Jun 03, 2019

Blasphemy gives Muslims a bad name

This post appeared in The Hill Times on May 27, 2019.

As noted on many, many (too many?) occasions I am a very devoted Monty Python fan. Some of my readers may not share my taste in humour, but then again they do say that what makes you laugh is very personal.

Of all the British comedy troupe’s films, I still like Monty and the Holy Grail best, but I think their Life of Brian is a close second. The latter pokes fun at religion, a dangerous activity in many parts of the world as we shall see, but is funny as hell. As a terrorist analyst I still find the enumeration of the various ‘Peoples’ Front of Judea’ extremist groups hilarious. But for today’s column I want to focus on the scene where John Cleese plays a Jewish leader condemning a scantily-clad old man to death for uttering the name ‘Jehovah’. The ‘prisoner’ realises how stupid this whole thing is , despite his imminent stoning to death, and mocks Cleese by repeatedly yelling ‘Jehovah! Jehohah’ until, in a brilliant incident of poetic justice, it is the rabbi who gets a large stone dropped on him for using God’s name in vain.

I don’t suppose many of us in the West give too much thought to blasphemy these days, there not having been a good old stoning in these parts for quite some time. But in other areas of the world there are those who take this crime very, very seriously. Case in point, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death after some Muslim women she was out in the fields with were unhappy with a water container that had touched her lips and who subsequently told officials she had insulted the Prophet Muhammad. She was arrested, kept away from her family for EIGHT years, and constantly in danger of having her sentence carried out before a brave group of judges said she was free to go (a governor and a minister were not so lucky: they were both killed by rabid mobs for seeking her release).

Now she is in Canada and good on us for taking her in. She will need a lot of help for a long time in light of her ordeal but at least in our country she has a chance at a ‘normal’ life. That a person can be killed in 2019 over spurious charges of insulting a religious figure is almost beyond belief.

My friend Sheema Khan wrote on this case in the Globe and Mail on May 9. She noted that “Canadian Muslims can demonstrate the spirit of mercy and compassion that was the hallmark of the Prophet by offering support to Ms. Bibi and her family…Canadian Muslims are blessed to live in a country that honours religious freedoms. We are living proof that, given an opportunity to live where our rights and freedoms are protected, we thrive. We must, then, offer our full support to Ms. Bibi.”

Muslims, including those who live among us, get a very bad rap much of the time. Some of this is understandable, if not totally justified, given the number of terrorist attacks that occur daily around the world executed by those who claim to be acting not only in the name of Allah but who also portray themselves as the sole ‘true’ Muslims. No, these violent extremists are not representative of Canada’s one million plus Muslims anymore than far right terrorists are representative of Canada’s Christians.

But, there is an unfortunate association of terrorism with Islam and some Canadians have stated very publicly that they do not want more Muslims here. This is not fair, but alas much in life is not fair. Canadian Muslims must constantly denounce terrorism committed by others as a result.

I happen to agree with Ms. Khan that Canadian Muslims must also go the extra kilometre and denounce the treatment of Ms. Bibi. No, she was not abused here in Canada, but nevertheless Muslim extremists in Pakistan said she should die for what they thought she said. Blasphemy is not an offence that should have any application or following in 2019. Canadian Muslims need to make that clear as well.

Phil Gurski is the President of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting. He will be speaking at the Shenkman Centre in Ottawa on May 27 on his latest book ‘An End to the War on Terror’