On Wednesday, Sir Salman Rushdie officially received his knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. The announcement of the award just over a year ago drew the usual round of threats from Islamists. Thankfully, they did not deter the Queen from bestowing this well deserved honor. Sir Salman has shown great courage in speaking out against the Islamist war on free expression. Especially since, contrary to some reports, the 1989 Khomeini fatwa calling for his murder is still in effect.
Sir Salman Rushdie was the first well publicized instance of someone threatened with death by radical Islamists for his views. Sadly, there have been all too many since. As Koenraad Elst has noted, for every Rushdie or Ayaan Hirsi Ali whose situation is publicized, there are dozens if not hundreds of little known Muslim freethinkers who find themselves in a similar plight, without the support of Western governments or public opinion. While we honor Sir Salman, we should also try to raise awareness of these other courageous men and women.
Here are three such individuals:
-The MEMRI Blog reported on June 20 that a jihadist web site has called for the murder of an Algerian singer named Oulahlou:
The call was a response to an article in the Algerian daily El-Shorouq El-Yawmi, which reported that the singer's recent album "Love and Liberty" contained songs insulting to Islam.
According to the article, one of the songs said that the Islamic hijab should only be put on sheep, and another used terms associated with divinity to describe a romantic relationship.
The Arab liberal website Aafaq reports that due to the threats Oulahlou was forced to leave Algeria.
If true, these threats should absolutely be taken seriously. Algerian Islamists have a horrific history of murdering "apostate" intellectuals.
-On June 18, a Pakistani court sentenced a man to death for the crime of "blasphemy". Reuters has the details:
Convictions for blasphemy are fairly common in predominantly Muslim Pakistan, with most cases involving members of religious minorities, but death sentences have never been carried out usually because convictions are thrown out on a lack of evidence.
The convicted man, Mohammad Shafeeq, a Muslim in his early 20s, was arrested in 2006 in a village near the eastern city of Sialkot where the trial was held in the court of Justice Shoaib Ahmad Roomi.
"Judge Roomi sentenced him to death for defiling the Holy Koran and using derogatory language against the Prophet," said Shezada Hassan Ali, a senior official at the jail where Shafeeq has been kept.
"He can appeal the court decision."
Pakistan's blasphemy law was enacted in 1986. According to Human Rights Watch, the statute "makes the death penalty mandatory for blasphemy". While Reuters notes that no one has yet been executed under the statute, the IHEU wrote in 2004 that "(m)any victims of the Pakistani blasphemy laws have failed to survive prison, and a number of those tried and acquitted have been murdered following their release."
-In neighboring Afghanistan, the Italian news site AKI reported that former Prime Minister Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai called for an Afghan journalist who distributed a reformist translation of the Koran to be put to death. The journalist, Ghows Zalmay, was arrested last November and reportedly remains in prison:
Muslim scholars in Afghanistan reportedly said that the new version of the Koran misinterpreted verses about alcohol, begging, homosexuality and adultery. They also complained that this version was not accompanied by the original version of the Koran in Arabic.
Ghows, 50, is reportedy in jail after being accused of blasphemy and his lawyers say he risks the death penalty. He is expected to face charges in an Afghan court within the next week.
"This is all an American conspiracy to deviate Afghans from their faith," said Al-Hajj Farooq Hussaini, the leader of a Muslim prayer association in the western city of Herat in an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI).
"They want us to be converted Christians or simply atheists. This American occupation of Afghanistan is worse than the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviets," he said.
Another Afghan journalist, Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh, was sentenced to death for blasphemy by an Afghan court in January.