If you are in need of $3 million there is a way to make it. All you have to do is kill Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie, a British Indian writer whose 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, was deemed to be insulting to Prophet Muhammad. As a result a fatwa was issued against him by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. The bounty for his head was this week incresed by another $500 000, bringing the total to an awesome $3.3m.
Salman Rushdie’s bounty was increased by an Iranian institution because they feel that had the fatwa been carried out, we would not be seeing other publications that are irreverent or insulting to The Prophet.
Muslims across the world are protesting against an American film which insulted the Prophet Muhammad, with property being destroyed in Sudan, Egypt, Lebanon and other regions where there are significant Muslim populations. In other places, particularly Libya, lives have been lost including the American ambassador to Libya and the death toll from the protests exceeds thirty.
To add more wood to an already blazing fire, a French magazine published another cartoon insulting Muhammad prompting French authorities to increase the security around their embassies worldwide.
Whilst I find the Islamic reaction to these insults unacceptable and extreme, it is also very irresponsible for citizens of Western countries to continue producing pictures, articles and films that mock the values and religious beliefs of other people. It is especially stupid when such actions are followed by violent retributions and, inevitably, loss of life.
Like all other cases, there are two sides to this story:
1. Those who think continued publication of material of incendiary nature is not only unnecessary and irresponsible but also dangerous to many innocent people and
2. Those who favour free speech and defend it in whichever form it manifests itself.
The second group says that the Muslim world overreacts over the most harmless slights, blowing minor issues out of proportion and furthering the belief already held by many people: that Islam is a cult of violent, barbaric and intolerant extremists. After all, we occasionally read about Jesus being mocked yet no one has lost his eye for that.
In fact, this past week there was a report that some prominent historians had determined that Jesus had a wife. To us Christians, such statements- and books, like Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’- are to be ignored because they do not change any fundamental part of our beliefs.
Other people say religion itself is the problem,Christians, they say, perpetrated some of The most heinous crimes in history- the Holocaust, Slave trade etc. In the middle ages Christians burnt at the stake countless people for being heretics and suppressed ideas and teachings that were not in agreement withered church’s own.
Furthermore bowing down to Islamic pressure will be the beginning of censorship. The cornerstone of democracy- free expression- would be threatened. It would be the beginning of the end of political, historical and religious debate.
In so many ways Islam is an immature religion which resorts to force rather than logical persuasion and the biggest victim of these protests is Islam itself. The violent protests do Islam’s reputation and it’s claims to be a peaceful religion irreparable damage.
But is it really necessary to insult the convictions of a billion people in the name of free speech? More so when, inevitably, protests follow and people die further straining Muslims relationships with the West?
Can one man’s act of free expressions be forgiven when it leads to the death of fifty people across the globe?
And freedom of expressions does have limits, for example, denying the Holocaust is a crime in some European countries. Shouldn’t it be the same for mocking the way of life of a billion people?
Whatever people think, if I see an hornets’ nest and have to choose between poking it with a stick and walking away I know what I’d do.