James Kottak, the drummer for the rock band Scorpions, has been sentenced to one month in jail in the United Arab Emirates for conduct offensive to Islam. This reportedly included raising his middle finger and insulting the faith.
Kottak, 51, was arrested on April 3rd on a flight from Russia to Bahrain. The band was scheduled to perform at a Formula One race. Kottak was arrested in the transit hall and admitted that he had been drinking but denied other charges. He reportedly made comments about “uneducated Muslims” and flashed his middle finger. Witnesses accused him of cursing all Muslims and Islam.
It is a chilling example of how the blasphemy laws in these countries are applied. Such comments would be treated as entirely protected in the United States. For many years, I have been writing about the threat of an international blasphemy standard and the continuing rollback on free speech in the West. For recent columns, click here and here and here.
Much of this writing has focused on the effort of the Obama Administration to reach an accommodation with allies like Egypt to develop a standard for criminalizing anti-religious speech. We have been following the rise of anti-blasphemy laws around the world, including the increase in prosecutions in the West and the support of the Obama Administration for the prosecution of some anti-religious speech under the controversial Brandenburg standard.
This is a typical example of the application of such a standard. Kottak’s comments can simply be defined as causing imminent violence or social unrest to justify a blasphemy prosecution.