Human Rights, Law, Top Stories

Upholding the Jihadist’s Veto

In his provocative essay The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine didn’t mince words on Christianity. ”What is it the Bible teaches us?” he asked, and answered: ”rapine, cruelty and murder. What is it the New Testament teaches us?—to believe that the Almighty committed debauchery with a woman engaged to be married; and the belief of this debauchery is called faith.”

In 1819, the English deist Richard Carlile was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to two years in prison for selling The Age of Reason.

Today Tom Paine is celebrated as one of the Enlightenment’s foremost champions of human rights. But even 200 years after his conviction Carlile might not have been vindicated had he been able to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights. In a recent ruling, the Court upheld the conviction of an Austrian citizen for an ”abusive attack on the Prophet of Islam which could stir up prejudice and threaten religious peace” for denouncing the Prophet Muhammad as a “pedophile.” The Court insisted that the comments could arouse “justified indignation” in religious believers who have a right to have their religious feelings protected. Moreover, states have wide discretion to prevent such “improper attacks on religious groups” in order to ensure social and religious peace. Paine would have been shocked and horrified by such logic. And it is deeply regrettable that the Court declined to revisit its long-held doctrine that the freedoms of religion and speech are conflicting rather than complementary rights.

Paine’s scathing attack on holy scripture was clearly offensive to many Christians—US President Theodore Roosevelt later called Paine “a filthy little Atheist.” But the harsh attacks on the authority of religion by Paine and other Enlightenment figures contributed to a broadening concept of tolerance encompassing both the right to express, critique and reject religious doctrines. So the Court’s insistence that the freedoms of religion and speech are in conflict when the latter is used to attack the former is regressive, however noble the purposes of securing “social peace” and “tolerance.” The Court’s reasoning is ultimately based on protecting the secular aim of peaceful co-existence rather than religious doctrine. But the underlying idea that expressions offensive to religious dogma constitute a threat to the social and religious peace of society has deep roots stretching back centuries.

This was the very basis of the Roman Inquisition with its Index of Censorship from 1559 which aimed at protecting the faithful “from the poison, the danger of infection, the corruption springing up from bad books and writings.” The last execution of the Spanish Inquisition did not take place until 1826 when the deist teacher Cayetano Ripoll was hanged in Valencia. Avoiding the spread of infectious ideas was also behind John Calvin’s burning of Michael Servetus in Geneva in 1553 for “lacerat[ing] the sacred name of God.” But not all Christians accepted that social peace demanded religious uniformity and coercion. In the early 17th Century, English Baptists such as Thomas Helwys and John Murton protested the systematic religious intolerance of England under King James I:

For men’s religion to God is between God and themselves. The king shall not answer for it. Neither may the king be judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure.

Both Helwys and Murton died in prison for their principles.

The gradual acceptance that freedom of conscience is the foundation rather than a threat to religious peace and co-existence is therefore one of the most important and consequential ideas of Western democracy and has benefited religious believers as much as nonbelievers.

This remains true today. There is ample evidence to debunk the claim that laws against blasphemy are a necessary and effective tool for ensuring social peace. The vast majority of European democracies have abolished their blasphemy bans without an increase in religious conflict, unrest or violence. And those who do seek to enforce the “Jihadist’s Veto” by killing and threatening journalists and authors in Amsterdam, Paris and Copenhagen, should not be rewarded for their efforts. Enforcing blasphemy bans is neither a sign of progress and tolerance nor likely to appease religious extremists.

That lesson should be clear from a number of Muslim majority countries where blasphemy laws contribute to more, not less, extremism and violence. In 1992, Egyptian secularist intellectual Faraq Fouda was condemned as a blasphemer by a council at the Islamic Al-Azhar Islamic for mocking Islamist ideology and pointing to dark chapters in the history of Islam. Shortly thereafter, he was murdered by Islamists. Subsequently, Al-Azhar university not only blamed Fouda for his own murder but also banned Fouda’s complete works.

In a 2015 study, Amjad Mahmoud Khan from UCLA found that:

In Pakistan, Indonesia, and Nigeria—as may be true of other countries with anti-blasphemy laws—terrorism and blasphemy are inextricably intertwined. (…) The blasphemy criminal apparatus can embolden terrorists to commit crimes against humanity with impunity. (…)Efforts to repeal or reform such laws can be a critical step in delegitimizing the most dangerous organizations in the world.

Human rights organizations including Amnesty InternationalFreedom House and Human Rights Watch, have also noted that blasphemy laws are being abused to target religious minorities, dissenters, and to legitimize vigilant mob violence. Human rights discourse should play no part in providing legitimacy—however indirectly—to such practices.

The critical comments about the Prophet of Islam were based on accounts of the life of Muhammad in the Hadiths which next to the Qur’an are the most important foundational texts of Islam. According to some hadiths, the 53-year old Muhammad married a girl named Aisha at the age of six and consummated the marriage when she was nine.

A millennium before the Rights Revolutions that brought basic rights to (some) women and girls, child marriages were common in many parts of the world. So judging a 7th-century figure by the standards of the 21st century looks like bad history lacking proper context. But since Muslims claim Muhammad is the seal of Prophets, whose life is an example to follow even today, debating the merits and moral nature of his acts and sayings remains deeply relevant. Especially since modern secular states like Denmark, Norway and Sweden have debated allowing child marriages of asylum seekers out of “respect” for traditional culture.

Accordingly, the Court’s insistence that verbal attacks on religious doctrines and figures should have a certain “factual basis” creates an impediment to rigorous and passionate debate of religion. Much contained in texts considered sacred by their followers will be rejected as falsehoods by those of other faiths or non-believers. Moreover, to the non-believer, the Quran—like the Bible—includes many contradictions and even fervent believers passionately disagree about the correct interpretation. Hence, the numerous different sects each insisting that their interpretation of scripture is The Truth. When it comes to the life of Muhammad, historian Tom Holland has made the important point that almost no textual record appears until almost 200 years after Muhammad’s death.

Accordingly, no reliable standard of “factual basis” can or should be required for any opinion on religion or religious figures, however offensive to those who hold such doctrines or persons to be sacred. In the words of Jonathan Rauch, “A society which has accepted skeptical principles will accept that sincere criticism is always legitimate. In other words, if any belief may be wrong, then no one can legitimately claim to have ended any discussion—ever. In other words: No one gets the final say.”

It is this principle of “liberal science,” which the Court’s reasoning rejects by accepting only a benign interpretation of the life of Muhammad as The Truth. While the bloody and repressive aspect of religious intolerance has mostly been abandoned in democratic Europe, religious doctrine still trumps the conscience of the individual in many parts of the world. Blasphemy and apostasy is punishable by death in 13 Muslim majority countries. In Russia, artists, bloggers and YouTubers have been prosecuted for mocking religion under that country’s nebulous law against offending religious feelings. As the Court’s ruling stands, it might well have accepted the conviction of the Moscow Sakharov’s Museum’s curator and director for organizing an exhibition titled Religion, Be Careful!

The Court’s ruling does not mean that European countries are obliged to adopt blasphemy or religious insult laws. But it does suggest that if the editors of Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and French magazine Charlie Hebdo had been convicted for publishing mocking cartoons of Muhammed, they would not have been protected by free speech. And the decision will almost certainly embolden authoritarian governments in the Muslim world and elsewhere to renew efforts to erect a global blasphemy ban. From 1999 until 2010, Muslim states in the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) supported by Russia and others attempted to include a ban against “defamation of religion” in international human rights law. Only a sustained effort led by democratic states, international organizations and activists defeated the effort. Since then the UN’s Human Rights Committee has clarified that “Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible” with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Even the very organization to which the Court belongs has distanced itself from blasphemy laws. In April 2017, Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagtland emphasized that “blasphemy should not be deemed a criminal offence as the freedom of conscience forms part of freedom of expression.”

Moreover, in the past ten years a number of European countries including Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, the UK, Malta, and most recently, Ireland, have abolished blasphemy bans, leaving only a handful blemishes on the map of democratic Europe. The Court’s decision therefore constitutes a clear and present danger to the emerging consensus that blasphemy laws are incompatible with international human rights law.

The Court’s decision will also blunt criticism of existing blasphemy bans in countries where they’re used to marginalize minorities and punish dissent. Why should Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia feel any pressure to abolish their blasphemy bans when the top human rights court in democratic Europe has blessed the idea that religion can be protected from offense without violating free speech?


Jacob Mchangama writes and narrates the podcast “Clear and Present Danger: A History of Free Speech.” He is also the founder and director of Justitia, a civil liberties think tank in Copenhagen. You can follow him on Twitter @JMchangama and @CAPD_freespeech

Flemming Rose is a journalist, and senior fellow at the Cato Institute and is the author of The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on the Future of Free Speech.


  1. This is the natural strategic advantage that contemporary Islam has over all the other major faiths: It has both the scriptural justification to commit acts of violence against blasphemers and unbelievers AND the widespread support of institutional (and sometimes even governmental) authorities for such violence (e.g., blasphemy laws in several countries, fatwas issued for the death of infidels and apostates). Its history and expansion, its law, and its holy book (please read it if you haven’t) are all steeped in glorification of violence.

    And now –- thanks to the moral cowards and the anti-”Islamophobic” judges sitting on the European Court of Human Rights -– it has the additional advantage of having protection against insult on a continent that is supposed to stand for free expression of thought and against barbarism.

    From the article: “The Court insisted that the comments could arouse ‘justified indignation’ in religious believers who have a right to have their religious feelings protected.”

    Let me translate that for you: The Court doesn’t want Muslims shooting up night clubs, stabbing pedestrians on the street, or placing bombs on trains because they read a descriptive fact about their prophet on social media or saw a cartoon they didn’t like.

    It’s the sort of moral (if not physical) cowardice that modern west Europeans specialize in these days.

    But, more to the point, it’s the sort of “strategic advantage” (to which I earlier referred) that Muslims have over people from any other religion or ideology: The power that comes from an easy and indeed eager propensity to commit violence that is readily justified by their faith.

    In almost every year in this millennium, tens of thousands of people (usually other Muslims) have been killed by Muslims explicitly for religious reasons. During this entire time, how many people have been killed in the name of Jesus? A few dozen? How many people have Bahai’s killed? Any?

    • E. Olson says

      Radical Centrism – how dare you criticize the religion of peace that has brought perfect social justice and economic prosperity in every country that has adopted it – something most of Europe can soon look forward to.

    • Findel says

      I am not so certain that Muslims are more violent than people in other religions. There’s a lot of Islamophobia on this site.

      • @ Findel

        I’m not sure if you’re being serious or not, but I’ll take your bait.

        Actually, I wouldn’t even know where to start. I suppose maybe I could start with how Muslims kill each other in the name of Islam even during their holy month of Ramadan (about 2,000 dead on average during this month). Or I could cite polling data from the Pew Research Center that shows that between 80 and 90 percent of Muslims in Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Palestine believe a woman should be stoned to death for adultery, and that the vast majority of Muslims in four countries are in favor of the death penalty for Muslims leaving Islam (i.e., converting to another religion or even becoming an agnostic). These aren’t cultural mores –- these violent views find direct and explicit support in Islam’s central religious texts. What, I wonder, would be the support by contemporary Christians or Hindus or Buddhists around the world for killing people for adultery or for converting to another religion? Would it even rise to one percent?

          • @ Andrew W

            I’m not sure I get your point. Are you saying that the people in those Latin American countries are killing in the name of their religion (i.e., Roman Catholicism)? Because of course they’re not. Whereas the violence I was referring to — the religious violence of Islam — is being committed in the name of their God. It is being justified by their holy scripture and the teachings of their religious institutions. That’s a big difference. It’s one thing to say that people in a specific country (or countries) in which a particular religion is dominant are violent, and quite another to say that certain people all around the world are violent BECAUSE of their religion and find justification for their violence in that religion. The two are completely different things.

          • Andrew_W says

            People have killed in the name of all the more common of the worlds religions, but people rarely kill because a religion tells them to do so,first comes the anger about some real or perceived injustice; The loss of Palestinian lands, the disenfranchisement of Sunni in Iraq as a result of the US overthrow of Sadam, the persecution of peoples here or there. If a people see themselves as under threat, whether they’re Jewish, Christian, Muslim of whatever, they’ll interpret their religion in a way that, to them, justifies retaliation and fighting back against those seen as persecutors, either that or quietly die.

            Take the US involvement in Vietnam, the US took over from the French and what was initially a fight for colonialism became a fight against communism, Americans fought in the name of God and freedom, against the Godless commies. Today, with Vietnam increasingly shifting towards a capitalist economy the war and the deaths of millions of people fighting against colonialism can be seen for the pointless slaughter that it was.

        • Andrew_W says

          A New Radical Centrism: “Or I could cite polling data from the Pew Research Center that shows that between 80 and 90 percent of Muslims in Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Palestine believe a woman should be stoned to death for adultery, and that the vast majority of Muslims in four countries are in favor of the death penalty for Muslims leaving Islam (i.e., converting to another religion or even becoming an agnostic).”

          Go on then, provide a link.

      • Coolius Caesar says

        You know what Findel? You might be right. I regularly read about bombings, knife attacks, acid attacks, shootings, people driving vehicles into crowds, rape gangs/grooming gangs, calls to kill blasphemers, etc being committed by Christians.Oh wait, nope, my mistake, that’s exclusively Muslims. But don’t even get me started on Buddhists, just today a woman in Tibet who was on death row had her charges over turned and a large group of Buddhists marched in the street calling for her execution…oh wait, nope, that was Pakistan, Muslims also.

        • Andrew_W says

          Coolius Caesar, by most objective measures Christianity is are by far the most violent religion in the world, Nearly one in every four murders around the world takes place in just four countries: Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia. 800,000 people were killed in the Rwandan Genocide, most of the killers were Catholics, 250,000 were killed in the Liberian Civil Wars, Liberians are overwhelmingly Christians, of the twenty bloodiest conflicts of the Twentieth Century only in the Iran-Iraq war are many of the deaths caused by Muslims

          • @ Andrew W

            You wrote: “Christianity is…by far the most violent religion in the world.”

            Good lord.

            You seem to have some kind of glitch or intellectual deficit that causes you to connect the violence committed by people living in a society with the dominant religion in that society– let’s say, Catholics in Latin America. The fact that most of the people living in Latin American countries claim to be Catholic, doesn’t mean that Catholicism is responsible for their violence, anymore than would be the case that Islam would be the reason if Muslim countries had the highest murder rates. Unless of course both religions openly advocated murder where there was no religious justification — which neither does, and never has. So, your statistics about murders in countries with large Christian populations are absolutely meaningless in this context.

            On the other hand, if the holy texts and religious institutions of Catholicism created justification for murder for religious reasons — let’s say, for blasphemy and for conducting holy war — and Catholics went about killing other people (including other Catholics) because they believed these killings were justified by these teachings, THEN you could make a direct connection between the religion and killing. But, clearly, modern Catholicism creates no such justification. Only Islam, among all contemporary religions, does this.

            This idea is so basic and easy to understand that it would astonish me if someone with even the most rudimentary of reasoning skills couldn’t grasp it. But somehow it completely eludes you.

          • Andrew_W, I’m trying to figure out whether you’re trolling or you actually do believe that Christianity is responsible every time there’s some gangland murder in a favela in Brazil or a knife fight over a woman in a village somewhere in Mexico? What exactly is the connection to Christianity in these cases? Are you saying that the Bible teaches drug dealers to kill rivals every time there’s a turf dispute? Is this maybe something that I somehow missed in Sunday School?

          • BarnesK says


            I’m a lifelong atheist and no fan of any religion, including Christianity, but even I think you’re an idiot. You can’t blame Christianity for the type of violence that it explicity condemns (for example the murders going on in Latin America currently), but you certainly can blame Islam for the violence it condones (for example killing blasphemers). I don’t see why this easy distinction is so hard for you to grasp.

            By your logic — i.e., that the dominant “religion” in any country is responsible for the violence that occurs there — the most murdering “religion” of all time would be mine (atheism). Many times more people were killed in the officially atheist Soviet Union and Communist China than in any other countries in the last several decades. But there’s nothing in a rejection of God that causes violence, nor is there any in an acceptance of God that causes it, unless there’s a specific tenet that justifies it. Only Islam currently provides such justification..

          • Andrew_W says

            A New Radical Centrism (@a_centrism)
            ” . . if the holy texts and religious institutions of Catholicism created justification for murder for religious reasons — let’s say, for blasphemy and for conducting holy war — and Catholics went about killing other people (including other Catholics) because they believed these killings were justified by these teachings, THEN you could make a direct connection between the religion and killing.”

            Of course there are such justifications in the Bible, as I suspect you know as you go on to say “But, clearly, modern Catholicism creates no such justification.” If fact modern day Catholics, and people of other Christian sect do kill and use the teachings of their faith to justify their actions. The big difference between the rate at which religion is used to justified killings is because the west has waged war against Muslim countries in Muslim countries repeatedly over the last 70 years, such wars create a great deal of hatred of the invaders amongst common people. There have been no equivalent actions of conquest and occupation by Muslim countries against non-Muslim countries, if there had been we might well see a situation similar to the Catholic Irish terrorism being perpetrated against those Muslim invaders on a very large scale.

          • Andrew_W says

            BarnesK, there are passages in the Koran that also condemn violence against non-Muslims, and there are passages in the Bible that condone violence against non-Chistians. Believers in both faiths get to pick and choose whichever parts of their holy books best suits their current situation.

            “. . . the most murdering “religion” of all time would be mine (atheism).

            You can relax, Christianity would still beat atheism in the number of deaths it’s caused in”all time”, atheism was rare until the 20th century.

            “nor is there any in an acceptance of God that causes it, unless there’s a specific tenet that justifies it. Only Islam currently provides such justification..”

            The words in the Holy books remain unchanged, as I said to A New Radical Centrism, people read the parts of their scripture that best suit the times, times are different for Muslims and Christians today. In the past and perhaps in the future Christians have found justification for slaughter in the Bible.

            For the vast majority of Christians and Muslims today it suits them best to read the parts of their Holy books that advocate getting along with people of other faiths, if it weren’t for the recent Western invasion of Iraq, Islamic terrorism would be even more rare than it is, the terrorists are always sympathizers with the people who’ve suffered from Western aggression.

          • augustine says


            You see the world the way you wish to see it, according to your propensities and available knowledge. In this sense there is no point arguing your position as to the the violence of adherents of different religions.

            Yet one wonders what you see, or don’t see, in the 1400 year record of Islamic conquest and terror. These are some of my favorite bullet points regarding Islam (no pun intended). I reflect on them when considering the alarming influx of Muslims to countries of the West.

            Mohammed himself led murderous raids against his enemies, notably Jews.

            Muslims conspired with Nazis in WWII in the Balkans and killed thousands there.

            Millions slaughtered in the Islamic conquest of India. From Wikipedia on Islam in India, this obscenely sanitized sentence: “…between 1000 CE and 1500 CE, the population of Hindus decreased by 80 million”.

            Wherever Muslim lands touch the territory of others, all along a huge periphery, there is nearly unbroken and unceasing violent religious conflict. Or within countries such as Mindanao in the Philippines. Know Islam, no peace.

            The inherent, prescribed violence of Islam is particularly borne out in the endless killing of Muslims by other Muslims. A sad, true maxim: The first victim of Islam is the Muslim.

            Outside of Subsaharan Africa, Islamic societies rank lowest in global indicators like economic status, education, civil rights, health and others.

            Islam is a mandate of conquest, a belief in the absolute universal domination of its tenets and laws over the entire world. All and every means is to be used to accomplish this, especially demographic strategies.

            Compare any of these points with traditionally Christian populations and the teachings of Christ. Compare also the fruits of them both, and the relative suffering of people in either meta-group.

            To equivocate on the differences is merely a form of nihilism or false non-judgmentaless.

          • Andrew_W says


            For any example you offer of Muslim conquest I can offer an equivalent example of Christian conquest, for any example you offer of Muslim killings of other Muslims I can offer more than one example of Christian killing of other Christians. You claim that “Outside of Subsaharan Africa, Islamic societies rank lowest in global indicators like economic status, education, civil rights, health and others.” When in fact Latin America does no better in most of those metrics and several non-Muslim countries do worse than the average of the Muslim countries. In truth there is no clear relationship between religion and HDI once you get outside of the Western countries.


            The greater wealth of the Western nations can, at least in part, be attributed to the Western Enlightenment in which many of the socialistic teaching of Christ were rejected. It was the rejection of “filthy” capitalism by Christianity that led to the rise of the Jewish people in Europe’s financial sector (well done them). As Christ said: “Easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy man to enter the kingdom of God.” It was only with the rejection of Christ’s Socialism that Western nations developed capitalist economies that took them to the top of the heap in terms of wealth, wealth that enabled European colonization of the Globe – for better or worse for those conquered.

          • augustine says

            “Christ’s Socialism” ??

            You sound truly lost. Socialism is a political construct and Christ cared not at all for the worldly ways of men. He was concerned with their salvation and their moral integrity in this life. Christianity and capitalism have gone well together, so your separating them is erroneous.

          • Michael Joseph says

            Something interesting about the argument that a religion prevalent inside national borders should not be blamed for the rate of civil violence or the propensity of that nation state to cause violence to achieve national goals. What does that say about the effectiveness of religion?

      • Gary G says

        Ex-Muslims, most of those deeply educated in the readings of their former faith, and the judgments of prominent scholars, do assert that basically everything the Western critics of Islam assert, that is accurate, and that the explanations of “Liberal” (anti-Liberal) apologists are not accurate.

    • The Qu’a’n always struck me much like Led Zeppelin music. It can mean pretty much whatever you want it to mean. Not much of a philosophy.

      What’s that? A knock at my door?

      • Michael Joseph says

        Yes, of course. “You need a whole lotta love,” could mean anything.

    • S. Mendes says

      I tend to agree with Roosevelt. Paine seems like a grubby little atheist, and his theology is facile garbage. But by all accounts he was mentally ill, so it’s wrong to judge the guy.

      What most Americans have forgotten (or just never learned, because our schools don’t teach our children Jack Schitt these days) is that freedom of religion was in the FIRST Amendment for a reason. All the rest is based off it. The people who came to America did so to be able to speak and publish freely about their religion when it differed from that of their rulers. They wanted to be able to assemble for their worship without government harassment.

      And almost no one knows that the SECOND Amendment stems from religious freedom as well. the Second Amendment came from the English Constitution’s guarantee to keep arms at one’s home, enacted after Catholic James went around raiding homes and disarming the protestants. The protestants said NEVER AGAIN. So when someone tells you, “The Second Amendment didn’t mean private citizens should be allowed to own guns at home …” Bollocks. That’s exactly what it means.

      And yet Americans are throwing Christianity overboard, jacking up the house and removing the foundation, never thinking about what the house will rest on when it’s gone. What a bunch of window lickers.

      If Americans had a brain in their heads, they’d support Christian structure in the society every way they could, whether they practiced or not. No, nobody has to be Christian that doesn’t want to. Everybody is free to practice their own faith. But the Christian culture stays. If you don’t like having a few crosses in public places and a prayer in schools, move to North Korea, Bejing, or Kabul. See how the inconveniences compare. Reason is nice, but it doesn’t get you very far with the unreasonable, as we are finding out.

      • hemocyanin says

        “The people who came to America did so to be able to speak and publish freely about their religion when it differed from that of their rulers. They wanted to be able to assemble for their worship without government harassment.”

        But not necessarily allow people to believe as they wish — Salem witch trials being such an example.

        My take on religious people is that those who allow their faith system to dictate how they dress, are the dangerous ones. They clearly take their faith/fantasy way too seriously to be rational.

      • Michael Joseph says

        The beauty of Protestantism is you can be an aggressive, self righteous Old Testament Protestant like Mendes or you can be a humble, understanding New Testament Protestant.

        Yes, Americans came to the New World to escape religious oppression. They quickly instituted New World religious oppression. The Framers insisted on the free expression of religion to keep Christians from murdering each other as they had been doing in the Old World for hundreds of years.

        This Second Amendment drivel has no support in the text of the Constitution. If you read the whole Constitution you will find that the Militia is considered another branch of the armed services. The early USA had an Army, Navy, and a Militia. The Federal Government kept to it’s self with out reservation the responsibilities of training, regulating, and inspecting state militias.

        By the way, what would Jesus say about the right of every screw ball in the country to own a weapon of war?

  2. Camille says

    A New Radical Centrist-

    I’m still a little unclear what you mean when you say that Islam’s violent nature gives it a “strategic” advantage over other religions. You almost make it sound like violence is a good thing, or am I misunderstanding you?

    • @ Camille

      Let me put it this way: Do you think the court would have made a similar ruling if a Christian had petitioned against a negative description of Jesus? Of course not — because there’s no threat to public safety and order when someone says something “blasphemous” about Jesus, and therefore no perceived need to “protect” the public from such a threat by issuing a ruling which seeks to limit the possibility that violence could occur. (You can probably readily find hundreds of crude and blasphemous cartoons about Jesus online –- has anyone ever been killed because of any of these?) The only religion I know of that has a well-established CONTEMPORARY doctrine of justified killing of “blasphemers” is Islam. That’s why it’s feared. And it’s fear that drove the court to issue the ruling. THAT’S the advantage Islam has over other religions — it can get what it wants when other religions (who don’t espouse violence) cannot.

      • It’s similar to the situation on university campuses where the threat of violence from ANTIFA and like minded groups against conservative or pro free speech speakers drives up the security fees that groups have to pay to invite them, and effectively makes it impossible to host these speakers on university campuses.

      • Michael Joseph says

        That’s because Christianity has had its schism. Muslims are about 500 years behind us. We went through a bloody period when mass murder in the name of God was carried out by the leaders. We decided to keep their influence out of government to protect the innocent. Hopefully the Muslims can be convinced of the logic of this before too many die.

    • From an Darwinian standpoint, which is more likely to survive; a religion that allows itself to be walked over (modern Christianity, for example) or one that reacts violently to attack (Islam)?

      • James Lee says

        To the authors- thanks for an informative and well-written article.


        Good point. Let me add: which is more likely to survive: the new religion of Western elites — secular humanism/social justice —or Islam? The religion of social justice demands that we interpret all violence from jihadists as merely responding to Western oppression, or perhaps those jihadists are simply deluded, and if we stop talking about it, that’s for the best. There there, dear.

        As one commenter said in this thread, all murders in Latin American countries are “Christian” murders, clearly they are equivalent in nature to jihadists blowing up children as they scream “Allahu Akbar.” Same thing.

        Of course, our media elites know what is best for us plebs, so they rarely give accounts of what the actual jihadists say and what they believe. Our elites know the true motives of the jihadists better than the jihadists themselves. They also know the true motives of all conservatives (racist sexist homophobe) all republicans (racist sexist homophobe), all Brexit voters (racist sexist homophobe) and all blacks who don’t kowtow to social justice orthodoxy (uncle toms, sellouts, not really black).

      • Michael Joseph says

        You silly person. Bringing Darwin in to a religious conversation. Don’t you know that religious oppression is the one sure way to spread a religion? Intolerant Muslims will burn themselves out.

  3. David says

    It’s an interesting article that highlights the inherent difficulty in applying specific values in a system of representative governance where all people don’t necessarily share those values or prioritise them in the same way.

    The pragmatist in me doesn’t see the courts ruling as unreasonable. I see the applicant’s remarks as an emotive argument against the values of Islam where she used hyperbole and statements about the Prophet Muhammad‘s sexual enjoyment that she simply has no evidence to support. This was done in my opinion to add emotional weight and revulsion to her argument regarding Islamic values. It also doesn’t seem a liberal position to support this kind of unscientific discourse.

    Of course therein lies the problem, I say this is not unreasonable to be pragmatic given the make up of society but as a liberal I don’t believe that is how our society should act and that is the difficulty that comes with governing people with vastly different values systems.

    The author highlights the difficulty with Islam specifically saying that in Islam the Prophet Muhammad’s life is an example and hence should be open to criticism. I completely agree but this is what I see as the major challenge in dealing with Islamic values. In Islam, the Quran is the literal and complete word of God and it you need any clarification for anything, the Prophet Muhammad’s life is the example. This completeness roots Islam in the values of the 7th century and makes any attempt at criticism or reform a direct opposition to God.

    As our liberal society evolves with new knowledge and new thinking, clashes with Islamic values are more likely. In this instance I believe the courts struck the right balance but it is also equally right to be concerned about the divergence from liberal values.

    • @David – I cant express how unfortunate it is to hear a reasoned moderate such as yourself take this position. I care nothing for what extremists on the Left or Right think but for center Left of Right (or gun hating Libertarians like me) we are the center that can hold our classically Liberal/ Enlightenment society together… We cannot allow the basic freedoms of our society to erode. Moreover, you realize that the very reason thinking people (who are not racist etc.) are concerned about the influx of religious Muslims into the US is that they will directly and indirectly promote the reduction of our freedoms.

      • David says

        @MMS – I can understand the disappointment and to be honest as I am replying to you I’m torn between my values and being pragmatic. I may well be wrong in the position I have taken, how can I in good conscience agree with punishing someone who simply spoke of a well known and accepted historical fact and made her revulsion clear to her audience? But I also believe in reasoned, dispassionate and constructive political discourse of which this is not an example. I strongly believe that the emotive persuasion of today’s politics leads to people abdicating their sociatial responsibility to think. In regular politics this has caused massive damage to democracy and enlightenment values are under extential threat, in dealing with religion the stakes are that much higher and the path forward in agreeing on common, base values becomes that much more difficult to walk.

        I may be wrong in the stance I have taken but I do so to defend the enlightenment, not usurp it.

        • Michael Joseph says

          But girls became women in Mohammad’s world when they could bear children. This luxury that modern people have to nurture children and preserve their childhood is not something ancient societies could afford. Mohammad lived in an exploitive male dominated society. He was unenlightened. This might get a writer into more trouble but it’s probably more valid than calling him a pedophile.

    • Andio says

      The point is not whether one is an emotional or hyperbolic blasphemer versus a cool and reasoned critic of religion, the point is that in a free society one is free to criticize, blaspheme and offend religion and religious figures.

      You say “It also doesn’t seem a liberal position to support this kind of unscientific discourse.” We are not talking about science here. We are talking about criticizing, questioning, even ridiculing belief in metaphysical beings and dogma. I’m really confused by your whole post. What part of a liberal position are you talking about?

  4. E. Olson says

    If courts can apparently order government to change the climate in order to protect its citizens, why don’t the European courts order the expulsion of all Muslims to protect the rights of European citizens? The logic would be the same – in fact the “science” is far more certain in predicting early death for Swedish, German, British, French, etc. citizens from getting run over, blown up, shot, or knifed by Muslims acting to “protect his religion” compared to early death by climate change.

    • Michael Joseph says

      There is a philosophical answer to that: it’s ridiculous.

  5. Islamist monsters will feel justified committing crimes against women, news organisations, free thinkers that dare to criticise Islam or criminal regimes like Saudi Arabia. No more Halloween, it’s obviously a pagan ritual. The Christian cross is an offence against Allah as it depicts God being killed and desecrated.

    Islam is not compatible with freedom

    • If so, how do we have Muslims in the USA (and all the other western nations) who aren’t fighting a violent jihad to impose your interpretation of their faith?

      • augustine says

        They need not fight a violent jihad to succeed in the imposition of Islam. Many current battles are legalistic (prayer rooms and breaks, religious offense, etc.). How do you know that people– any people– have peace in their hearts just because they go about their public lives quietly and unassumingly?

        “How” we have them here is a breakdown in cultural and political sensibility, so that the real blame is with us and what we permit, not with the Muslims.

  6. Paul Ellis says

    According to Douglas Murray, several Islamic texts state that Mohammed married his wife when she was 6, and had sex with her when she was 9:

    Tom Holland states that no muslim texts were written until 200 years after Mohammed’s death. Therefore, they are based on two centuries of oral history. It’s entirely possible that over the course of two centuries these numbers could have changed: they might originally have been 16 and 19, for example. But if these numbers have changed, then other statements in the texts may have changed, too, and this poses a problem for those who insist that these texts are the exact and literal words of their god and his prophets.

    For argument’s sake then, let’s assume that the ages 6 and 9 are correct. In a society which regards females as the property of males, marriage to a pre-pubescent girl has a logic to it: it’s an assertion of property rights. But as I understand it, when read literally, most religious texts insist that sex is for procreation, and again as I understand it, most religious fundamentalists insist that to be its only purpose. It has no other, and is certainly not for mere pleasure.

    Therefore, other than another assertion of property rights, what purpose is served by an adult male having sex with a pre-pubescent female, who evidently is too young to conceive and bear children?

    Woke people, what is your position on this?

    • Yes, the actual historical ages don’t matter. What matters is that this behaviour was culturally sanctioned through a text as being consistent with an ideal male, or as a reward for ideal male behaviour. That implicitly, there is nothing wrong with male attraction for pre-pubescent girls.

    • D-Rex says

      If that was the case, what’s the point of the 72 virgins?

    • Michael Joseph says

      Some nine year olds can get pregnant. In a society that does not recognize the right of a girl to choose whom she marries or when, you quibble about her age? It was a barbaric backward society as most were in the 7th century. Holding Mohammad up modern standards is a mistake. Holding Mohammad up as a god like figure is also a mistake.

  7. Aylwin says

    Excellent article. I’ve also enjoyed your history of free speech podcast and would highly recommend it to readers here.

  8. Sandra says

    Maybe it’s time to re-visit Khomeini’s fatwa on Salman Rushdie following the publicatiion of The Satanic Verses encompassing translators and publishers of the book, the ineffectual European response and reaction to the fatwa, how Ayaan Hirsi Ali was stripped of her Dutch citizenship and ended up living in the U.S. – an event of which Rushdie said “Ali is the first refugee from Europe since the end of WWII”.
    Maybe it’s time for Quillette to take us back to that watershed moment which marked the beginning of the inexorable regression of the West.
    I’m looking at you, Claire.

    • Heike says

      Jimmy Carter, the former president of the U.S., wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in which he acknowledged that freedom of speech is a fundamental right, but then he went on to chastise Salman Rushdie for writing the book. That was victim blaming. Many freethinkers and disbelievers in the Muslim community who saw what happened to Salman Rushdie, even in the West, will think twice before coming out. Liberals are not supporting the people that they should be supporting, and they have compromised on their own values. That’s how terrorism works. They want to curb terrorism, but they’re not curbing it, they’re already victims of it.

  9. Lee Floyd says

    It’s a sad day when the West is debating the barbarities of Islam, because it has to. They live here.

    • Paul Ellis says

      It’s a conundrum, isn’t it? It’s a mistake to conflate contemporary attitudes and mores with those of the 7th century, but a certain logical question is inescapable.

      If sex between an adult male and a pre-pubescent female is not for procreation, which physically it cannot be because of that female’s physical immaturity, then it is either an assertion of property rights and power by the male, which nowadays we would call rape, or it is for the male’s pleasure, which nowadays we would call paedophilic.

      Which is it? Or if neither, then what?

      • And yet perhaps both assertions of property rights and pedophilia were not considered wrong then. We say being gay today is fine, but it wasn’t before. Slavery was practiced everywhere on Earth, and women have only recently seen a rise in status to full citizen versus a type of property, but even that is not accepted everywhere yet. These are social norms which change as society and cultures change over time.

        • Paul Ellis says

          They certainly were not considered wrong then: as Ian says above: “What matters is that this behaviour was culturally sanctioned through a text as being consistent with an ideal male, or as a reward for ideal male behaviour. That implicitly, there is nothing wrong with male attraction for pre-pubescent girls.”

          We don’t take that view in contemporary society, but apparently it is now a hate crime to point this out, even when some people in Rotherham, Oxford and elsewhere continue to behave as if this is still a reward for ideal male behaviour. So long as the girls are white.

          There is a massive cognitive dissonance in all this, and the worthies in The Hague have done us no favours.

      • Michael Joseph says

        Why have so many on this site written off the possibility of a nine year old becoming fertile? And yes, we’re talking about something that happened 1500 years ago. In my mind the obvious blasphemy is equating Mohammad with God. Christians believe Jesus was God walking the Earth in human form. Muslims don’t even make that assumption with Mohammad yet they set him up beside God and revere him to the same extent if not more. When a Muslim takes the name of Mohammad they utter the epithet, “peace be upon him.” Do they do as much for Allah?

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  11. Lincoln Dunstan says

    OK then. Let’s try a “Class Action” against ALL those who swear using the words Jesus Christ and see how far we get!! But wait, even as I am typing these few words I can see hell starting to freeze over!!

  12. There was a small Muslim community in the Indian town near where I grew up. I have actually seen a Muslim family who were prepared to allow a woman to die from a breast abscess if there was no woman doctor to treat her. all a male doctor could have done was to prescribe oral antibiotics on the basis of symptoms described by the man, because even parenteral antibiotics, let alone draining the abscess, would involve uncovering her and making her a whore. Women are property in Islam, and whether it is religion or culture, these values have no place in Canada (or anywhere).

    If you permit immigration, you have to insist that some cultural and religious practices must be abandoned – even if it hurts the immigrants’ feelings. It is shocking if European countries even talk about allowing child marriage for Muslim immigrants. Having laws that prohibit criticism of one particular religion in the EU is also shocking.

  13. Every religion is blasphemy against other religions. If I say X is God and you say Y is, we are each blasphemers according to the other. There’s no thought without conflicting ideas.

    • Andrew Worth says

      Keep in mind that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

  14. Americans take their 1st amendment rights for granted at their peril. There is nothing more important and in this world, nothing so rare.

    Mohammed was a pedo creep. Come get me EU.

    • X. Citoyen says

      The EU will have no qualms about throwing you and thousand like you on the pyre for spreading lies about the Prophet. Fortunately, you can spread the truth in many, many ways! For example, you might want to fight against Islamophobia by disseminating messages like this one:

      “The Prophet Mohammed did NOT marry a 6-year-old girl named Aisha and he did NOT consummate the marriage when she was 9 years old! This is a lie perpetrated by Islamophobes! Please like and share!”

      You others could do a lot of good spreading such messages, and I’m betting community leaders would really appreciate your help, especially when they have to explain how right you are in public. The truth is very important to bring out, one way or the other.

  15. Susan says

    The reason that it makes a difference how old Aisha was when Mohammed “married” her is that thousands and thousands of children have been and still are being raped in emulation of this perfect man.

    • D-Rex says

      There was a National Geographic article years ago on “child brides in the Yemen” which described girls as young as 8 undergoing corrective surgery after having sex with their often many decades older husbands. Sometimes friends would simply marry each other’s 12 year old daughters. I remember literally feeling ill knowing that these girls actually had no other prospect in life than to be married off at a young age.

  16. Foyle says

    Mohammed was, by the very low standards of his culture initially a relatively fair and ‘good’ guy, trusted as a banker, but as he grew into a powerful warlord he abrogated a lot of his get-along views and became violently hostile, uncompromising and exploitative of those who opposed him, especially non-muslims. By modern standards he was a warlord-monster who tortured, raped, stole, enslaved and traded in slaves, committed genocide against Jewish tribes of Medina, lied and promoted lying, demanded ‘protection money’ in the mafia sense. The pedophila involving his favorite wife Aisha (that he picked out to marry when she was just 6) is just a sideshow to the ugliness of the self-serving dogma of Islam he created to justify his behaviour.

  17. Surreptitious Evil says

    Just remember what the opinion of the Court actually was – that an Austrian conviction for violating Section 188 of the Criminal Code (for disparaging religious doctrines) was not contrary to the complainant’s (limited – I suspect in this case “for the protection of the reputation or rights of others”) rights under Article 10 EHCR. And this is a Chamber judgement that can be appealed to the full court. One of their considerations was that the punishment was a relatively trivial fine – but I suspect I don’t have to preach here either about “the process is the punishment” or “chilling effect”.

    Whether Austria should have such a law or not (and I don’t think it should), there is a wider threat – the consideration, widespread in European political and law enforcement circles, that any speech critical of Islam or an individual Muslim is “hate speech” and worthy of severe punishment.

    Although there does appear to be some overdue push back from the police about the amount of time random complaints require from them.

    • Burlats de Montaigne says

      That is the main point that is being (wilfully or not/) overlooked here. The actual blasphemy law is an Austrian law. It is not a ‘European’ law. The ‘crime’ was only considered as such in Austria. Every country has it’s own laws regarding blasphemy. Ireland just voted to do away with it – good for them! What the ECHR court ruling demonstrated was that the European court does NOT have primacy over individual nations jurisdiction. It could even be welcomed as evidence that the European ‘superstate’ does NOT, in fact exist. That Austria continues to have this law on their statute books is another matter, and one for the Austrian people themselves perhaps, to ponder.

    • Michael Joseph says

      Thank you, I wondered what we were all getting our panties in a bunch about. I expect the Court found that the law was a reasonable accommodation for extremists and had mild repercussions.

  18. D-Rex says

    Jesus said in Matthew chapter 12 “I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, ………………….. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven,” the son of man being himself. According to Mirriam-Webster; “Blasphemy came into the English language in the 13th century, and for the first several hundred years of its life had but a single meaning, “the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God.” ”
    It seems that religious people may get offended by what they perceive to be blasphemy but I would, as a christian myself say, so what? I don’t see how a non-believer is actually capable of blasphemy. If you don’t believe that a god or their god actually exists, you are then just stating an opinion.
    If, as a non-believer you say something about my belief that I actually find offensive (it can happen), then my moral response shouldn’t be any stronger than if you insulted my favourite football team.

  19. Garnet says

    According to a report just released: Muslims were responsible for 84 percent of terrorist deaths in 2017, a decrease from previous years. The other deaths were caused by various political groups, not religious groups.

    Here’s the report:

    So, the bad news: Islam continues to be, by far, the biggest and most murderous threat to the world.

    The good news: It seems to be killing less than before.

  20. “When it comes to the life of Muhammad, historian Tom Holland has made the important point that almost no textual record appears until almost 200 years after Muhammad’s death.”

    There is an analogy with the largely discredited chains of transmission, or isnads as the Islamic term goes, in the New Testament. Let us use Bart D. Ehrman’s exposition on Papias, to which I have added what you will see has quite a strong analogy with the formation of the ibn Ishaq hadith about the Koran.

    Papias probably worked in the early C2nd, 40-70 years after Matthew’s Gospel. So, he lived about 100 years after Christ, like ibn Ishaq did after Muhammad. Papias’ work, like ibn Ishaq’s, no longer exists. Irenaeus reported on Papias ca. 70 years later and Eusebius reported on Papias ca. 200 years after Papias. We have ibn Hisham reporting on ibn Ishaq ca. 70 years after ibn Ishaq.
    According to Eusebius, Papias recorded third or fourth-hand information on Mark the “author” of the Gospel and Matthew, “author” of the other Gospel. This analogizes to ibn Ishaq referring to Muhammad, the “author” of the Koran. At first sight, this looks to be fairly good information that Mark wrote Mark’s Gospel and Matthew wrote Matthew’s Gospel.

    But we have to be sceptical. As regards Matthew, Papias does not tell us the sources of his information: just like ibn Ishaq sometimes does not tell us his. If Papias was writing, say, 40-50 years after Matthew’s Gospel, which up till then had been anonymous, is it not possible that in those years someone had made up that Matthew had written the Gospel? By the way, the Christian tradition that Matthew the tax-collector wrote Matthew’s Gospel, which probably derives from Papias, is almost certainly wrong. Similarly, in the 100 years between Muhammad and ibn Ishaq is it not possible that someone had made up a particular story about Muhammad?

    It gets worse, Papias tells us 2 pieces of information which are untrue about the Matthew Gospel we have: he says that Matthew’s Gospel is a collection of sayings and in Hebrew. The sceptical historian will conclude that he was either wrong about the nature of Matthew’s Gospel or that he was talking about a now lost collection of the sayings of Jesus. If we had ibn Ishaq mischaracterizing the Koran, we would similarly conclude that he was talking about a different, now lost, version to the one we have or that he was wrong about the nature of the Koran. That has nothing to do with the fetishization of the chains of transmission but with the application of reason to the evidence we have.

    Papias was also wrong about Mark’s Gospel. He says that Mark’s aim was to tell all that he had heard from Peter about Jesus. That cannot be true. Mark’s Gospel takes at most 2 hours to read. Is that all Peter knew about Jesus? That stretches credulity too far. Yet, like ibn Ishaq, in the case of Mark, Papias explicitly says that this is third or fourth-hand information. On what basis do we think that Papias is highly likely to be wrong? It is not on the basis of sectarian bias, such as whether you are Christian or not, Sunni or Shi’a. It is on the basis of the likelihood of what Papias said being true: using our common-sense and bringing in knowledge from what was actually happening in the world and what we know now. Likewise, with ibn Ishaq, we have to look at the likelihood of the truth of each of his claims, cross reference them with other claims and with what we know to be true about C7th Arabia.

    We have a further problem of the reliability of the ibn Ishaq source. It is the earliest of the stories about Muhammad’s life. but we do not have ibn Ishaq’s original. We have a version of it by ibn Hisham from two generations later. He says that he got it from a student of ibn Ishaq. So we have the first tales of Mo’s biography through multiple hands, as well as the several sources handed on from one person in a generation to the next which ibn Ishaq mentions, over 150 years after the purported events and we often do not know the persons upon whom the authors base their sources and credibility. This is not good historical source material.

    We have in general in early Christianity another problem. The further you get from Jesus’ era, the more detailed, and more fanciful, the Christian tales about Jesus’ life. Sceptical history tells us that it is almost impossible for them to be true. Something similar looks to have happened with Muhammad. Almost all we know about Muhammad’s life comes from the hadith, these later, more detailed stories filling in the back-story of the Koran. Generally, the later the hadith, the longer and more detailed the chains of transmission. It is possible, but not likely, that the later writers of the hadith were able honestly to produce fuller isnads. Muslim apologists anachronistically date the later methods of the chains of transmission to ibn Ishaq’s time. But he did not work like that. He is more analogous to the vagueness of Papias, even though he was better at naming names.

    In answer to the Muslim ulema who call their somewhat tedious detailing of the isnads “islamic Science”I would not call my historical method “western history”. Because, this method will apply in Canada, Morocco, Malaysia, Germany and Papua New Guinea. It is like saying that there is such a thing as western, Chinese, Christian or Muslim science. Western history and western science do not exist. The methods work wherever and whenever you apply them. We only have history and science.

  21. Peter from Oz says

    The best way to deal with islam is to encourage people toi mock it at every opportunity.

  22. The ECHR sees freedom of speech and having a significant Muslim population as incompatible. Wake up, Western Europe.

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  24. Electric vehicles cannot come soon enough. Reducing oil influence on geopolitics will be hugely beneficial. Wahhabism is an horrendous ideology that was pushed to justify the legitimise of the Saudi family.

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