It is time to make common cause with Rep. Allen West, and to help Rep. West save a man’s life.
The man in need of saving: Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year-old Saudi columnist and blogger who has been accused of blasphemy, and who now awaits trial in the Saudi capitol city of Riyad. When he goes to trial he will probably be convicted. If he is convicted, he will probably be executed.
Kashgari’s crime: A poem he posted to Twitter early last month, in which he imagined a dialogue between himself and the Prophet Muhammad. It reads:
I love many things about you and hate others, and there are many things about you I don’t understand. On your birthday, I shall not bow to you, I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.
Within 24 hours of Kashgari’s tweetings, a thousands-strong Saudi mob took to the streets and the web to demand the writer’s death. Kashgari apologized online, but it did no good. Kashgari then attempted an escape to New Zealand by way of Malaysia, but was apprehended in a Malaysian airport and extradited to Riyad. No one can agree on exactly how this happened. Malaysian authorities say they were responding to an Interpol alert in which the nature of Kashgari’s crime went unmentioned; Interpol claims there was no such alert. No one, it seems, wishes to claim any share of responsibility for Kashgari’s plight.
But the leaders of the United States must accept some blame. We Americans expect our enemies to despise free speech; we expect Iranian mullahs to punish blasphemy against Allah and the Kims to punish blasphemy against themselves. It’s this very tendency that makes them enemies, for free peoples usually find ways to get along. But Saudi Arabia isn’t an enemy. It is still a “friend,” despite its harboring of terrorists, its repression of women, its murderous homophobia, and the frequent depravities of a royal family that combines the personal decadence of kleptocracy with the public oppressions of theocracy. America’s elected leaders are loathe to say any of this, of course, for obvious reasons. Their silence has made them enablers.
Rep. Allen West, say about him what you will, has never respected such cynical politesse, and he’s never been known to keep silent for expediency’s sake. He’s a man of principle. When his principles differ from our own he’s a fearsome opponent, but when our principles overlap he ought to be an invaluable ally. Even when journalists make fun of him — and I’ve made more sport of Allen West than most — we should never forget or fail to respect his admirable hatred of what used to be called Islamo-fascism, and his disgust at the failure of American leadership to call out the transgressions of fundamentalist Islam against what Americans have always believed to be inviolable rights.
Rep. West is one of the loudest, most hotheaded, and most impractical legislators in recent American history. If he were to take a public stand for the inviolable rights of Hamza Kashgari, he would do so spectacularly, with all the righteous anger the situation demands. Every news-literate citizen in America would soon know about it. Throughout the world, individuals like Hamza Kashgari — doubters, skeptics, poets, lovers of freedom — would know that they have powerful friends in the United States who stand undivided by partisan politics when it counts. And the Saudi government, murderous and crazy though it may be, might hesitate to murder a blasphemer before the disapproving eyes of the world.
Liberals’ fruitful alliance with Allen West needn’t end with Hamza Kashgari. As I write, Shiite death squads prowl the streets of Iraq’s Sadr City, seeking out gays and “emo” kids to stone to death. Rep. West probably isn’t a great fan of “emo,” and he’s certainly no fan of homosexuality, but I don’t doubt his commitment to even the right of sodomites to be left alone by brick-throwing totalitarian thugs. If Rep. West stands up for Kashgari, maybe he will stand up for gay Iraqis.
And then — who knows? Rep. West, if you’re reading this: I apologize for the nasty things I’ve written about you. Not because I didn’t mean them, but because they didn’t tell the whole story. The whole story is this: We’re both Americans, and we’ve got some very important things in common. At the moment, none is more pressing than our certainty that Hamza Kashgari does not deserve to die. Please lend your fire and ferocity to his cause, and try to save him.