The 57-member-state Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have been working hard for years to render Islam the only religion, political system and ideology in the world that may not be questioned with impunity. They have tried -- and are in many respects succeeding -- to ring-fence Islam as a creed beyond criticism, while reserving for themselves the right to condemn Christians, Jews, Hindus, democrats, liberals, women and gays in often vile, even violent language. Should anyone say anything that seems to them disrespectful of their faith, he or she will at once be declared an "Islamophobe."
Like almost every world leader, Obama declares, with gross inaccuracy, that "Islam is a religion of peace". It is politically expedient to deny the very real connection to jihad violence in the Qur'an, the Traditions (ahadith), shari'a law, and the entire course of Islamic history. They do this partly for political reasons, but probably more out of fear of offending Muslims. We know only too well how angry many Muslims can become at even the lightest offence.
"If PEN as a free speech organization can't defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name. ... I hope nobody ever comes after them." – Salman Rushdie, on the PEN members who objected to giving its award to Charlie Hebdo, after 12 of its staff were murdered by jihadists.
The OIC succeeded in winning a UN Human Rights Council resolution that makes "defamation of religion" a crime. But the OIC knows full well that only Muslims are likely to use Western laws to deny free speech about their own faith. Last year, the US Congress introduced House Resolution 569, also purportedly intended to combat hate speech. It contains an oddity: it singles out Muslims for protection three times. It does not mention any other faith community.
Iran's then Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini put a cash bounty on the head of British novelist Salman Rushdie 27 years ago, because he deemed Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses, to be offensive. In February 2016, a group of Iranian media outlets added $600,000 to the cash reward.
One of the greatest achievements of the Enlightenment in Europe and the United States is the principle of free speech and reasoned criticism. Democracy is underpinned by it. Our courts and parliaments are built on it. Without it, scholars, journalists, and advocates would be trapped, as their ancestors had been, in a verbal prison. It is enshrined in the First Amendment to the US Constitution, in the words
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
Chapter one of this story began when Father Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest in Nazareth, started to speak up for the idea that it was time for Christians to embrace their homeland, Israel, and their Jewish roots.
"Christian Arabs are hostages." — Father Gabriel Naddaf.
"We have a joint fate in this land [Israel], because whatever happens to the Jews here will happen to us." — Father Gabriel Naddaf.
"On what authority does President Abbas claim that Jesus was a Palestinian? The Bible says that He was born in the Jewish city of Bethlehem to Jewish parents from the city of Nazareth and was circumcised on the 8th day as a Jew and presented to the Jewish Temple by His parents according to the Mosaic law." — Father Gabriel Naddaf.
Father Naddaf has been providing leadership to unite Christians and Jews; a rapidly increasing number of Christians see him as offering them the opportunity to envision and build a tremendous future.
The large billboard in the center of Nazareth warning Christians against slandering Allah, photographed January 2014.
When Father Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest in Nazareth, Israel, launched his campaign to convince Israeli Christians to enlist in the Israel Defense Force (IDF), he unwittingly ignited a firestorm between opposing forces within and around Israel's Christian and Muslim communities.
His decision, born of his love and respect for his native land -- combined with his acknowledgement of Judaism and Israel as the cradle of Christianity -- perhaps has set the stage for a long overdue reunification in Israel between contemporary Christians and Jews.
In the short term, Father Naddaf's decision has polarized the Christian community, a large part of which has aligned itself with the Arab-Palestinian narrative -- a narrative engineered by forces behind Yasser Arafat in the 1960s -- and designed to obliterate Israel as a Jewish nation.