sub-Saharan Africa, but only Tunisia in the Arab world . Of the rest not all apply Sharia law to criminal matters as well as family courts. The role of Sharia in family law was something maintained and even encouraged by western colonial regimes. *Even* laicist France found it convenient to distinguish between Muslims and Jews or Christians in north Africa by having Sharia family law courts. The British Empire in India was certainly very happy with such arrangements, from a normal divide and rule colonial policy. France and Britain evidently did not force Sharia on colonised Muslims but in effect left Sharia family law as the major marker of Muslim identity, inevitably incorporated by post-colonial regimes as a supposed marker of surviving authentic pre-colonial identity, so were rather less thorough than the Kemalists, themselves products of the Muslim world, in disposing of Sharia law. Reforms of the Ottoman Empire, some time before Atatürk, already created more equality between Muslims and others.

    • Barry; I don’t know why you are talking about American Christians at all . As far as I know, none has demanded that an innocent person be put to death for religious crimes since the Salem witchcraft trials. More later.

  3. ‘It was approaching midnight on Oct. 16, 1915, when Methodist preacher William Joseph Simmons and at least 15 other men climbed Stone Mountain in Georgia. They built an altar, set fire to a cross, took an oath of allegiance to the “Invisible Empire” and announced the revival of the Ku Klux Klan.

    Beneath a makeshift altar glowing in the flickering flames of the burning cross, they laid a U.S. flag, a sword and a Holy Bible.

    “The angels that have anxiously watched the reformation from its beginnings,” said Simmons, who declared himself Imperial Wizard, “must have hovered about Stone Mountain and shouted hosannas to the highest heavens.”


    Wallis didn’t refer directly to the Klan, which had terrorized black people during Reconstruction before being dismantled by President Ulysses S. Grant. It was “born again” that night in 1915 on Stone Mountain, and Christianity was used to justify a second wave of terror.

    Restricting membership to white Christians, the Klan wore white robes to symbolize “purity,” burned crosses to signify “the Light of Christ” and picked selective scriptures from the Bible to preach white supremacy. The Invisible Empire’s comeback was aided by Hollywood’s first blockbuster, D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation,” which glamorized the Klan.’

    • Barry: Do you really think that what fifteen men did in 1915 in the middle of the night in a remote and backward part of the US equates with the spectacle of thousands of Muslim men protesting in the capital of their country the acquittal of a poor woman of an imaginary crime? Or the 1921 murder of a person of a different religion in a similarly remote area.? Was being black (and alive) or being a Catholic ever an official crime in the US? You are making my point better than I could.

      This thread does not appear to be on NOL. This is strange.

  4. Jacques it is very obviously not the same thing, nevertheless I believe it is relevant to point out that the Klan operated as a murderous terrorist white supremacist Protestant identitarian state within the state, most famously targetting African-Americans, but also Jews and Catholics, not only controlling local juries but getting at least one judge into the Federal Supreme Court, working as a de facto state power often overriding the legal state until the 1960s, and frequently stimulating mobs howling for death, including the most deeply cruel and disgusting prolonged torture and mutilation murders in front of cheering crowds, with the knowledge and connivance of policing, judicial and political authorities. This is part of the recent history of the Christian west and within the living memory of many. At this point I am not trying to convince you of anything. As far as I can see this is a thread publicly visible to anyone visiting NOL. At this point I’d prefer to leave readers to compare our comments and your post, making up their own minds about these issues including decisions on what the relevant comparisons are. By now they have plenty of material to think over

  5. Dear Barry: I hate to do anything that might interfere with the torrent of scholarly discourse my 175-word piece has triggered. Incidentally, I am well aware of your secular leanings and of your promotion of Ataturk’s program of secularization under what must be trying, or even risky circumstances. For this, I tip you my hat. Also, I stand (twice) corrected on the issue of the putative influence of left-wing trash on your thinking. I will not be bringing this up again. That’s in recognition of the fact that more than one path may lead to the same destination. (See below.)

    I don’t know exactly where to start. Last things first, I guess. Whatever happened in 1915 and in 1921 in a backward part of the US says nothing about Christianity, even if one of the leaders was a Methodist minister. I have read the New Testament. I assure you it contains not command to burn crosses or to lynch people. Now, you are free to state that thousands of men clamoring in broad daylight in the capital city of a nation-state for the death of a woman acquitted of an imaginary crime that is nevertheless on the books, is more or less equivalent to the KKK anecdotes you gave us. Go ahead!

    It seems to me that, with this implicit false equivalence, you are making one of my ancillary points more powerfully than I could or would . Western intellectuals – who, I think, you would agree – are mostly left-wingers, display an unaccountable indulgence toward crimes committed by Muslims in the name of some view or other of Islam. Three things seem to meet in their collective minds. First, they are confused, or they pretend to be confused, about freedom of religion. In American terms, the First Amendment forbids the government to interfere with religion. They seem to think it also guarantees that some peasant (that would be me) won’t spit on the path of the religious processional. Such spitting is in the best spirit of the European Enlightenment, on the contrary.

    The second factor making Western intellectuals skittish about being critical of Islam is that they have pretty much convinced themselves that Islamophobia is more or less akin to racism. That is, they act as if being negative toward Islam, the religion, is grossly unfair. Of course, it’s not, Islam is a set of beliefs and of practices that can be shed overnight . (Of course, that’s only in those countries where apostasy is not also punishable by death; that would make one hesitate. I refer exclusively to Muslim countries, of course. ) Many people with Muslim names have done exactly that, both in predominantly Muslim countries and in Western countries. In France, for example, you can’t take two steps without bumping into an ex-Muslim. Islamophobia is not at all like racism.

    Thirdly as is their wont, Western intellectual have quite consciously succeeded in making Islamophobia – like racism, see above – the mark of the low-brow, of the uninformed, and, especially, of the uneducated masses, a special belief of the yahoos . This is a form of low-grade intellectual terror that is useful in the perpetuation of their species. Young would-be intellectuals, graduate students, and smart undergraduates who read the New York Times, and Le Monde, and such, hate to take the risk of being classified as yahoos even before they start. They will join more or less automatically the thick ranks of the self-deluded by censoring themselves. It’s soft but powerful censorship.

    With my (again) 175 words, I only played the Yahoo-on-duty. I drew attention to the fact that Islamophobia is sometimes born of publicly ascertainable facts rather than of blind prejudice.

    I suggested that the fact that an official country has blasphemy on its books as a crime is not civilized.

    I also pointed out something few Westerners know, namely that this so-called crime is – appallingly – punishable by death in that country (and in several others, none of them a Lutheran country, for instance).

    I remarked on the low social status of the woman being persecuted.

    I highlighted the grotesque cruelty of masses of adult men rioting to try and overcome a court decision because of its leniency.

    I remarked that the acquitted woman had still not been released. (Still has not, 11/9/18.)

    I deplored strongly the silence of Muslim organizations (worldwide) and of prominent Muslims, before this catalog of atrocities.

    I don’t need to say anything about fifty years of America’s questionable alliances and deplorable actions in the Middle-East and elsewhere to state those simple facts that should horrify the conscience of rational and normally compassionate people everywhere. In this case, all of American foreign policy is a red herring.

    PS I don’t have objections to your past statements on colonialism. Way back then, on this thread, I tried to make the fairly trivial point that in some predominantly Muslim countries, the harshness and the extremism of Islamic law had been tempered by borrowing from British and French legal traditions. It especially happened during the spate of independence proceedings in the fifties and sixties, when a thin layer of indigenous intellectuals did their best to crib together complete legal systems in a short time. Senegal comes to mind.

    I am intrigued by a statement you made previously that, in current-day Turkey, people like me , small government conservatives, incline toward Erdogan and his power grab. It’s hard to believe, of course. If I misstate what you said, do believe there is no malice involved but machine clumsiness preventing me from checking your exact words. (The less said, the better!) I am curious; whenever you have time.

    Congratulations on your book!

  6. Thanks very much for your congratulations Jacques, I’ll restrict myself to answering your specific question rather than round for the issues we’ve already discussed. The AKP in its beginnings was certainly eager to present itself as favouring an ‘American’ version secularism over the Kemalist ‘French’ version. Of course this was very tactical and they don’t bother with these kind of tactics now. Erdoğan and the AKP as a whole were presenting themselves as the heir of Adnan Menderes government of the 1950s (abusive of power, aggressively, even violently, majoritarian as a kind of pseudo liberal-democracy e.g. attacks on Istanbul’s Greek population and leaning towards religious identity politics when Turkey was maybe at its most pro-American with Turkish troops going to Korea (quite rightly in my opinion) and an ideal of American economic prosperity combined with American religiosity compared with western Europe (particularly FranceI having a pull though based on superficial comparisons. No one tried to make the economy as free market as in the US and no one thought of anything other than Sunni Islam as the religion of those with the levers of power in any field. When AKP was rising, it talked partly about a a European Christian Democrat model (so defining themselves as Muslim Democrat or Conservative Democrat), again in a rather superficial way, though with a very real influence of the EU because of Turkey’s membership ambitions which have never been abandoned though they look very symbolic now. Nevertheless the AKP was clearly happier with an ‘American’ approach to religion rather than a ‘European’ (Europe has been increasing irreligious of course and not just in laicist France). Again it’s rather superficial, but the kind of Menderes fans and people who wish to be Muslim in identity and modern, really look to the ‘American’ model and the Republican Party. In its early years in power the AKP was allied with the Gülentist movement, now banned as ‘terrorist’, which is followers of Fetullah Gülen who lives in the US and pushed a special relationship with the US. On the American model of secularism see this article by Mustafa Akyol when he was still an AKP supporter (became a critic after the 2013 Gezi crackdown) ‘Hence I was happy to see the same view advanced recently by an academic article, titled: “Muslim Politics Without an ‘Islamic’ State: Can Turkey’s Justice and Development Party Be a Model for Arab Islamists?” Its writer, Ahmet T. Kuru, a visiting fellow at Brookings Doha Center, is also the author of a notable book that contrasts “passive secularism” (the American model) to “assertive secularism” (the French model).’
    More from Akyol on the American model in a more general way in his pro-AKP days
    There are certainly similarities between American and Turkish societies in this sense, when you look at the number of people who believe in God, who pray every day, it’s actually very similar, Turkish and American societies. Peter Berger, the great U.S. sociologist, once said, “The U.S. is a country of Indians ruled by elitist Swedes” — Indians being the religious people, and Swedes are the secular. I, in return, said, “Turkey is a country of Indians ruled by a group of North Koreans.” Right. Well, I wish we had Swedes, I mean, at least they were liberal. But North Koreans, they have their own cult of personality and they’re very authoritarian and so on. So that was the Turkish scene until very recently.

    So, a bit like the, you know, rise of the Christian right, the Moral Majority under Reagan, and the Heartland of American, you know, and defying the elites, the Blue America, or, you know, San Francisco or New York. That sort of feeling is a bit similar to the rise of the Islamic, you know, muscle, or the Islamic energy in Turkey.

    Of course Akyol is a only one person, but he is by far the most prolific and best known writer in English representing at one time a kind of pro-AKP conservatism, which now seems to have evolved into a form of libertarianism/classical liberalism critical of the AKP and Kemalism (I personally think a classical liberal should lean more towards Kemalism while excluding the most statist aspects of that tradition, or anyway that is my idea of how to be libertarian in Turkey). Historically the more mainstream religious conservative leaning right has looked towards the US (if not in a very deep way) and what there has been in the way of a constitutionalist small state American leaning conservatism in Turkey was leaning heavily towards the AKP. Akyol himself seems to have been on a journey from a less moderate kind of Muslim identity politics to kind of merger of ‘moderate Islam’ and ‘American secularism’ which avoids Muslim identity politics. I have to concentrate on one person because ideology and political ideas are used in particularly superficial ways in Turkey, the people who can write at all well on this at an international level of scholarship is small and Akyol’s pro-AKP years are very representative of the the evolution of small government conservatism on the US model in Turkey. The obvious open contempt of the AKP for constraints on power and western models since 2013 has strongly undermined this, though there are still ex-AKP Menderes fans holding onto that kind of position.

Please keep it civil

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s