Philosopher Faces Blasphemy Charges (updated)


Philosophy professor Sheikha al-Jassem (Shaikha Binjasim) is facing charges of blasphemy and the possible loss of her faculty position at Kuwait University, owing to remarks she made in a television interview about freedom of conscience, the politicization of religion in Kuwait, and how the Kuwaiti constitution, not the Quran, is and should be the basis of law in Kuwait.

According to a report from the BBC, al-Jassem has been “summoned to the prosecutor’s office after legal complaints of blasphemy were filed against her.” If she is convicted, she could be jailed for up to a year. The report continues:

Her remarks provoked a storm of attacks against her, spearheaded by Islamist members of Kuwait’s parliament. “They were terrifying me—everywhere, not just from Kuwait, even from Saudi Arabia,” she told the BBC. “They were talking against me, they were saying bad things, they were ridiculing me. But I’m used to it now.”

Calls were made for Ms Jassem’s dismissal from Kuwait University, where she is a professor of philosophy. and a legal complaint was issued against her.

The public prosecutor told her that the complainant said he had been psychologically damaged by her remarks. Other legal complaints may also be filed.

You can watch a video of the interview at the Middle East Media Research Institute site.

Here is a partial transcript:

Q: Do you consider Kuwait to be a religious state or a democratic state?
A: Our source of authority is supposed to be the constitution. The constitution stipulates that the Kuwaiti regime is democratic… The Shari’a is ‘a source’ (for legislation) and not ‘the source’, like others want. Therefore, this question should not even be raised.
Q: But they say that the Quran, the Shari’a, and the religion are more important than our constitution.
A: This is the undoing of our democratic regime.
Q: According to them, this is a conservative Islamic state.
A: A citizen who thinks like that poses a danger to the state… his loyalties do not lie with Kuwait.

The BBC report says that “the public prosecutor still has the discretion to decide whether or not Ms Jassem will be put on trial.” However, the site Front Line Defenders says she is “facing trial” and has written a letter urging authorities in Kuwait to:

1. Immediately drop all charges against Shaikha Binjasim as it is believed that they are solely motivated by her legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of freedom of conscience and freedom of speech;
2. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Kuwait are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

You can obtain the whole text of the letter, along with the contact information for the Prime Minister’s office, here.

(Thanks to Graham Oddie for the pointer to the BBC article.)

UPDATE: You can follow Sheikha al-Jassem on Twitter: @philocoffee.

UPDATE (4/20/16): Dr. Jassem has again been summoned to the prosecutor’s office. She writes:

Yesterday I had a call from the prosecutor’s office telling me that I have to be present for interrogation Sunday morning because another person didn’t like what I said on my TV interview in March. It’s a blasphemy charge again. The first one is still hanging, I don’t know if the prosecutor is going to send it to court or just dismiss it. I hope both complaints will be dismissed.

UPDATE (4/21/16): Dr. Jassem was interviewed by the BBC’s News Hour radio program. You can listen to the interview by clicking “download MP3” at this page at the BBC’s site. Scroll forward to 18:15 for the start of the interview.

al-Jassem
Sheikha al-Jassem

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ejrd
ejrd
5 years ago

Thanks for sharing this Justin. What, if anything, could a sympathetic philosopher living in the US do? Report

Kristen
Kristen
5 years ago

There’s a “Take Action” link on the Frontline Defenders website that sends an email to the prime minister:

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/action/take-action-shaikha-binjasimReport

Sara Protasi
Sara Protasi
Reply to  Kristen
5 years ago

Done, with the only change of referring to her as “Dr.” instead of a “Ms.” since I suppose she has a doctoral degree (and she is cited as Dr. in a couple of places on the internet).Report

HFG
HFG
5 years ago

This is uncontroversially bad. Keep us posted. Thanks for the links.Report

Patrice Ayme
5 years ago

Superstitious religions have been, for millennia, the greatest obstacle to progress in thought. If we don’t fight them, they will crush us.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Patrice Ayme
5 years ago

Look I’m sure my atheist bonafides are as good as yours, but this is just a silly response that could only be made by ignoring or radically reinterpreting about at least a millennium of development in Western thought. Locke wrote his famous and influential “Letter on Toleration” as an adherent of one of these “superstitious religions,” and he thought his religious faith gave him more, not less, reason to support religious toleration. I can’t tell whether Professor Binjasim considers herself a member of the Muslim faith, but that would be entirely consistent with her remarks. Indeed in the clips from her interview she makes many of the same remarks about Islam and intolerant Muslims that Locke made about Christianity and Christian “zelots.” Report

Ben Hippen
Ben Hippen
Reply to  Derek Bowman
5 years ago

Though, as an asterisk, in “A Letter Concerning Toleration,” Locke specifically singled out atheists as antinomians, and (thereby) not worthy of toleration: “Lastly, Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the Being of a God. Promises, Covenants, and Oaths, which are the Bonds of Humane Society, can have no hold upon an Atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all. Besides also, those that by their Atheism undermine and destroy all Religion, can have no pretence of Religion whereupon to challenge the Privilege of a Toleration.”

Locke argued that the dispensation of toleration should be extended only to those who could be bound by virtue of a (Protestant) belief in God to uphold sworn promises/covenants/oaths on pain of Divine punishment if broken. Locke’s jaundiced view of Catholics stemmed from the same premise. Point being that Locke wasn’t quite the liberal cosmopolitan he’s sometimes made out to be, and his exceptions to which opinions are worthy of toleration are notably self-serving in a manner relevant to this discussion.

Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
5 years ago

Agreed. My point was just that it would be a mistake to think that his letter on Toleration wasn’t part of the progress of human thought, as Patrice Ayme’s remark would imply. And it would be an even worse mistake to “support” the freedom of Muslim professors and students in Kuwait by denegrating their religion. Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Derek Bowman
5 years ago

While criticism of religion, or Islam in particular, might not directly help these professors, the question of whether or how religion is bad, or leads to this kind of suppression of opinion, is an important one. It is not irrelevant to this discussion.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Yes, but ignorant dismissals of religion based on patently false claims about its – very complicated – role in the development of human thought and understanding is counterproductive. Report

Yousef
Yousef
5 years ago

Unfortunately these atrocities are common across the middle east and receive little world-wide attention. A similar case is that of Fatima Nout who is being imprisoned for stating that Al adha is the greatest slaughter committed every year because of Ibrahim’s nightmare. She reaffirmed her faith but said I cannot accept the killing of any being.Despite apologizing,publishing and translating 18 books,publishing many articles in various media outlets and being considered one the greatest living Arab poets she was sentenced to three years in jail for blasphemy.Sayyid Al-Qemany the winner of the highest cultural medal in Egypt and the author of many books stopped writing and abjured his earlier views for many years because of threats with pictures of him and his family. But after he got his kids out of Egypt and aged much he came out again and started writing though not as before. In the Middle East they are many problems facing academics:A) NO respect from society and very small readership B)No funding for phds C)overwhelming amount of clases and very little research time D) secular authorities E)religious authorities with terrorists (moderate Muslim will call someone Kafr [apostate and hence “his blood/life is worthless”] and “extremists” would do the killings.

So its very natural most Arab intellectuals live in the west. Report