The 14th of February 2016, better known as Valentine’s day, marked the 27th anniversary of Salman Rushdie’s Fatwa. A Fatwa, for those of you who don’t know, is an Islamic legal pronouncement. In this particular case Rushdie was sentenced to death. Why? He was guilty of blasphemy, according to the former supreme leader of Iran. His best-selling novel “The Satanic Verses” had upset quite a few people, to put it lightly, and was, according to some fundamentalists, enough to warrant Rushdie’s death. But have we-and by “we” I mean humanity in general-learned from this dark passage in modern history?
You do not hear too much about authors being sentenced to death by world leaders nowadays, but works of art are being condemned still because they are seen as “blasphemous”. On the 7th of January 2015, a small group of magazine workers arrived at their office, as they had done daily for years, but they did not leave their work place alive. I am of course talking about the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the murder of twelve cartoonists and other employees on the account of being “offensive” towards the beliefs of the Islamic extremist group labelled “Al-Qaeda”, formerly lead by word renowned terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.
Sadly the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack were not the only ones to meet their end because of a few drawings they had produced. In 2015 a newspaper based in Denmark named “Jyllands-Posten”, published a cartoon in which the Islamic prophet Muhammad starred. Denmark stood firm to their beliefs of free speech and free press, bluntly refusing to meet with many diplomatic representatives of various Islamic countries. This sent shock waves around the world, resulting in the burning of Danish Embassies in various countries. Two hundred people died as a result of the protests to have these controversial cartoons damned and removed from public view. The Danish Prime Minister at the time, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, went as far as describing these series of events as “Denmark’s worst international relations incident since the Second World War.
Over the past ten years in America another heated argument has reappeared, some have even described it as the second coming of the Scopes Trial. Often referred to as the “Monkey Trial”, the Scopes Trial was a legal case between The State of Tennessee and John Scopes. This infamous trial was where John Scopes, a substitute high school teacher, was found guilty of teaching The Theory of Evolution to his students, and was therefore fined $100 ($1300 in todays rates). Though this mind-boggling trial happened back in 1925, the debate continues and seems to be becoming more and more alive. There have even been small protests outside churches, schools and government buildings to have the teaching of Evolution made illegal. In fact, in Tennessee and Louisiana laws still stand where schools may opt out of teaching Evolution, if they wish. This may not be as extreme as the two examples above, but still this is a prime example of condemning ideas-or in this example facts-because people find them incompatible with their religion.
Even some “new-age Atheists” are balancing on a fine line when it comes to condemning beliefs. Recently the famous writer and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins caused upset (and cheer from the selected few) on his twitter page. It was a slur against the BBC, who have just appointed creationist Dan Walker to host their show “BBC Breakfast”. Dawkins tweeted that the BBC should only be hiring hosts who “accept reality”. Ironically Dawkins is well-known for pointing out discrimination which has been encouraged by religion over the centuries. So, it seems, that Dawkins has fallen into quite a sticky-and hypocritical-trap.
It is not all doom and gloom however, which may disappoint the pessimists among us. Everyday in multi-cultural countries like America and Britain, people prove daily that we can see past the religious differences, and live the lives we wish to live. But, more importantly, people prove daily that they aren’t extremist psychopaths, which is always good to hear.