Egypt continues to descend toward a Sharia-based system with a new prosecution of four teenagers accused of “insulting Islam.” The insult came in a video that the boys shot while on a trip with their teacher Gad Younan, 42 – a film that mocked ISIS. While the boys were accused of insulting Islam, the brief video only showed them mocking ISIS beheadings. One of the boys apparently mumbled an Islam prayer as part of the execution and that was enough to cause riots and demands for their executions. The four teens and teacher are from the ancient Coptic community, a community targeted by Muslim extremists for harassment and killings.
The boys are aged 14 and 15 years old. They could be sent to jail for up to five years by the government. A rumor spread that they had thrown down a copy of the Koran, causing riots — a scene reminiscent of the killing of a woman in Afghanistan. It turns out to be untrue by the Egyptian government still wants to send the boys and their teacher to jail for their exercise of free speech against ISIS — thereby proving yet again that the foes of ISIS display some of the same abusive orthodoxy and intolerance.
The 32-second clip ironically mocked the strict orthodoxy of ISIS only to have their own government round them up for such religiously laden punishment. Article 98(f) of the Egyptian Penal Code criminalizes a series of faith-related comments, including “insulting a heavenly religion or a sect following it.”
While ISIS purports to adhere to Islam, it is not clear whether the prosecutors in Egypt had that part of the Penal Code in mind when they accused the youths of blasphemy. Egypt’s continued crackdown of anti-religious speech is part of its long-standing blasphemy abuses. 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.
The crackdowns in Saudi Arabia and Egypt show again how unwise this effort by the Obama Administration was from the start. The Administration has given credibility to these efforts to curb anti-religious speech. Whatever desire it had to “moderate” such actions by cooperating on an international standard has proven, as many of us predicted, an utter failure. There can be no compromise between free speech and blasphemy. These nations stand against the most basic right of all men and women to speak freely and worship (or not worship) as their values dictate.
Notably, this film followed mourning in the community of these boys after a Libyan affiliate of ISIS recently announced the murder of 21 Christians. Some 20 of the murdered Christians were Copts and came from the boys’ home governorate of Al Minya.
After the false rumor spread, Muslims stoned the homes of Christians and destroyed the business of one of the boys. Frightened parents turned the boys over to the police. Public meetings were held where Christians were forced to condemn the boys and ban Younan from the village. A judge then denied bail to the boys to allow them to take their final exams.