An otherwise quiet 26-year-old Palestinian barber who happens to be an atheist did a no-no. He went on Facebook, expressed blunt opinions about his father’s religion (his father is a Muslim scholar), joked that he—Walid—is God, supported atheist views on some English and Arabic blogs, and got nabbed for it by the Palestinian authorities. He now faces life in prison. And his neighbors want him dead.
Aren’t his neighbors nice?
Here’s USA Today (via AP):
A mysterious blogger who set off an uproar in the Arab world by claiming he was God and hurling insults at the Prophet Muhammad is now behind bars — caught in a sting that used Facebook to track him down. The case of the unlikely apostate, a shy barber from this backwater West Bank town, is highlighting the limits of tolerance in the Western-backed Palestinian Authority— and illustrating a new trend by authorities in the Arab world to mine social media for evidence. Residents of Qalqiliya say they had no idea that Walid Husayin — the 26-year-old son of a Muslim scholar — was leading a double life. Known as a quiet man who prayed with his family each Friday and spent his evenings working in his father’s barbershop, Husayin was secretly [displaying] his anti-religious opinions on the Internet during his free time. The media in the Palestinian Authority, as in the Arab world in general, are largely government-controlled, driving dissenting voices to the relative freedom of the Internet. The blogger’s arrest showed a willingness on the part of the Palestinian government to clamp down on freedom of speech on the Web as well. He now faces a potential life prison sentence on heresy charges for “insulting the divine essence.” Many in this conservative Muslim town say that isn’t enough, and suggested he should be killed for renouncing Islam. Even family members say he should remain behind bars for life. “He should be burned to death,” said Abdul-Latif Dahoud, a 35-year-old Qalqiliya resident. The execution should take place in public “to be an example to others,” he added.
Did you catch that? This young barber is a resident of Qalqiliya (pop. 41,000), and Qalqiliya is described as a “conservative Muslim town.” But for the phrase “conservative Muslim town” to have meaning, there must, presumably, be moderate and liberal Muslim towns as well.
Where are those, exactly?
Where are those Muslim towns—or even cities, large or small— where one can openly express irreligious opinions, on Facebook or otherwise?
And notice that the above incident did not spark an uproar in conservative “red state” Islamic towns. No. In the AP reporter’s words, it “set off an uproar in the Arab world”. Not debate. An uproar.
Here’s some more from the AP report:
Over several years, Husayin is suspected of posting arguments in favor of atheism on English and Arabic blogs, where he described the God of Islam as having the attributes of a “primitive Bedouin.” He called Islam a “blind faith that grows and takes over people’s minds where there is irrationality and ignorance.” If that wasn’t enough, he is also suspected of creating three Facebook groups in which he sarcastically declared himself God and ordered his followers, among other things, to smoke marijuana in verses that spoof the Muslim holy book, the Quran. At its peak, Husayin’s Arabic-language blog had more than 70,000 visitors, overwhelmingly from Arab countries. His Facebook groups elicited hundreds of angry comments, detailed death threats and the formation of more than a dozen Facebook groups against him, including once [sic] called “Fight the blasphemer who said ‘I am God.'”
I wonder if there were any Facebook pages generated by any Muslim anywhere in the world defending Walid Husayin’s right to free speech (even as that person might have disagreed with Walid’s views on religion). In other words, who said, “I do not support his views, but I defend his right to voice them”?
Certainly it was no one in his family. Here are some of Walid Husayin’s cousins offering their armchair generated psychological theory for Walid’s obvious acts of courageous human conscience, reducing them to depression. Notice the patronizing tone:
Two cousins attributed the writings to depression, saying Husayin was desperate to find better work. Requesting anonymity because of the shame the incident, they said Husayin’s mother wants him to remain in prison for life — both to restore the family’s honor and to protect him from vigilantes.
Of course, Walid Husayin couldn’t possibly be someone devoted to honesty, directness, and the truth (as he sees it). He must be depressed about his work. He must have some concrete (as opposed to conscience-driven) motivation.
And where was Walid Husayin seized?
From an Internet cafe.
Here’s how the AP report concludes:
In neighboring Syria, Facebook is blocked altogether. And in Egypt, a blogger was charged with atheism in 2007 after intelligence officials monitored his posts. Husayin has not been charged but remains in detention, said Palestinian security spokesman Adnan Damiri. He could face a life sentence if he’s found guilty, depending on how harshly the judge thinks he attacked Islam and how widely his views were broadcast, said Islamic scholar Tamimi.
Hmm. So let’s see what the law is based on according to “Islamic scholar Tamimi”. Here’s the criteria for conviction on blasphemy charges: (1) how harsh was the rhetoric toward Islam; and (2) how many people were exposed to the statements?
Notice that there is nothing, according to this Islamic scholar, upon which the judge might balance such concerns. Nothing. Human rights to conscience and free speech are not even on the table. This, apparently, is Sharia.
I’ve read that memory plays an important role in Islam. This incident, and how Sharia is then set into application, is certainly something to remember.
This video is for Walid: