By Joe Hung, special to The China Post
Salman Rushdie published “The Satanic Verses” toward the end of 1988, prompting Ayatolla Ruhollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa to kill him and his publishers or to point him out to those who could kill him if they could not. Rushdie, well protected in the United Kingdom, has never been physically harmed for the book, but others associated with it have suffered. Hitoshi Igarashi, its Japanese translator, was stabbed to death; Ettore Capriolo, the Italian translator, was seriously injured; William Nygard, the publisher in Norway, survived an attempted assassination in Oslo; and Aziz Nesin, the Turkish translator, was the intended target in the events that led to the Sivas massacre of 1992, which resulted in the deaths of 37 people. On Sept. 8, a two-minute excerpt of a low-budget film, “Innocence of Muslims,” was shown on Al-Nas TV, an Egyptian Islamic television station, kicking off a series of violent protests, including the one in which American Ambassador to Libya John Christopher Stevens and three others were killed at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last Tuesday, Sept. 11. U.S. law-enforcement officials have identified the filmmaker as Nakoula Busseley Nakoula, an Egyptian American who “was connected to the persona of Sam Bacile and Alan Roberts.” Protests have spread to Yemen, where demonstrators attacked the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa last Thursday, and to Egypt, where on the same day Egyptian protesters clashed with police near the American Embassy in Cairo for the third day in a row. On the same day, too, hundreds of Shiite followers of the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr demanded the closure of the American Embassy in Baghdad because of the film. On the following day, Sudanese demonstrators broke into the German Embassy in Khartoum, and in Egypt, riot police clashed again with protesters blocks away from the American Embassy in Cairo as President Mohammed Morsi appealed to Muslims to protect embassies.
The Rushdie controversy and the current attacks on embassies have one thing in common. They started as a result of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam. Blasphemy is contemptuous or irreverent talk about God and sacred things. In Nakoula’s film, Allah is not blasphemed but the prophet is. According to BBC, Muhammad is called “a bloodthirsty leader of a ragtag group of men enjoying killing.” The prophet, the last one of a group including Jesus Christ, is also variously described as “a womanizer, a homosexual and a child abuser” and “a fool, a philander, and a religious fake.” Such blasphemy, of course, cannot be tolerated. So as in the way Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Rushdie, Islamists began tracking down Nakoula, and failing to locate him, attacking the American embassies which they consider are the symbol of the devil intent on destroying Islam. The current surge of violent protests may continue for a time but will subside sooner or later. However, they will recur again and again, so long as books, plays and films wittingly or unwittingly blaspheme Muhammad. Writers and producers have freedom of speech or expression, which are constitutionally guaranteed in most of the countries of the world. There is no way blasphemous works can be banned.