This article was originally intended to be published by the local press of Kuwait. However, the local press refused to run this article because they thought it was “too controversial”. InPEC presents to you this piece in support of the freedom of speech.
By Abdulaziz Al-Mossalem, 16th April, 2012
In the small state of Kuwait a currently proposed amendment to the penal code will have the insulting of Allah, Mohamed or his companions punishable by death or life long prison sentences.
The proposed amendment has come after a spike in tension between Sunnis and Shias through various forms of media. One Kuwaiti writer, Al-Mulaifi, was recently sentenced to a seven year prison term for not venerating an Islamic holy figure enough in a newspaper column; his sentence was weak because he was talking about the Mahdi, someone who was not a companion of Mohamed but one of the distant off-spring of Fatima, Mohamad’s daughter. The Mahdi was described by Al-Mulaifi as a “Harees” (Harees is a chicken based dish consumed in the Arab – or Persian if you prefer – Gulf states) salesman in some basement in Iraq. Another individual might face a more severe sentence; he is identified as Al-Naqi and has directly insulted a companion of Mohamad, Mohamad himself and his young wife Aysha on Twitter (Al-Naqi’s trial is on-going and is speculated that, if found guilty, he will receive the death sentence).
The new Kuwaiti legislature has responded to these two occurrences with this proposed amendment. It should be mentioned however that this is to be expected of the current legislature. After the former Kuwaiti PM was ousted by popular demand in December of 2011, perhaps as part of the zeitgeist of the Arab spring, the new partially elected legislature became dominated by Islamists. Since their election the Islamists have tried to (1) amend the constitution to have Sharia become the only law in Kuwait (2) impose a modesty of appearance law for both genders (3) have considered a headscarf law for woman (4) ensure the application of a gender segregation law in educational institutions.
If Islamists are trying to limit personal freedoms, why are they winning elections?
The answer is that Islamists are perceived as the most moral, and so will weed out all corruption in government. Whether they are rightly or wrongly perceived that way is not the issue I aim to address; I am more interested in the underlying premise of whether morality can be faith based.
While one might think that being moral means doing the right thing irrespective of any heavenly reward, generally speaking this is not the case with the faithful person. What really motivates the faithful person is greed; the need to accumulate extra credit with a god so that the person is rewarded in the afterlife, while also guarding against any punishment that might follow. This is why the small community in Kuwait has fanatics vehemently defend their holy characters. The random and holy credit system (In Islam there exists the belief that an angel on the left shoulder will record every sin, and an angel on the right shoulder will record every deed) of “hasanat” (doing good) and “saya’aat” (sinning) found in Islam really does motivate children and more worryingly the Kuwaiti members of parliament.
If the fanatic does good because he is motivated by fear from punishment and desire for reward, what can we say of the person who does good for goodness’s sake? For example a person that does not really have any faith in the supernatural at all who happens to donate to charity. I think it would be fair to say that that would be a pure and selfless form of good. In contrast the efforts made by the faithful person would be impure, tainted even, for they are born out of selfishness.
The problem I see however is not a simple one. For faith in Kuwait is constitutionally given a head start at the expense of other comprehensive doctrines. Article two of the Kuwaiti constitutions has faith be a source of law making, a source for guiding day to day lives and practically a source of morality for some members of parliament to try and implement. There are three main problems I see with Article two:
(1) Immediately the interpretation of which faith the article is talking about will develop. The Sunnis will try and impose their version of the faith, while the Shias will hit back and demand that their ideas of what Islam means should be given more attention. We are left with a society with primordial hatreds and a parliament which can very easily turn violent (as it has last year) over who represents the group god thinks is right.
(2) Social justice will be disoriented as state institutions will cease to be neutral. While society encompasses all forms of comprehensive doctrines, such as communist, utilitarian, or any philosophical or religious position; what article two does is give the defunct comprehensive doctrine “faith” some control over all the other doctrines. This is why it is perfectly legit for some authority to ask for gender segregation in the classroom and library, and to try and impose a modesty law in government institutions prohibiting men to wear shorts and girls to wear skirts that do not cover the knees.
(3) Parochial thought will be legally encouraged because of article two. With negative sermons which deliver the same old message of “god thinks we are right and they are wrong” significant chunks of the community will cling to their clergy. This will create a culturally uncompetitive community, the reason is because the clergy offer nothing but a backwards looking world view. The clergy will either ramble on about Armageddon, inanimate objects saying “come kill the Jew behind me” (Sahih al-Bukhari – 4:52:177) or how we should prepare for judgment day by being “good.” Nothing they offer encourages a developmental world view.
The difference between democracy and liberal democracy is that one will comply with the wishes of the unrestrained masses, while the other will do the same and also ensure all groups in the state are treated fairly by law. So what can we make of political Islam and democracy in Kuwait? The answer is quite clear – unless the Islamists are constitutionally bound to respect all other groups within the state then Kuwait would be unable to have liberal democracy. For liberal democracy Article Two of the constitution must be crossed out. When that happens, the sinning couple that brush shoulders in the library are free to flirt as they please, and the faithful people who listen to the sermons of “god chose us not them” can also be indoctrinated as they please. By crossing out Article Two, Kuwait can abandon the hybrid civil-theocracy for the needed basics for a completely civil constitution and society.