Kurdish author convicted of blasphemy

While British legislators discuss scrapping blasphemy legislation once and for all, the Kurdish author of Sex, Sharia and Women in the History of Islam has been convicted in absentia (via) in Iraq for blasphemy.

A court in Halabja sentenced Mariwan Halabjaee - who is currently living in Norway after having received death threats over the book - to six months behind bars for claiming in his book the prophet Mohammed had 19 wives, married a 9-year-old when he was 54 and committed murder and rape. The sentence states that he will be immediately arrested if he returns to Iraqi Kurdistan.

Author on the Run: Update

Following on from my earlier post about Kurdish writer, Mariwan Halabjayi who became a fugitive following the publication of his book Sex and Islam, I am indebted to Charles Chapman for letting me know that Mariwan Halabjayis book Sex, Sharia and Women in the History of Islam has been published on the web. You can download the book in a variety of formats here.

According to Mr Chapman, Mariwan Halabjayi has applied for political asylum in Norway, has been interviewed, and is currently waiting for a decision. We wish him well.

Author on the Run

The New York Times (via) reports that Mariwan Halabjayi who, until a few months ago, was an obscure Kurdish writer is now a famous fugitive who moves from house to house, not daring to go near the windows for fear that assassins will catch sight of him.

He says he has been receiving death threats by phone since January, when his new book on sex and Islam touched off angry street demonstrations in several Kurdish cities in Iraq. He says his ordeal is proof that even here in Kurdistan, the most secular and peaceful part of Iraq, there is no escape from militant Islam.

After the protests started, the book was discussed on editorial pages and television and radio talk shows, with some clerics angrily calling for the author to be punished. The regional governments minister for endowments and religion, Muhammad Gaznay, publicly denounced it. Halabjayi says the Kurdistan Islamic Group, one of the regions main Islamist parties, threatened him with death for insulting Islam.

It is his 14th book, and the latest of several that criticize Islam, he said. But the earlier critiques of Islam were published under pseudonyms. This time he used his own name on the cover, and in passages about sex he used vulgar language, including slang terms for the male and female genitalia.

The book, Halabjayi said, argues that women have no rights in Islam and condemns polygamy and other practices allowed under many interpretations of the Koran. It also portrays the religion generally as a formula for terrorism and extremism. Halabjayi said he had been raised as a Muslim but no longer considered himself one.

His new book was published in November. It went through two editions of 1,000 copies each with only minor protests from religious figures. In January there were street demonstrations in Iraqi Kurdistan against the Danish cartoons, and the protesters denounced Halabjayis book too. Halabjayi grants that the criticism helped sell the book, which quickly went through two more editions.

It was then that the threats began, he said, mostly anonymous phone calls. At the same time, a group of Muslim clerics presented a petition to a court in Sulaimaniya asking that Iraqs blasphemy laws be invoked against the author. A judge opened an investigation and ordered Halabjayi to appear at a hearing.

So far Halabjayi has refused to do so. He says he does not trust the Iraqi legal system to judge him fairly.

Violence and moderation follows the cartoon jihad

According to The Brussels Journal, Mullah Krekar, the alleged leader of Ansar al-Islam who has been living as a refugee in Norway since 1991 has said that the publication of the Jyllands Posten Muhammend cartoons amounts to a declaration of war.

“The war has begun,” he told Norwegian journalists. Mr Krekar said Muslims in Norway are preparing to fight. “It does not matter if the governments of Norway and Denmark apologize, the war is on.”

The Brussels Journal also notes that Islamist organisations worldwide have started issuing threats against Europeans. Hizbollah has announced that is preparing suicide attacks in Denmark and Norway and that a senior imam in Kuwait, Nazem al-Masbah, has said that those who have published cartoons of Muhammad should be murdered. Al-Masbah also threatened all citzens of all countries where the cartoons have been published (see here, here and here and see the full set of cartoons here).

Spiegel quotes Mahmoud Zahar, one of the leaders of Hamas who told the Italian newspaper Il Giornale that the cartoons were an unforgivable insult that should be punished with death. We should have killed all those who offend the Prophet and instead here we are, protesting peacefully, he said.

In Gaza on Saturday, hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets in protests and stormed a number of European buildings including the German culture center and the European Commission building in Gaza City.

And in the UK, MediaWatchWatch reports that the recently formed Al Ghurabaa group has called for those who “insult Muhammad” to be killed.

Pakistans foreign ministry has called in the envoys of nine Western countries - France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Hungary, Norway and the Czech Republic - to protest at the publication of the cartoons in those countries.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ordered his commerce minister to examine the feasibility of cancelling all trade contracts with countries whose media had published the cartoons. He claimed that the pictures show the impudence and rudeness of western newspapers.

The Vatican has also decided to get involved, calling the cartoons an unacceptable provocation, and insisting that freedom of thought and expression cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers.

EU Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, has criticised the papers that have published the cartoons , accusing them of throwing petrol onto the flames of the original issue and the original offence that was taken. Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, has claimed that the decision to republish the cartoons could encourage terrorists - and he probably also thinks that women who wear short skirts encourage rapists. And UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan is said to be worried about the issue - his pokesman said that Mr Annan believes freedom of expression should always be used with respect for religion - which, quite frankly, is a meaningless disclaimer.

In France, however, interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy is taking a more robust approach, reminding us that: “Freedom of expression is not an issue for negotiation and I see no reason to give one religion a special treatment.”

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has expressed understanding for the offence taken by Muslims. However, she also pointed out that Freedom of the press is one of the great assets as a component of democracy, but we also have the value and asset of freedom of religion.

And the Danish People’s Party wants to seriously consider the possibility of expelling imams who do not have Danish citizenship and who have harmed Danish interests in the Middle East by feeding the Arab media with false information. The initiative is backed by Prime Minister Rasmussens Liberal Party (Venstre).

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Misery loves company

The Independent reports that in the West Bank city of Nablus, a German citizen was seized - and later released - by armed militants who have been roaming hotels looking for someone to have a go at over the Jyllands-Posten Muhammed cartoons controversy.

Yesterdays incidents prompted the EU to review the security of its representatives in the occupied Palestinian territories, where armed militants warned the staff at its Technical Assistance Office in Gaza City that they were demanding that all French citizens leave Gaza.

The papaer also reports that a gunman in a Fatah-linked armed unit has threatened any citizen of these countries [that printed the cartoon] who are present in Gaza, although Mahmoud Zahar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, has unequivocally condemned the threats against foreign nationals.

We are not accepting any aggression against foreign institutions whether EU or American, or against any other group, foreign or Palestinian, Dr Zahar said. He said some Palestinians had already boycotted Danish goods and Hamas wanted them to continue protesting by legal means.

Ahmed Qureia, the outgoing Palestinian Prime Minister and a leading figure in Fatah, and Khadr Habib, an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza, have both claimed that their groups are not targeting Europeans, but are equivocating in the subject of violence.

The BBC also reports that Iraqi, Egyptian and Palestinian Islamic groups have all jumped on the bandwagon, calling for demonstrations as Muslims attend Friday prayers. And, in Indonesia, protesters broke into the lobby of the building housing the Danish embassy and pelted the coat-of-arms outside with eggs.

Not wanting to be left out, the Muslim Council of Britain has organised demonstrations outside the Danish embassy in London and the BBCs Television Centre, after the corporation aired glimpses of the images.

According to another BBC report, Denmark has made a new bid to calm the situation as yet more Muslims stage angrey protests.

Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen called in Muslim ambassadors to explain his position over the images publication.

He said he could never apologise for a newspapers actions but said he was distressed at offence caused.

Rasmussen met the ambassadors in Copenhagen on Friday but stuck to his position that neither the Danish government nor the Danish nation as such can be held responsible for drawings published in a Danish newspaper.

A Danish government can never apologise on behalf of a free and independent newspaper. This is basically a dispute between some Muslims and a newspaper.

He also said that the issue of the cartoons has gone beyond Denmark to become a clash between Western free speech and Islamic taboos.

In other developments:

  • Iraqs top Shia Muslim cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani condemned the publication, but said militant Islamists were partly to blame for distorting the image of Islam
  • Palestinians protested in Ramallah on the West Bank, shouting: The assault on the Prophet is an assault on Islam
  • Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for Muslims to be forgiving, saying the cartoons should not cause a dispute between cultures

  • The Pakistani upper house of parliament passed a resolution condemning the cartoons
  • Vatican cardinal Achille Silvestrini condemned the cartoons, saying Western culture had to know its limits.

Gaza gunmen join the the artificial outrage while the EU starts standing up for its citizens

The BBC reports that maksed gunmen in Gaza stormed the local office of the EU, demanding an apology from Denmark and Norway over the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy.

One of the gunmen said citizens of both countries should not enter Gaza until the apology is made.

The Danish government has expressed regret over the furore over the cartoons, but refused to get involved, citing freedom of expression and ponting out that the government can in no way influence the media.

The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said they carried out the raid.

In related news, AFP (via MediaWatchWatch) reports that

With fiery sermons and raucous demonstrations, Iraqis called for an investigation into Danish and Norwegian publications carrying cartoons deemed offensive to the Prophet Mohammed.

Ranting from the pulpit of his mosque in the Shiite Kadhimiya neighborhood of Baghdad, Sheikh Hazem al-Aaraji - a follower of Moqtada al-Sadr - claimed:

They want to disfigure Islam and this we cannot accept. These cartoons directly attack the personality of the messenger of God. We say to them: they cannot attack Mohammed, nor any of the prophets.

Another preacher - Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi - in the Sadr City district of Baghdad, on friday, called for the editors of the magazines to be put on trial.

Meanwhile, the Brussels Journal, has gotten hold of the email written by Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, to the Norwegian embassies in response to the publication of the cartoons on Norway.

I am sorry that the publication of a few cartoons in the Norwegian paper Magazinet has caused unrest among Muslims. I fully understand that these drawings are seen to give offence by Muslims worldwide. Islam is a spiritual reference point for a large part of the world. Your faith has the right to be respected by us.

The cartoons in the Christian paper Magazinet are not constructive in building the
bridges which are necessary between people with different religious and ethnic backgrounds. Instead they contribute to suspicion and unnecessary conflict.

Let it be clear that the Norwegian government condemns every expression or act which expresses contempt for people on the basis of their religion or ethnic origin. Norway has always supported the fight of the UN against religious intolerance and racism, and believes that this fight is important in order to avoid suspicion and conflict. Tolerance, mutual respect and dialogue are the basis values of Norwegian society and of our foreign policy.

Freedom of expression is one of the pillars of Norwegian society. This includes tolerance for opinions that not everyone shares. At the same time our laws and our international obligations enforce restrictions for incitement to hatred or hateful expressions.

So much for defending a free society, then.

However, and more positively, the EU Observer reports that

Austrian foreign minister Ursula Plassnik said after the foreign ministers gathering in Brussels, that the EU strongly rejects these threats.

We have expressed a spirit of solidarity with our northern colleagues, as well as our belief and attachment to the freedom of press and the freedom of expression as part of our fundamental values, and the freedom of religious beliefs, she said, adding that she hoped that the matter would be solved through dialogue between the involved parties.

The Danish foreign minister Per Stig Moller said he is satisfied with the reaction from colleagues as expressed by Ms Plassnik.

His Estonian counterpart Urmas Paet, told Danish media, that the case had become a European case.

This is no longer a Danish case. It can hit us all, and may have far-going consequences for the relationship between Europe and the Muslim world. Therefore, we must seek to prevent it from escalating.

French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy announced that You can never put question marks around the freedom of speech in any European country, and therefore we have all declared our solidarity with the Danes.

And Peter Mandelson, the EU trade comissioner has warned governments who deliberately create a situation where EU goods are faced with unfair treatment that:

Any boycott of Danish goods would be seen as a boycott of European goods.

He also added that if any government was proven to have supported a boycott of EU goods, he would be forced to bring the case up before the WTO.

Way to go, Mandy!

We dont do documentaries in Iraq

The Guardian reports that American troops in Baghdad yesterday blasted their way into the home of an Iraqi journalist working for the Guardian and Channel 4, firing bullets into the bedroom where he was sleeping with his wife and children.

Ali Fadhil, who two months ago won the Foreign Press Association young journalist of the year award, was hooded and taken for questioning. He was released hours later.

Dr Fadhil is working with Guardian Films on an investigation for Channel 4s Dispatches programme into claims that tens of millions of dollars worth of Iraqi funds held by the Americans and British have been misused or misappropriated.

The troops told Dr Fadhil that they were looking for an Iraqi insurgent and seized video tapes he had shot for the programme. These have not yet been returned.

The director of the film, Callum Macrae, said yesterday: The timing and nature of this raid is extremely disturbing. It is only a few days since we first approached the US authorities and told them Ali was doing this investigation, and asked them then to grant him an interview about our findings.

We need a convincing assurance from the American authorities that this terrifying experience was not harassment and a crude attempt to discourage Alis investigation.

Dr Fadhil was asleep with his wife, their three-year-old daughter, Sarah, and seven-month-old son, Adam, when the troops forced their way in.

They fired into the bedroom where we were sleeping, then three soldiers came in. They rolled me on to the floor and tied my hands. When I tried to ask them what they were looking for they just told me to shut up, he said.

They shot my friend, and then they burned him

The Melon Farmers report on the plight of adult video an salesman in Iraq.

The adult video salesman is among many traders caught between two faces of the new Iraq, one liberated from the state censorship of Saddam Hussein, the other gripped by religious zeal, according to a Reuters story. I am scared but what else can I do? I tried lots of other jobs. I worked in a factory, but you just cant make any money in Iraq. Its the only way to support my son.

But like the tens of thousands signing up for the new, US-trained police and army, selling adult videos has become an especially high-risk profession in Iraq, where a religious Shiite-led government swept to power in January, raising fears in some quarters of an Islamic state modeled after Iran.

As Iraqi leaders drafting a constitution this month debate the role of Islam in the state, alarming liberals and womens groups, Abu Mustafa and others complain they live in fear.

He accused the Badr Brigades, the Iranian-trained militia associated with the leading Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, of targeting colleagues in the pornography business and threatening many others. They shot my friend Haider and then they burned him, said Abu Mustafa, who identified himself by a nickname for fear of being identified. They have issued me written death threats in notes telling me to stop selling sex movies.

Freedom of speech a security risk

Index on Censorship reports that the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is demanding an explanation from US and Iraqi military forces regarding the whereabouts of least eight journalists in Iraq who have been detained since March 2005.

A US military spokesman told CPJ that the journalists pose a security risk to the Iraqi people and coalition forces. No further details were given. All work for Western news organisations. None of the journalists have been formally charged.

So much for winning hearts and minds.