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Blasphemy and the Law of Fanatics

Flowers and pens and placards lie after being placed to show solidarity with those killed in an attack at the Paris offices of weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in Trafalgar Square, London, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015. Masked gunmen stormed the Paris offices of a weekly newspaper that caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, methodically killing 12 people Wednesday, including the editor, before escaping in a car. It was France's deadliest postwar terrorist attack. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Flowers and pens and placards lie after being placed to show solidarity with those killed in an attack at the Paris offices of weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, in Trafalgar Square, London, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015. Masked gunmen stormed the Paris offices of a weekly newspaper that caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, methodically killing 12 people Wednesday, including the editor, before escaping in a car. It was France’s deadliest postwar terrorist attack. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

 

(The Washington Post) – As they went on their rampage, the men who killed 12 people in Paris this week yelled that they had “avenged the prophet.” They followed in the path of other terrorists who have bombed newspaper offices, stabbed a filmmaker and killed writers and translators, all to mete out what they believe is the proper Koranic punishment for blasphemy. But in fact, the Koran prescribes no punishment for blasphemy. Like so many of the most fanatical and violent aspects of Islamic terrorism today, the idea that Islam requires that insults against the prophet Muhammad be met with violence is a creation of politicians and clerics to serve a political agenda.

One holy book is deeply concerned with blasphemy: the Bible. In the Old Testament, blasphemy and blasphemers are condemned and prescribed harsh punishment. The best-known passage on this is Leviticus 24:16 : “Anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.”

By contrast, the word blasphemy appears nowhere in the Koran. (Nor, incidentally, does the Koran anywhere forbid creating images of Muhammad, though there are commentaries and traditions — “hadith” — that do, to guard against idol worship.)

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