The European Court of Human Rights has unanimously decreed that national governments may fine or imprison their citizens for attacking or defaming Mohammed. The judges determined that “the Prophet of Islam” may not be called a paedophile because to do so is: i) devoid of historical context; and ii) false because he also had adult wives (so taking a bath with children and fondling them is fine so long as you also fondle adults?). Henceforth, those who make “an abusive attack on the Prophet of Islam, which [is] capable of stirring up prejudice and putting at risk religious peace” may be subject to “a moderate fine” of €480 or serve 60 days of imprisonment in the event of default.
Is that clear? In Europe, in the 21st century, to be fined or imprisoned for defaming Mohammed is not a violation of the freedom of expression, because such an attack “goes beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate” and is “likely to arouse justified indignation in Muslims”.
Whatever level of non-expertise in Islamic theology or history the Austrian national known as ‘Mrs. S.’ possessed, by this bizarre judgment the ECHR eschews foundational values of the Enlightenment by facilitating the spread of a sharia blasphemy code in Europe. It appears henceforth that only academic experts in seventh-century Arabian history or law may comment on the fact (and for many Muslims it is a fact) that the 56-year-old Mohammed married a six-year-old girl called Aisha (and consummated the marriage when she was nine). It isn’t clear what level of academic certification the ECHR judges require in order to establish adequate learning and knowledge (PhD? A-level Religious Studies?), but it is certain that if, like ‘Mrs. S.’, you offer seminars on Islam which do not provide information in an “objective manner”, you may now be fined (or imprisoned) for imparting your prejudice or ignorance.
Of course, in the matter of Aisha’s betrothal to Mohammed there is cultural context and religious history to consider (as there is in all of Mohammed’s war-mongering and barbarism [may one say that?]), and all of this contested history, contentious theology and murky religious sociology is rather more interesting and ethically nuanced than crassly hurling ‘paedo’ allegations at Mohammed. But there is something inescapably suicidal about a purported Court of the Enlightenment determining that statements about a religion which are “capable of arousing justified indignation” constitute a “malicious violation of the spirit of tolerance”, and so must be censored. Or, more specifically, those who defame Mohammed from a point of historical ignorance or religious prejudice may now be fined or imprisoned. If Islam forbids any criticism of its precepts, permitting only Islamic scholars to pronounce upon the reliability of its history and the validity of its morality, and if the ECHR now affirms this, in what sense is this not a violation of the freedom of expression of both non-Muslims and all those enlightened Muslims who wish to carry out a bit of quranic or hadithic form criticism and develop a reason-based prophetology?
Presumably, attacking or defaming Jesus is permissible because it is unlikely to arouse “justified indignation” in Christians. Or at least it is not likely “to disturb the religious peace” of the country. Or is it that any indignation felt by Christians would be unjustified? It isn’t clear what the wider implications of this judgment may be: we are not likely to see a Europe-wide ban on broadcasting The Life of Brian.
But to learn that one who has sex with children is not a paedophile provided that he (or she) also has sex with adults is a part of this judgment which will have consequences far beyond the reputation of a long-dead false* prophet called Mohammed.
*May one call Mohammed a ‘false prophet’? May one apply biblical criteria (Deut 18:20-22; 1Jn 4:1-6; 2Pt 2:1; Mt 24:24) to the one whom the ECHR authoritatively calls “the Prophet of Islam”? Is a first and a Masters in Theology or an Oxford doctorate sufficient qualification to establish theo-political objectivity and intellectual acuity?