Ben Baz was arrested two weeks ago on charges of blasphemy. A hearing has been scheduled for 28 February.
His friends are trying to get more information on the case. They suspect that a personal disagreement with his work sponsor, about work matters, may have been translated into a blasphemy accusation.
This type of abuse of an already unjust law is common in Islamic countries, including the cases of Christian mother Asia Bibi who is facing execution in Pakistan, and atheist civil servant Alexander Aan who is jailed in Indonesia.
Ben Baz’s friends have set up a Facebook group to campaign for his release.
Ben Baz’s Blog
This is a link to his blog, in Arabic, where he writes about the relationship of religion, the State and secularism. My translations are courtesy of google translate, so corrections from Arabic speakers are welcome.
In a post on the place and the role of religion in a secular society, he argues that the desire to remove religion from public life means removing government support for religion, not removing religion from view. There is nothing in secular philosophy that requires the removal of religion: some secularists hope religion eventually disappears, other secularists are happy for religion to play a role in society, and some secularists even support religious charities in their alleviation of of poverty and suffering. Religions, instead of attacking secularism, should be focusing on why people should choose to voluntarily support their religions.
In a post on freedom and self-determination, democracy and independence from religion, he argues that being free in the framework of liberal democracy requires, at the very least, that people are able to form their opinions and to achieve goals related to the direction of their lives with minimal interference from the state. If people are prevented from developing their own ideas about the formation of a good and moral life, they become tools in the hands of the state. This applies particularly when the State encourages the ideology of a particular religion as a determinant of goodness and morality.
In a post about religious people who demand that others follow religious rules that conflict with civil law, he tells of a pharmacist who refused to give an insulin injection to a woman because it was forbidden by Islam, despite her being over seventy years of age and in a remote region far from doctors or hospitals. Also, an Egyptian newspaper had reported on a hospital where staff in the intensive care unit left vulnerable patients unattended for two hours while they performed prayers in the Mosque. The welfare of humans should not be sacrificed because of beliefs about God.
In a post on how to increase the number of atheists in future generations, he argues that early exposure to different and neutral opinions will contribute to the early detection of myths. Raising children to become thinkers and critics instead of memorizing by heart is the key, as is exposure to science and higher education. Positive recent developments include the work of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris, and the role of the Internet in validating information. Also, political change in social justice, health and safety undermines the power of religion.
Blasphemy law in Kuwait
The Constitution of Kuwait makes Islam the state religion, and considers Sharia a primary source of legislation. The law provides that any Muslim citizen may file a complaint against an author if the citizen believes that the author has defamed Islam, the ruling family, or public morals.
Kuwait spent much of last year debating how to strengthen its laws against blasphemy. The parliament passed a law introducing the death penalty for Muslims who blaspheme against Islam, while non-Muslims who blaspheme faced ten years or more in prison. Kuwait’s Emir has opposed this development.
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