Junaid Hafeez has been held in a Pakistani jail for six years, from 2013 to 2019 for the crime of blasphemy.
A former professor of English literature at Bahauddin Zakariya University, run by the government of Pakistan, he has recently been sentenced to death by a court in that nation. He was formerly a Fulbright Scholar at Jackson State University in Mississippi.
Professor Hafeez was found guilty of anonymously posting messages on a Facebook social media file, accused by his own Islamic students.
Blasphemy is uttering or writing a critique of religion. Islam is far from the only religion to have violated free speech rights in this manner, nor is Pakistan the only country to have done so. Other laws abound in many other nations for somewhat different but similar reasons.
For example, it is a crime in Canada and many western European countries to deny that the Holocaust took place, or to weaken claims against it in any way. For example, it would be a criminal act to claim that fewer than six million Jews perished under its auspices. David Irving was found guilty of violating this law.
Nor are blasphemy-like legislative enactments confined to religion or historical events. They also encompass environmental issues. Serious attempts were made to find Exxon guilty of similar thought crimes in opposition to majority opinion on this matter.
Then there is that little matter of using the perfectly good English word “niggardly.” It has nothing to do with the N-word, which I dare not mention, even in this essay dealing with free speech incursions. Rather, it depicts a person who is stingy, non-generous, miserly, parsimonious. A great controversy arose over its use; certain people, not well-versed in the English language objected, strenuously, to its use.
Nor can I leave unmentioned political correctness. Mankind, man, he, are verboten in certain circles. Even words such as human, and person are seen as objectionable. You don’t see why? You are a sexist pig! (Hint: their last syllables.)
It is bad enough that few conservative and libertarian speakers are invited to campus. It is worse that those few who are, are all too often disinvited, or not allowed to speak by protesting fascist students. Even worse is that the professoriate almost totally exclude scholars with these viewpoints. (An outside speaker is on campus once per year; the professors brainwash students every day).
What can be said about all these disparate attempts (religious, historical, environmental, racial, political correctness, academic) to quell free speech?
For one thing, they can all be interpreted as undermining their own presumed beliefs. For example, if God supports murdering those who deny His existence, or negatively question Him in any way, this bespeaks a weakness on His part. Surely, if He is as all-powerful, wise, benevolent as His supporters maintain He is, He would not need such laws protecting Him.
Similarly, holocaust denial or disparagement laws can be interpreted as an attack on historians. If their views need buttressing by jail sentences, this undermines their evidence and the coherence of their interpretations thereof. The case they have been so far able to adduce in support of their contentions is to that extent weakened.
The same applies to left-wing environmentalists. If their logic and evidence were as impregnable as they believe it to be, there would be no need for them to characterize critics as “deniers” and to try to have even tenured professors fired from their academic posts for disagreeing with them, or to attempt to rein in the free speech rights of firms such as Exxon.
We cannot end without considering what John Stuart Mill had to say about such goings-on in his magnificent “On Liberty”:
He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion.
The rational position for him would be suspension of judgment, and unless he contents himself with that, he is either led by authority, or adopts, like the generality of the world, the side to which he feels most inclination.
Nor is it enough that he should hear the arguments of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. That is not the way to do justice to the arguments, or bring them into real contact with his own mind. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them; who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them.
He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form; he must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of; else he will never really possess himself of the portion of truth which meets and removes that difficulty.”
Hafeez: Wall Street Journal, p. A8, 12/23/19
Walter E. Block is Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, and senior fellow at the Mises Institute. He earned his PhD in economics at Columbia University in 1972. He is the author of more than 600 refereed articles in professional journals, two dozen books, and thousands of op-eds (including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and numerous others). Prof. Block counts among his friends Ron Paul and Murray Rothbard. He was converted to libertarianism by Ayn Rand. Block is old enough to have played chess with Friedrich Hayek and once met Ludwig von Mises, and shaken his hand. Block has never washed that hand since. So, if you shake his hand (it’s pretty dirty, but what the heck) you channel Mises.