On Sunday, a prominent Jordanian writer was assassinated on the steps of an Amman courthouse, where he was to face charges for having shared a supposedly blasphemous cartoon on social media. Nahed Hattar's accused killer, it later emerged, was a 49-year-old former imam from an impoverished neighborhood in the Jordanian capital. The offending image, which had prompted his arrest and myriad death threats, depicted God checking in on an extremist militant in heaven.
The killing of Hattar unleashed a wave of understandable angst in Jordan, a country that is buffeted by the tumult of a wider region in conflict. It led to the now-familiar hand-wringing over the limits of free speech in Arab societies. And it shined a spotlight once more on the perils of extremism in a nation that has seen the resurgence of the Muslim Brotherhood, a party that embraces political Islam, in elections last week.
But not all were displeased. A television host in Egypt -- where, ironically, the Muslim Brotherhood is now outlawed — celebrated Hattar's murder. In a video posted by the Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors media in the Arab world, Hani Nahhas of Alhadas Elyoum TV said that Hattar's "blasphemy" did not count as free speech and that he deserved to "now stand trial in God's court." (You can see it in the embedded tweet above.)
"They say [Hattar] is a martyr, killed for the sake of freedom of speech, but I do not think this way at all," Nahhas said. "You have the right to criticize a president, a prince, or a king, but you do not have the right to draw, to affront or to humiliate the Lord." He then said: "I personally declare that I support the killing of Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar."
My colleague William Booth has more on Hattar and the cartoon that led to his death:
Hattar, a secular Christian, was arrested in August for sharing a cartoon on his Facebook page titled “the God of Daesh,” an alternative name for the Islamic State militant group. The creator of the cartoon is unknown.
The drawing showed a bearded man, lying in bed under sheets, smoking contentedly beside two women in paradise and jabbing his finger toward God, who asks, “Do you need anything?” The man replies, “Yes, Lord, bring me wine, cashews and an immortal servant to come clean the floor."
Hattar took the image down and tried to explain why he posted it. He said the cartoon was a depiction of the perverted beliefs of Islamic State militants and mocked “how they imagine God and heaven, and does not insult God in any way.”
Tragically, his sense of humor was not understood or accepted by those more devout in his country — and evidently media personalities elsewhere. Parodies of Islamic divinity and images of the prophet Muhammad have sparked rounds of protests in Muslim communities around the world, led to death threats for cartoonists and a hideous terror assault on the offices of a French satirical publication.
Hattar also had been a steadfast backer of the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, a sympathy that would have won him both friends and enemies in Jordan's fractured political landscape.
"Now Assad’s pundits are using Hattar’s murder to warn Jordanians about the futility of Jordan’s alliance with the United States and the increasing attacks by ISIS supporters inside the Kingdom," Egyptian secular blogger Nervana Mahmoud writes.
"In short," she writes, "the murder of Nahed Hattar is a triumph of religious escapism, intellectual cowardice, and political manipulation in a region that has lost its moral compass and descended into a dark space where bad is fighting bad with bad, only to produce more ugliness and despair."
Hattar's wife, Randa Kakish-Hattar, spoke to reporters hours after his death Sunday: “I saw his lifeless, blood-drained body just now. His two children saw him shot and killed before their eyes. And for what? For sharing a cartoon on Facebook?”
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