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Kuwaiti Man Gets 10 Years for Blasphemy

Here’s another reason to love the First Amendment and the bedrock principle that it is never okay for the government — any government — to punish people for the invented crime of blasphemy. A Kuwaiti man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for that “crime.”

A Kuwaiti man was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Monday after he was convicted of endangering state security by insulting the Prophet Mohammad and the Sunni Muslim rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on social media.

Shi’ite Muslim Hamad al-Naqi pleaded innocent at the start of the trial last month, saying he did not post the messages and that his Twitter account had been hacked.

The written verdict, delivered by Judge Hisham Abdullah, found Naqi guilty of all charges, a court secretary told Reuters. The sentence was the maximum that 26-year-old Naqi could have received, his lawyer Khaled al-Shatti said.

The judge found him guilty of insulting the Prophet, the Prophet’s wife and companions, mocking Islam, provoking sectarian tensions, insulting the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and misusing his mobile phone to spread the comments.

Barbarism and tyranny — the inevitable result of using the law to enforce religious orthodoxy.

Comments

  1. Draken says

    Remember, this is the lovely government we needed to protect from those horrible Iraqis in 1991.

  2. d cwilson says

    As long as they keep the oil spigot running, no one in this country is going to give a rat’s ass.

  3. storms says

    On the contrary, the Oil interest is the only reason this travesty rises to the level of our consciousness. If they didn’t have oil, we’d ignore it like we do injustice in most of the rest of the world.

    To Ed’s point though, the fight, here and now, is to keep our speech, press and internet free. “Hate speech” definitions cannot be allowed to creep to imply it’s wrong to criticize and mock religions or religious authorities. Actually I’d rather error on the side of allowing all speech than the slippery slope were on. It’s too easy to expand the definition of “hate speech” from speaking out/mocking ethnicities to including religious or government entities; especially with the Rethuglican revisionist’s trying to conflate our government with Christianity.

  4. Trebuchet says

    He’s lucky he wasn’t in Saudi Arabia, where he’d probably be missing his head by now. Sad.

  5. Michael Heath says

    Ed concludes:

    Barbarism and tyranny — the inevitable result of using the law to enforce religious orthodoxy.

    Well put.

  6. lorn says

    This situation is lamentable but it is also an internal affair of a sovereign nation. This sentence is likely, at least superficially, agreed with by the vast majority of the citizens of that country.

    It may not be, in the end, all that it appears. As governments go Kuwait has a long history of symbolic rigidity and functional flexibility. Most of it lubricated by money and familial connections. A ten year sentence might become a few months if words and cash were made available to smooth over any hurt feelings. The fact that he was charged, brought to judgment and sentences imply not so much a heinous crime but a lack of connections. Generally people get away with a lot if they keep it discreet and offer ‘gifts showing respect’ to the proper people. That it has gone this far suggests that, as is typical, there is some other agenda.

    The Kuwaitis are also very open minded as to who can play the game as long as they observe the rules. US diplomats are free to play as long as everything is kept under the table. In Kuwait the law is not a rigid thing. Laws are openly flouted but remain on the books where they are seen as useful for proclaiming ideals and, occasionally, used for political ends or to settle scores between tribes or families. Selective enforcement is the rule, not the exception. It is a different system. A vibrant tribal and familial structure and interactive system thinly overlaid with a veil of constitution and law. A tradition of negotiation and deal making with everything lubricated by vast amounts of money makes it work pretty well, mostly. Kuwait has avoided the worse of civil unrest and the ‘Arab Spring’ by lavishing favors and cash upon any squeaky wheels. Objections precipitate out, solidify, crystallize, and dissolve under waves of favors and cash. Money is their panacea.

    As long as the money is free and easy the Kuwaitis will not change and their constitution will not change. Nothing as nebulous and experimental as a constitutional right to free speech will be entertained as long as the much older, and still quite sturdy, methods work to keep their tribal society together.

  7. harold says

    This situation is lamentable but it is also an internal affair of a sovereign nation. This sentence is likely, at least superficially, agreed with by the vast majority of the citizens of that country.

    I strongly agree with this. Of course there is nothing in Ed’s column suggesting that we should bomb, drone, or violently occupy the Kuwaitis until they “love Democracy”, but it is worth noting that this would not be a useful exercise.

    Now I must note that the situation in the US is not as much better than the situation in Kuwait, as we might wish.

    1) First of all, let me note that, far from officially disapproving of Kuwait’s laws, the US shows substantial diplomatic favoritism to Kuwait. In fact, we even fought a major war, solely in defense of Kuwait, when secular Iraq under Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

    2) It’s probable that if someone “insulted Christianity” in a similar way to what this guy did to Islam, in the US, and it became publicly known, although they would not be guilty of a crime in the US, they would receive thousands upon thousands of death threats, including extensive references to torture and rape (the latter especially, but not exclusively, if the person were a woman). In fact, in defense of Kuwait, it’s probable that the teachings of Mohammed actually do call for earthly punishment of blasphemers (although I could be wrong). Americans claim to worship a prophet who taught responding to criticism with kindness, yet they constantly make sadistic threats (and not infrequently carry them out) in the name of Jesus.

    3) As is documented regularly on this blog, the line between church and state is under constant siege in the US. Efforts to insert enforced religious observation into the military, public schools, and other public institutions are constant and often successful, and those who resist them, although so far often successful, are subjected to threats of violence.

    A high proportion of the US public would express the sentiments that such criticism of Christianity should be illegal

  8. grumpyoldfart says

    Don’t worry. The United Nations looks after stuff like this – check out their success rate over the years.

  9. uncephalized says

    The only types of speech that should be legally restricted are direct threats of violence, conspiracy/incitement to violence, and slander/libel. Period. Anything else has to be fair game or else we’re just jumping down the slippery slope to tyranny-land.

    And in the case of slander, the truth should always of course be a complete legal defense. It’s not slander if it’s true.

  10. harold says

    And here is a reason to cringe at the First Amendment.

    Actually, if there were no First Amendment, there would probably still be plenty of religious speech like this. There certainly was before the First Amendment.

    However, with the First Amendment, you have the right to criticize this speech.

  11. says

    The existence of the codified protection of the principle of freedom of speech in the form of the First Amendment is not without its downside. Not least when it is used to defend (legally and rhetorically) the unlimited spending of money in support of election campaigns.

    Free speech isn’t much use when you’re being outspent into oblivion by your opponents.

    Other nations have no trouble capping campaign spending at levels that are a tiny fraction of what’s spent in America, while preserving their citizens’ right to freedom of speech.

  12. Pinky says

    For over thirty years America’s citizens and policy makers have watched this disaster unfold and not do a damn thing about it. We knew the situation we were in and the future was easy to predict. A good chunk of the energy we operate our economy with is owned by unstable theocrats.

    Unstable theocrats who went from nomadic herders to billionaires able to influence world events in one generation.

    We also knew the world is close to running out of fossil fuels, at least the oil that’s easy to get at, that doesn’t need to be fracked to get it out of the ground spreading poisons through our ground water. Yet we did nothing except keep our eye on the short term only thinking of the oil situation when the price of gas caused us to briefly curtail our SUV lifestyle.

    Why did Americas sit on their hands and make no effort to develop alternate forms of energy? Wait, I know, because the powerful, rich people who ran the oil companies in the US not only bought the politicians, some of them were the politicians.

    So in the not too distant future, when you stand on a street corner in Canada with a guest worker pass and hope someone picks you to work, at least for one day so your children will not starve that day, thank the oil robber barons cruising the Caribbean on their yachts using their gold toilets.

  13. laurentweppe says

    The only types of speech that should be legally restricted are direct threats of violence, conspiracy/incitement to violence, and slander/libel. Period.

    Problem is: it’s easy to disguise these things as “criticism”.
    See how the now called “anti-jihadists” islamophobes have spent the last decades:
    First claiming that Islam “ideological nature” (pretense of criticism) was such that every Muslim was either openly or secretly a fundie (libel)
    Then that being all fundies they were trying to take control of Europe by outbreeding its white christians/jews/atheists population (conspiracy theory)
    Therefore that people should try to go into the “resistance” aka take arms against the Muslim minority (call to violence), often promising the non-Muslims not sharing their bloodlust that if they tried to oppose “the resistance” they would be treated like “collabos”: aka kill them as well (threats of violence).
    *
    It’s actually easy to go from a pretense of “crticism” to calls for murder: you just have to claim that one given religion/culture/whatever is an ideological monolith turning every of its member into wicked ennemies of the rest of mankind. Once this postulate is accepted, killing members of said religion/culture/whatever is easily presented as legitimate self-defense, and you end up with things like Breivik or westerners taking part in the slaughter of Bosnians during Yugoslavia meltdown.
    ***
    Of course, this as little to do with the case in Koweit, but we should remember that it’s easy to disguise indefensible intent behind rhetorical fluff and shallow proclamations of adhesion to high-minded principles.

  14. uncephalized says

    @laurentweppe that’s as may be, but you can still draw lines. Talking about a group in a hateful way? You might be an asshole, but it’s not illegal. Saying this group deserves to die or go to hell? You’re definitely an asshole now, but you’re still on the legal side (in Uncephalia, my imaginary country). Saying you want your followers to go kill them? Now you’ve gone from being an asshole to using violent coercion, and that makes you a criminal.

    Yeah, there are going to be gray cases where the words could be interpreted multiple ways in different contexts, but I tend to fall on the side of allowing the speech where incitement isn’t clear. Fortunately loony people tend to be pretty unguarded in their speech.

  15. d cwilson says

    On the contrary, the Oil interest is the only reason this travesty rises to the level of our consciousness.

    Yeah, we know about it. Hooray!

    Now tell me what our State Department is going to do about it.

    Yep, that’s right. Diddly Squat.

  16. sosw says

    A Kuwaiti man was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Monday after he was convicted of endangering state security by insulting the Prophet Mohammad and the Sunni Muslim rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on social media.

    Whether he was actually convicted on blasphemy laws specifically or on national security grounds, quoting that and then touting the First Amendment seems a little bit naïve to me…

    That said, to my knowledge Kuwait doesn’t have much in the form of freedom of speech, so it would probably be no defense there.

  17. laurentweppe says

    Saying this group deserves to die or go to hell? You’re definitely an asshole now, but you’re still on the legal side (in Uncephalia, my imaginary country).

    Turns out that in the not-so-imaginary French Republic I hail from, you’re not on the legal side anymore: the line is pretty much explicitely drawn at deserve to die.

    I tend to fall on the side of allowing the speech where incitement isn’t clear. Fortunately loony people tend to be pretty unguarded in their speech.

    So do I. The thing is, I prefer legal systems where the “I’m did not say that I wanted someone to kill every Arab/Jew/Ginger/Xboxlive-user, I just said that if someone decided to go on and murder a bunch of’em they’d have asked for it” line of defense does not fly far in courts. There’s no reason to treat blatant mass murder apologetic as “grey cases”

    ***

    Whether he was actually convicted on blasphemy laws specifically or on national security grounds

    At this point, this is kinda an open secret that blasphemy laws are very often used to shield the ruling class rather than protect the good name of religion founders.

  18. jnorris says

    If the Prophet Mohammad is the only thing keeping the Kuwaiti nation/government a float/intact then Allah help them.

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