If anyone wants to see what the US would look like if we don’t stop with the entanglement of religion and government need only look at what happened in Damascus, Syria on Saturday.
For the last week or so, Muslims around the world have been protesting the publishing of some cartoons depicting their prophet Muhammad. Some the images looked silly and some expressed a view of Muslims as terrorists by having Muhammad’s turban look like a bomb.
Thousands of Syrians enraged by caricatures of Islam’s revered prophet torched the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus on Saturday — the most violent in days of furious protests by Muslims in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
In Gaza, Palestinians marched through the streets, storming European buildings and burning German and Danish flags. Protesters smashed the windows of the German cultural center and threw stones at the European Commission building, police said.
Iraqis rallying by the hundreds demanded an apology from the European Union, and the leader of the Palestinian group Hamas called the cartoons “an unforgivable insult” that merited punishment by death.
Pakistan summoned the envoys of nine Western countries in protest, and even Europeans took to the streets in Denmark and Britain to voice their anger.
At the heart of the protest: 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad first published in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten in September and reprinted in European media in the past week. One depicted the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. The paper said it had asked cartoonists to draw the pictures because the media was practicing self-censorship when it came to Muslim issues.
Wikipedia has a great article about the cartoon controversy so I won’t duplicate here. See:
Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy
Some in the Islamic religion equate any depiction of Muhammad as Blasphemy. Some Islamic countries have laws that punish blasphemy harshly and can include death. Dr Younus Shaikh, of Pakistan, was accused of blasphemy and jailed in 2000.
Those accused of blasphemy under Article 295/C of the Pakistan Penal Code are unable to obtain bail and are held in custody awaiting trial. If pronounced guilty, they face a mandatory death sentence. The trial of Dr Shaikh, held throughout the summer of 2001, took place in a hostile courtroom packed with Islamic fundamentalists who warned the defence lawyers: “think of your families and children”. The final two sessions were held in-camera with gun-toting Pakistani Taliban waiting outside. It was finally established during the trial that the alleged events had never taken place. Nevertheless, on 18th August 2001, Dr Shaikh was found guilty and sentenced to death. Sadly, in Pakistan, such injustices are not uncommon in cases of alleged blasphemy.
For the next two years, Dr Shaikh was held in solitary confinement in a death cell in the Central Gaol in Rawalpindi. He appealed to the High Court but the two appeal court judges failed to agree. On 15th July 2002 the case was referred to a senior judge for a final decision.
A delay of more than a year then ensued before the referee judge took up the case. On October 9th 2003, this judge finally decided that the original judgement was unsound but instead of acquitting Dr Shaikh, remanded the case back to a lower court for retrial.
The retrial was held over three sessions in November 2003. In the light of the harassment and intimidation suffered by his lawyers at the earlier hearings, and much against the advice of the judge, his colleagues, his family and the members of the diplomatic community present in court, Dr Shaikh decided this time to conduct his own defence. The prosecuting counsel tried to exploit the religious feelings of the court but Dr Shaikh confined his defence to legal arguments and was finally acquitted on 21st November. He tells us that he was inspired by the defence speech of Sir Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons”. Fortunately for Dr Shaikh the outcome this time was different.
Commenting on the judgement, Dr Shaikh explained: “The judge accepted my legal arguments and found the charges against me to be baseless. My accusers, two Mullahs and some Islamist students, had lied.” He described his ordeal as: “Islamic terrorism through the abuse of law and of the state apparatus.”
What does the violence in Syria over cartoons relate to the US. The official State Department spokesperson condemned the publication of the cartoons
“These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims,” State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said. “We all fully recognise and respect freedom of the press and expression, but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable.”
Now an argument could be made, based on past pandering by the current administration, that they are trying to score some easy points with Muslims to try and erase the sever debt of good will since the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Personally I don’t trust their outrage.
There have been times when the religious right in this country have gone past mere protest when their religious beliefs were offended.
One recent example was Eric Rudolph who bombed abortion clinics and confessed to the bombing of Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympics. In his statement he said:
Even though the conception and purpose of the so-called Olympic movement is to promote the values of global socialism, as perfectly expressed in the song “Imagine” by John Lennon, which was the theme of the 1996 Games even though the purpose of the Olympics is to promote these despicable ideals, the purpose of the attack on 27 July was to confound, anger and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand.
The plan was to force the cancellation of the Games, or at least create a state of insecurity to empty the streets around the venues and thereby eat into the vast amounts of money invested.
Then you also had some radical pro-life people developing “hit lists” of Doctors who performed abortions and in some cases Doctors or clinic employees have been murdered.
Inspired by the 1993 shooting death of another abortion doctor in Pensacola, Hill purchased a new shotgun and went to a gun range to practice. The morning of the murder, as Britton and the Barretts entered the clinic parking lot, Hill shot James Barrett in the head and upper body. He then reloaded and fired again, hitting Britton in the head and arm. June Barrett was wounded in the arm.
The killings of Britton and Barrett happened during a time of increased violence at clinics nationwide.
Another abortion doctor had been killed in Pensacola in 1993 by Michael Griffin, who is serving a life sentence. Two receptionists were killed at Boston-area abortion clinics in 1994 by John Salvi, who committed suicide in prison two years later.
Earlier this year, James Kopp was convicted of killing an Buffalo, N.Y., abortion doctor in 1998.
Abortion Doctor’s Murderer Dies by Lethal Injection (09/03/2003)
There has also been church burnings within the past 10 years:
In Church Fires, a Pattern but No Conspiracy
US Justice Dept Asked to Probe Mosque Burnings
Alabama churches burn, some left in ruins
The US has been luckier than most countries. Such acts of violence are the exception rather than the norm, however if the country gets any more polarized along religious lines or the wall of separation of church and state is crushed, there is a real possibility that religious related violence will increase and scenes like those in Damascus will happen here.