by Daniel E. Rogell
Investigative Project on Terrorism
The beheading of a young Christian convert in Tunisia raises questions about a wave of religious radicalism sweeping the Middle East, writes Islamic affairs expert Raymond Ibrahim for Gatestone Institute. The rise of Quranic literalists in Arab governments and as vigilantes means that “blasphemers” are now risking death or prison for perceived insults to Islam.
Graphic video of the murder was broadcast last week by liberal Egyptian talk show host Tawfiq Okasha on his “Egypt Today” television show, along with his commentary about what the rise of extremists means for his country. The footage shows Islamist extremists executing an unrepentant Christian convert, while a narrator chants prayers and supplications against apostates and Christianity.
According to Ibrahim, the visibly distraught host asks the audience, “Is this Islam? Does Islam call for this?” He then makes reference to Egypt’s newly dominant Islamist parties and questions how such people can govern the nation.
The question is a resounding one in light of recent religious violence and political persecution against those who leave Islam. Others, like Saudi citizen Hamza Kashgari, have been forced to repent or face death for expressing their personal views.
Based on traditional beliefs that blasphemers and apostates must be executed, extremists are acting out a punishment that had been absent from the modern Middle East, although highly popular. In a 2011 Pew opinion poll, 84 percent of Egyptians and 86 percent of Jordanians stated they supported executing individuals who abandon Islam.
Many popular scholars are also coming out in support of the punishment, albeit in an Islamic state. And as the Middle East’s fledgling democracies are turning Islamist, some envision that the rules apply in Islamic democracies.