|Sharia should be law of land||Muslims who believe sharia should be law who accept death penalty for apostasy||% of Muslims who accept death penalty for apostasy|
The above data is from Pew. Questions were asked only of Muslims. In some nations, such as Turkey, “Muslims” include basically the whole population, at least nominally. In others, such as Malaysia it is somewhat over half the population. The first response column is the proportion of Muslims who wish to enact sharia as the law of the land in a given nation. The second set of responses are those Muslims who agree with the first question, and also agree with the traditional death penalty for apostates in Islam. Multiplying the two out, and you get the total proportion of Muslims in a given country who assent to the traditional death penalty for apostates in Islam. This is probably a floor, in that a minority of those Muslims who don’t want sharia enacted may agree with the death penalty for leaving Islam for a variety of reasons (Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was neither personally religious or observant, nevertheless defended the killer of a “blasphemer” during the British period on the grounds of communal honor).
What you see above are a range of attitudes, and interesting conflicts with public practice. In Indonesia it is not illegal to convert from Islam to another religion, and this is done. But about ten percent of the population still accepts the death penalty for apostasy, at least nominally. In Malaysia it is very difficult for an ethnic Malay to convert to another religion, as the connection between that identity and Islam is quite close, though there is often more latitude for non-Malays. About half of Muslims accept the death penalty for leaving Islam. The difference between Indonesia and Malaysia probably is a reflection of divergent social norms which arose in different historical contexts (in Indonesia, the conflicts were as much between Muslim groups of various sects and ethnicities, while in Malaysia the cleavage was more between the non-Muslim Chinese and the Muslim Malay). Just because a given percentage agree with the death penalty for apostasy does not entail that they’d automatically kill an apostate personally, but it probably indicates a level of tolerance and acceptance of intimidation and violence directed toward the act of apostasy.
There is a culture-war within Bangladesh, and it is conditioned on an understanding of the nation’s identity in religious terms. This is clear when you notice the official name of the nation: the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, a nod to the dominant party’s affinity with 20th century socialism. But, in 1988 Islam was also added as the “state religion,” a move that was rumored at the time to be motivated by potential aid largesse from Middle Eastern petrostates. In contrast, Pakistan is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
This is the context of the literal war within Bangladesh between those aligned with Islamism of various sorts and their critics, who range from non-Islamist Muslims to intellectuals from a Hindu background and outright atheists. Over the weekend there was another attack, prompting protests. Here are some relevant aspects:
Hundreds of people, including writers, publishers and bookshop owners, took to the streets of the capital, Dhaka, on Monday to protest against what they said was government inaction over a string of attacks, including the murder on Saturday of a publisher of secular books.
Rallies were also held in other cities and towns to demand more protection for publishers, bloggers and writers, some of whom have fled the country or gone into hiding.
“The people who have so far fallen victim to the attacks are thinking people, those who believe in freedom of expression, and those who believe in secular values. A series of killings have taken place but now the focus is on publishers … I feel absolutely traumatised,” said Mohiuddin Ahmed, a publisher in Dhaka.
Fears of Islamic extremist violence have been rising in mainly moderate Muslim-majority Bangladesh after four atheist bloggers were murdered by machete-wielding attackers this year.
Two foreigners – an Italian aid worker and a Japanese farmer – have also been killed, while Dhaka’s main shrine for the small local Shia Muslim minority was bombed last month, killing two people and wounding dozens.
While it was believed to be the first attack on Shia Muslims in Bangladesh, in the past two years banned Islamic militant groups have killed more than a dozen Sufi Muslims and attacked Hindus and Christians.
The killing of foreigners has worried the country’s expatriate community and threatened its fragile economy, which is heavily reliant on foreign aid and a $25bn (£16bn) garment industry making clothing for international brands.
Points I want to note:
* Dhaka is a city of ~15 million, but “hundreds” of people show up at a protest. Lots of people are sitting this out, because they are scared. But, the terror is not such that some people won’t bravely stand up for freedom of expression, even for a group which is uniformly reviled within Muslim societies as traitors.
* Rallies outside of Dhaka suggest that the cultural division here is national, and not a function of metropolitan cosmopolitanism (it plays out a bit in my family, which divided down the middle between more religious and less religious).
* The attacks on intellectuals have a dark resonance for many Bangladeshis. During the war against Pakistan many creative intellectuals were killed in a targeted manner by the army because of their utility to the independence movement. And, it is known that some of the Islamist groups have roots which go back to pro-Pakistan elements during the 1971 war.
* The attacks on Shias indicates that these activists are adopting the norms of international Sunni Islamists, who target Shia. The attacks on foreigners also suggests that they want to move the needle on the climate in Bangladesh in terms of openness, trade, and general tolerance.
* Over the years Bangladesh, despite its corruption and political paralysis, has kept its head down in terms of international entanglements and domestic Islamic violence. This has allowed for the development of a non-aid based economy, and a flourishing NGO sector. The sort of institutional stability needed for this sort of development to proceed could easily be suborned by sectarian violence.
It strikes me that we’re at a precipice. The last time I went to Bangladesh was in 2004. If these killings continue, then I may not go back for decades. The government has a problem, in that it’s not very effective, and, there is probably some popular sympathy for this sort of violence, which the rival center-right Bangladesh National Party will want to tap into.
There are many people whose feelings on this issue are rather confused and inchoate. Here’s something from reddit (in response to someone posting one of my posts):
I feel like its one of those new ‘modern’ trends to declare oneself atheist in Bangladesh. Atheist muslims have always existed and will always continue to exist, its nothing new. As long as you arent shoving your views down other people’s throats or hating on other people’s beliefs (or lack of beliefs), there’s nothing wrong with it at all. Even in Islam, the only time capital punishment is applied to an atheist is when the atheist is going around giving hate speeches against the religion. Religious hate speech is punishable by law under Islam. But as far as your belief goes, how would anyone even know what’s in your heart?? Belief is a very personal thing, and no one can be certain of what’s in someone’s heart but the person and God himself.
I am very religious and very spiritual, but I was born and raised in Canada so I have friends of various faiths. We all share our beliefs and try to see things from each others’ points of views, but we never disrespect each other or put down each others’ beliefs even if something doesn’t make sense to us. The problem with these “modern” attention-seeking atheists is that they try to declare their views (atheism) by insulting the views of others (theism). Just because you have a difficult time comprehending the possibility of a universe outside our material universe, it doesn’t mean that other people can’t grasp this concept. Personally, I really dislike closed-minded, one-sided, ignorant people. Whether that’s an atheist or a theist is irrelevant. The ‘modern’ atheists in BD are all just closed-minded, arrogant, one-sided, ignorant attention-seekers. There’s nothing ‘educated’ or ‘enlightened’ about them at all.
To which one commenter responded: “Sure, but should they be chopped up with machetes in public?”
I can agree that many atheists are obnoxious, including myself on occasion. I find many religious people obnoxious too, but they should be free to practice and preach. Growing up in a Muslim milieu I can tell you that many Muslims were offensive and obnoxious when it came to generalizations about other religions, in particular Hindus. That’s their liberty in the United States of America, we don’t live in India where “hurt feelings” rule the day with an iron grip.
To me it is interesting that many liberals I see on the internet with whom I am on good terms otherwise with seem more focused on policing “Islamophobia” than in the genuine illiberalism which is so common among today’s 1.5 billion Muslims. So in response to the killings I put up a tweet which was self-consciously inflammatory:
Publisher of Secular Books Killed, 3 Wounded in Bangladesh https://t.co/TcJhUyKCrs islam is a fucking cancer
— Razib Khan (@razibkhan) November 1, 2015
But, this is the United States, and you can say harsh things about religion. In particular, this religion has been sanctioning death to those who criticize it for a while now, so I take my American liberty to criticize when I can. Nevertheless, some were more curious about the jibe against Islam than the fact that people in Bangladesh are getting killed for criticizing Islam.
The data are what they are. I’ve pasted some of this at the top of the post to show how deep the animus goes against dissenters in Islam. And by Islam, I mean Muslims. Yes, Kosovo is tolerant. But there are fewer than 2 million people who live there. In contrast, Pakistan has nearly 180 million Muslims!
Several years ago the financial journalist Heidi Moore decided to “whitesplain” Islam to me. Her contention was that Richard Dawkins was racist and should not generalize about Islam. Similar barbs have been thrown at Sam Harris. As a point of fact I believe many of the things that Dawkins and Harris have said are not grounded in an empirical basis, nor are their analytic frameworks to my liking. But, I also think it is ludicrous to assume that their attitude toward Islam is rooted in racism, as opposed to a generalized distaste for monotheism, as well as a concern for the intolerance against atheists which is so common within the world of Islam and among Muslims.
The reality is that many liberals who are deeply worried about Islamophobia know as much about Islam as Ben Carson does. That’s a fact. I say this as someone who knows a fair amount about the religion, despite my obvious distaste for it. The arguments that American liberals and conservatives have about Islam are not about Islam, but about each other’s self-perceptions, and their cartoon of what Islam is.
That’s “problematic”, as they would say. There are 1.5 billion Muslims, and many of them are on the move. They’re going to be in your neighborhoods, assuming you aren’t part of the socioeconomic elite, which will no doubt insulate itself from the diversity that it welcomes rhetorically. We had better actually deal with reality of the world out there, rather than our own imaginings.