Some Thoughts on Blasphemy and Anti-Blasphemy Violence – for Foreign Exchanges

At Derek Davison’s Foreign Exchanges, I wrote last week about “the politics of blasphemy” (that’s also the title of the piece. I found the topic extremely hard to write about with the delicacy it merits, given that I neither want to excuse violence against innocents nor do I want to play into Islamophobia. The piece takes recent violence in Nigeria as a point of departure but also touches on incidents from Mauritania, Sudan, and elsewhere.

2 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Blasphemy and Anti-Blasphemy Violence – for Foreign Exchanges

  1. Thank you very much Sir. The piece is well-balanced, objective and insightful. There is never an unprejudiced approach to address the blasphemy issue than to condemn the vigilante action against the blasphemer but also to point out the impropriety of making blasphemous utterances against any religion but particularly among Muslim-majority environments like northern Nigeria. Two binaries can be discerened from the Deborah blasphemy saga, each of which has, interestingly, played part in fuelling and hiking mutual mistrusts but ironically also calming tensions and thwarting a large scale religious violence. The condemnation of the action of Deborah by some few Christians which enjoyed wide circulation in social media platforms have assured Muslims that insulting their sacred symbols has not yet been mainstreamed in the milieu of Christians, at least among ordinary Christians who are conversant with northern Nigeria’s religious tempo. This courageous move by Christians has helped save northern Nigeria from plunging into another round of a larger religious crises. To Muslims in northern Nigeria, justifiying Deborah’s action publicly or denying that she had actually blasphemed as flagrantly alleged in a letter said to have been written and submitted to the U.S Senate by some American senators is almost another mild form of blasphemy that can trigger a reaction closer to the violence inflicted upon Deborah. That is why some passive war has greeted Deborah’s murder in social media between the Muslim North and the Christian South, particularly when Christian leaders went on read to Deborah’s killing from religious lense and portray it as one of the acts of persecutions of Christian minority by the Muslim majority. This was heightened when on the other hand, another woman was said to have blasphemed in Maiduguri within similar cluster of time, and as the matter had started attracting public attention, the woman was arrested by the security. On the other hand, the killing of a northern Muslim woman Harira alongside her four kids in Anambra was interpreted as a retaliation but much of comments northerners made show that they expected the world to also condemn the more heinous crime with the same if not greater intensity as they did in Deborah’s case. The world is almost dead silent over the murder of this innocent woman and her little children. The lack of implementing anti-blasphemy laws is not an adequate justifification for vigilante action as you rightly pointed out, but it is a complex issue to navigate since some precedents in Islamic tradition tend to accomodate it even obviously in exceptional cases. The best way to manage blasphemy case is not to side with or defend the blasphemer even as mobs who carry out jungle justice are condemned. If Christian leadership in Northern Nigeria represented by the like of Mathew Kuka has not closed their eyes and ignored the gravity and sensitivity of Deborah’s action, but also refrained from making statements on Islam that would be interpreted with skepticism, it would have been easier for Muslims to reject the allegation that blasphemy against Islam is being encouraged or even taught in Churches by clergies. It is also in line if it is understood that penalties of blasphemy in Islam are not meant to target non-Muslims only particularly Christians, but rather it is imperative to make it clear that penalties and violent reactions against blasphemy are directed against Muslims as well. This explains why a few weeks after Deborah’ saga, another mob action was carried out against a Muslim blasphemer in Abuja, whose exact blasphemy has not ironically, been made public or substantiated with voice evidence as in the case of Deborah.

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