There’s been a lot of talk about a couple of guys in Muslim countries who have been arrested for violating the law, mostly blasphemy laws. There are numerous atheist bloggers and tweeters who really want these people released. I say no.
There are two people currently on the ever-rotating list of foreign people who have been “wronged”. Right now, Abdel Aziz Mohamed Albaz, an Egyptian blogger living in Kuwait, has been jailed for blasphemy. I see lots of atheist bloggers who keep saying he’s done nothing wrong. Sure he has. He blasphemed, as defined in the law. That’s why he’s in jail.
The second is Saeed Abedini, an Iranian who converted to Christianity. Like it or not, this is illegal in many Muslim countries, just like being non-Christian was, at one time, illegal in lots of Christian nations. He has been in prison for months, his trial is supposed to be happening as I write these words.
Don’t get me wrong, I sympathize with these people, but I also strongly support the rule of law. I’ve had my say over individual rights many times and, like it or not, rights are simply things that individual cultures or societies grant to themselves. They are not something that just magically exist, floating in the ether. Further, when you live in a particular society, by choice or not, you inherently agree that you will follow the laws of the land or pay the consequences thereof. This is part of the social contract. This applies to the country in which you live or in any country that you visit. If I decide to head off to Mexico, for example, by crossing that border, I agree to follow their laws whether I like them or not. If I strongly disagree with the laws, as I would in a country like Iran or Kuwait, I wouldn’t go there and if I lived there, I’d move, no matter what it took.
Look at Muslim nations where it is illegal to convert to Christianity, there are always stories in the news of people who do exactly that who end up in prison and whine about it. It’s not like they didn’t know the consequences, they’ve lived there their entire lives. It’s also not like you can’t be a certain religion and keep it quiet, they could have easily lived under the radar and likely never been caught. No, these people went out and openly displayed their Christianity and when they get picked up for doing so, whine how unfair it is.
I really have no idea where people got the idea that civil disobedience automatically comes with a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. In fact, half the reason for civil disobedience in the first place is to get punished as a means for drawing attention to the cause you’re trying to change! You didn’t see the people in the civil rights movement in the 60s refusing to go to jail or whining about how unfair it was. Martin Luther King Jr. was in jail multiple times and spent that time writing. Actions, whether you like it or not, have consequences. My issue here is twofold. First, that the people who are breaking the law and being jailed for it are not trying to change the law, at least that’s not their primary purpose. They’re just doing whatever they want to do and paying little attention to the law. Second, in the vast majority of these cases, it’s people who live outside of the particular culture who are complaining about things, especially those who live in the very privileged west. You don’t see an outcry from, in the case of Mr. Aziz, the people of Kuwait, who realize based on his actions that the blasphemy laws are wrong.
Perhaps the biggest issue I have is the utter hypocrisy of it all. Lots of people are screaming that the U.S. ought to use military, political or financial means to forcibly stop these countries from acting in a means we don’t approve of. Sure, that’s a common tactic by nations powerful enough to do so. However, think about it. If in a couple of years, if the U.S. keeps sliding into economic disarray, and a Muslim nation gains lots of power, would we bow down to an effort by that government to push Sharia law on us? I’ll bet those same people who want us to do it to them would be screaming bloody murder if they tried to do it to us. What about our right of self-determination? Okay, what about the people of Kuwait? What about the people of Iran? What about their right to self-determination? Or does that only apply when you’re on the “right” side of an issue?
In the end, this comes right back to something I spend a huge amount of time talking about: responsibility. Both Albaz and Abedini should have known that what they were doing violated the law of the nation they lived in. They should have been aware of the consequences of their actions long before they committed them, yet they still went ahead and did so. They knew what they were doing and they should have known the likely outcome. So where is the complaint? You don’t leap off a cliff and scream “gravity is unfair!” on the way down. You have to deal with the reality that actually is, not the one you wish were true.