We have for years been following the rising number of blasphemy prosecutions not only in the Muslim world but, even more worrisome, in the West. Now, an Egyptian court has added a new outrage in sentencing a 17-year-old Christian boy to three years in jail for publishing cartoons on Facebook deemed mocking of Islam and the Prophet Mohammad. It is the latest example of the abuses of Sharia law and the danger of intermingling religion and government.
Gamal Abdou Massoud showed the drawings to school friends in a village in the southern city of Assiut, which has a large Christian population and is the hometown of the late Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda. Christians have faced increasing pressure and violence in Egypt since the overthrow of the Mubarak regime and the rise of Islamic fundamentalists.
Local muslims reacted to the kid’s cartoons with outrage and burned down Christian homes and assaulted Christians in retaliation.
As I have mentioned before, the efforts of the Obama Administration to work with countries like Egypt on an international blasphemy standard is a threat to free speech around the world. After first supporting an international blasphemy standard, the Administration sought to get Egypt and other countries to adopt the Brandenburg standard as the basis for such prosecutions. These cases show the mentality of countries pushing for a “balance” between free speech and religion. It also shows why the use of the Brandenburg standard is so dangerous in the hands of such officials who view free speech as the cause of imminent violence. Because any joke or image of the Prophet can trigger violence, the standard is immediately satisfied in countries like Egypt, which can then claim some legal legitimacy under the standard created with the United States. Free speech is under attack around the world and I view this effort as facilitating, rather than curtailing, such crackdowns on dissidents and intellectuals. While I truly believe that the Obama Administration officials are well-intentioned and believe that they can moderate this trend against free speech, I am fearful that their effort will only legitimate these abusive cases.