The Rushdie Rules Reach Florida

Pastor Terry Jones’ plan to burn copies of the Koran at his church in Gainesville, Florida, let it be emphasized, is a distasteful act that fits an ugly tradition. That said, two other points need be noted: Buying books and then burning them is an entirely legal act in the United States. Second, David Petraeus, Robert Gates, Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama pressured Jones to cancel only because they feared Muslim violence against Americans if he proceeded. Indeed, despite Jones calling off the Koran burning, five Afghans and three Kashmiris died in protests against his plans.

That violence stems from Islamic law, the Shari’a, which insists that Islam, and the Koran in particular, enjoy a privileged status. Islam ferociously punishes anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, who trespasses against Islam’s sanctity. Codes in Muslim-majority states generally reflect this privilege; for example, Pakistan’s blasphemy law, called 295-C, punishes derogatory remarks about Muhammad with execution.

No less important, Shari’a denigrates the sanctities of other religions, a tradition manifested in recent years by the destruction of the Buddhist Bamiyan statues and the desecration of the Jewish Tomb of Joseph and the Christian Church of the Nativity. A 2003 decree ruled the Bible suitable for use by Muslims when cleaning after defecation. Iranian authorities reportedly burned hundreds of Bibles in May. This imbalance, whereby Islam enjoys immunity and other religions are disparaged, has long prevailed in Muslim-majority countries.

Then, in 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini abruptly extended this double standard to the West when he decreed that British novelist Salman Rushdie be executed on account of the blasphemies in his book, The Satanic Verses. With this, Khomeini established the Rushdie Rules, which still remain in place. They hold that whoever opposes “Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran” may be put to death; that anyone connected to the blasphemer must also be executed; and that all Muslims should participate in an informal intelligence network to carry out this threat.

Self-evidently, these rules contradict a fundamental premise of Western life, freedom of speech. As summed up by the dictum, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” that freedom assures protection for the right to make mistakes, to insult, to be disagreeable, and to blaspheme.

If the Rushdie Rules initially shocked the West, they since have become the new norm. When Islam is the subject, freedom of speech is but a pre-1989 memory. Writers, artists, and editors readily acknowledge that criticizing Islam can endanger their lives.

Western leaders occasionally stand with those who insult Islam. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher resisted pressure from Tehran in 1989 and stated that “there are no grounds on which the government could consider banning” The Satanic Verses. Other governments reinforced this stalwart position; for example, the U.S. Senate unanimously resolved “to protect the right of any person to write, publish, sell, buy and read books without fear of violence.”

Likewise, Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen stood strong in 2006 when disrespectful cartoons of Muhammad in a Copenhagen newspaper led to storms of protest: “This is a matter of principle,” he stated. “As prime minister, I have no power whatsoever to limit the press – nor do I want such a power.”

Both those incidents led to costly boycotts and violence, yet principle trumped expedience. Other Western leaders have faltered in defense of free expression. The governments of Australia, Austria, Canada, Finland, France, Great Britain, Israel, and the Netherlands have all attempted to or succeeded in jailing Rushdie-Rule offenders.

The Obama administration has now joined this ignominious list. Its pressure on Jones further eroded freedom of speech about Islam and implicitly established Islam’s privileged status in the United States, whereby Muslims may insult others but not be insulted. This moved the country toward dhimmitude, a condition whereby non-Muslims acknowledge the superiority of Islam. Finally, Obama in effect enforced Islamic law, a precedent that could lead to other forms of compulsory Shari’a compliance.

Obama should have followed Rasmussen’s lead and asserted the principle of free speech. His failure to do so means Americans must recognize and resist further U.S. governmental application of the Rushdie Rules or other aspects of Shari’a.

Daniel Pipes


Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and the author of several books, including Militant Islam Reaches America and In the Path of God: Islam and Political Power (Transaction Publishers), from which this column derives.

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  • Cooky642

    While I reject Pastor Jones’ inclination to burn Korans (only because I value books–and the ideas they contain, even the “perfectly awful” ones–and the Koran would be at the top of that list), it is my belief that Pastor Jones intended his little bonfire to be a local incident, and became alarmed when it went viral. I think he was looking for a face-saving way to get out of what he had started, and was grateful to Mr. Obama for giving him that opportunity.

    On the other hand, if “the powers that be” want to shut me up for disrespecting Mohammed–whom I could not possibly disrespect any more than I do already!–then I say, have at it! My life is not so important that I couldn’t give it up in a heartbeat for the Glory of Yeshua Yahway.

  • Grandpa Tom

    Barack HUSSEIN Obama is the man’s name. Seems like there is a ban on using his middle name. Will his name HUSSEIN be in the history books, or edited out? Can you say “Acquise?” Remember Jane Fonda who was the poster child of opposition for the Vietnam War. We were divided then as we are becoming against today’s enemy. Islam literly means “Submission.” The core of the issue is the covnent between Abraham’s and his sons Isaac and Ishmeal. The real struggle is for your soul.

    Mohammed built his new religion (approx. 650) on the pagan God Allah who was the God of the Moon, and of War. Islam is represented on its flag with a cresent moon. Rev. 12:1 says: And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. The picture of the Virgin Mary of Guadelupe clearly shows Mary standing over the cresent moon. What does this say about their symbol?

    Regarding the Quran / Koran, according to history and tradition, Muawiyah who ruled Syria and Egypt from 661-680 in the Battle of Siffin, Muawiyah was losing the battle, and convinced Ali’s soldiers to stop fighting and submit to arbitration by placing Qurans on his soldiers lances. Ali’s soldiers, unwilling to harm the (alleged) holy book, stopped fighting. (See: The Intellectual Devotional; by David S. Kidder & Noah D. Openheim; page 259 “Muawiyah I). So it appears it ok for muslims to harm said book, but for the Great Satan (U.S.A.), and other preceived infidels said book is off limits.

    Our greatest enemy is our own ignorance, and lack of knowledge about Islam and their goal of one world religion, Islam! In Hosea 4:6 it says: My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Islam builds Mosques over land they deem conquered like the Mosque over King Solomons Temple in Jerusalem.