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Freedom of speech, Palestinian-style

A West Bank resident has been imprisoned for insulting Islam on Facebook:

A mysterious blogger who set off an uproar in the Arab world by claiming he was God and hurling insults at the Prophet Muhammad is now behind bars — caught in a sting that used Facebook to track him down.

The case of the unlikely apostate, a shy barber from this backwater West Bank town, is highlighting the limits of tolerance in the Western-backed Palestinian Authority — and illustrating a new trend by authorities in the Arab world to mine social media for evidence.

Residents of Qalqiliya say they had no idea that Walid Husayin — the 26-year-old son of a Muslim scholar — was leading a double life

Known as a quiet man who prayed with his family each Friday and spent his evenings working in his father’s barbershop, Husayin was secretly posting anti-religion rants on the Internet during his free time.

Now, he faces a potential life prison sentence on heresy charges for “insulting the divine essence.” Many in this conservative Muslim town say he should be killed for renouncing Islam, and even family members say he should remain behind bars for life.

“He should be burned to death,” said Abdul-Latif Dahoud, a 35-year-old Qalqiliya resident. The execution should take place in public “to be an example to others,” he added.

At a time when the United Nations is trying to pass a resolution that would make blasphemy illegal, it’s important that we see cases like these as cautionary tales of what we can expect when we allow political correctness to trump free speech. There is no free speech in the supposedly secular, liberal Palestinian Authority. None whatsoever. There is no free speech in Iran, or in Saudi Arabia, or in Egypt, or in Pakistan, or in most of the countries sponsoring the resolution. And while the supposedly pro-freedom left marches and protests against the supposedly imperialist Israel and in support of the poor, suffering Palestinians, it can never be pointed out often enough just where the free speech limits exist in that part of the world.

Nor is it only in the Arab world where these laws exist. Ireland passed anti-blasphemy laws last year. Laws against blasphemy or religious defamation exist, to some varying degree, in the Netherlands, in Germany, in Greece, in Finland… even Canada’s hate speech laws allow for a lot of grey areas and potential abuse depending on which way the political wind blows.

These types of “anti-blasphemy” resolutions and laws are just tools wielded by extremists to silence any voices of freedom or dissent. Speech – whether or not it’s offensive – should be protected, and the right to satirize, insult, offend or simply denounce religion is a right that we need to protect, for all our sakes. And that, in a nutshell, is the basis for my position on freedom of speech.

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