On Monday a Kuwaiti received ten years in jail for a blasphemous tweet. On Tuesday a Bangladeshi court issued an arrest warrant over a blasphemous book. The case of theocratic suppression of ideas contrary to Islamic doctrine that I’d like to focus on, however – as they are so numerous that once you’ve begun to notice them they grow almost routine and, thus, fail to be as affecting as they really should be – is taking place on a sunny island in the Maldives.
The blogger and journalist Ismail Rasheed has been stabbed in the neck near his home in the capital Malé. It’s possible that the crime is unrelated to his work but once you’ve acquainted yourself with the formidable struggles this man has endured you’ll see this is unlikely.
Mr Rasheed, a Sufi Muslim, was critical of the religious totalism that’s a feature of the Islamic state. In return he was besieged with death threats. Websites demanded his prompt beheading. Rasheed weathered that storm but in November of 2011 the government closed his blog: accusing him of publishing “anti-Islamic material”.
Rasheed was undaunted. Despite the fact that his support base was as large as a Wolves football fan’s in West Bromwich he organised a small protest against this intolerance. A group of thugs swept down; pelted him and his supporters with rocks and fractured his skull. The government sprang into action! They arrested Rasheed. Amnesty International, in its aggrieved response, noted that despite credible photographic evidence of the event no efforts were made to arrest the man’s attackers.
Now, after years of abuse from the state and his fellow citizens, Mr Rasheed seems to have faced his most serious challenge yet. The only heartening fact is that the bastards still can’t kill him. In a letter to Amnesty a couple of years ago he wrote that he…
…would greatly appreciate if you can help me find temporary asylum in a friendly democratic country until I feel it is safe for me to return to Maldives…
It would be nice if a government could offer this after he’s recovered. Such a courageous defender of the freedom of conscience would be a privilege to host.
The suppression of dissenting or just differing opinion is, in callous terms, a somewhat useful feature of a creed. Sure, it’s terrible for the society it inhabits – a recipe for cultural and intellectual barrenness – but in the sense that it ensures that minds will be starved of nourishment for their doubts and scepticism it has an unpleasant logic. This is also why it could be the most dangerous feature of totalistic belief: because it ensures that everything else associated with it is perpetuated.