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Graffiti is illegal; anti-Islam remarks are not

13 May 2011 General 8 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

Editor’s note: Asma T. Uddin is the founder and editor-in-chief of She is also a legal fellow with the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and an international law attorney with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty , a nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest law firm based in Washington, D.C.

(CNN) — Just as patriotism was renewed while Americans mourned on 9/11, it flourishes again less than 10 years later as we celebrate the long-awaited justice finally served by Osama bin Laden’s death.

But while we celebrate, we must guard against condemning Islam as the force behind bin Laden’s reign of terror. As President Obama stated in his speech announcing the mass murderer’s death, we are not at war with Islam. Bin Laden and his extremist cohorts have wreaked havoc on Muslims and non-Muslims alike, across the globe.

Unfortunately, the false association of Muslims and terrorism came up just hours after the brutal terrorist leader’s life ended. Muslims in Portland, Maine, awoke that Monday morning to find their place of worship defiled with anti-Islam graffiti. The gray stone walls of the recently established Maine Muslims Community Center were desecrated with the spray-painted phrases “Osama today, Islam tomorrow” and “Long live the West.”

Statements such as those express a notion that Islam is inextricably linked to terrorism. This kind of thinking must be called out for what it is. Terrorists are at war with freedom, and thus all of humanity, not just Western non-Muslims. Terrorism is not the expression of any particular religion. Bin Laden sought to crush freedom wherever he found it.

Defacing a building is unlawful. But, on their own, offensive statements against Muslims aren’t. We can’t confuse unlawful acts such as painting graffiti on private property with making statements against Muslims. Those are protected by the right to free speech, as offensive as those thoughts or actions might be.

Just last month, Florida pastor Terry Jones and his compatriot Wayne Sapp spent time in a Michigan jail when they refused to pay a $1 bond after a jury determined that their planned peaceful demonstration across from a Muslim mosque would lead to violence. Jones, who made international news in March when he led a Quran-burning ceremony in Florida that sparked mass rioting and killings in Afghanistan, planned to host this Michigan protest on Good Friday. His aim was to admonish Muslims not to impose Sharia law on America.

Jones’ behavior and claims only vilify Islam as the source of terrorism. But his claims are protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution nonetheless. In this situation, the law was abused in order to silence Jones’ speech, though the ostensible purpose was to protect him from violence.

The law should not have been used to “protect” Jones by robbing him of his constitutionally protected rights. Jones’ speech may provoke people to commit violence — directed at him — but the law does not prohibit speech for this reason. There is no “heckler’s veto.”

Instead, the law may only limit speech that is directed at inciting imminent violence against another person or group of people. Rather than penalizing the speaker in order to prevent violence, the law compels potentially violent actors to regulate their own behavior — even in the face of insults or other provocation. After all, violence is far more effectively controlled if states punish criminal acts.

We should feel free to criticize people like Jones, but we should by no means attempt to twist the law in order to silence them. As we continue to celebrate and thank those who have risked their lives to secure our freedoms from enemies abroad, we should remember to protect these freedoms ourselves.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Asma Uddin.

Original post: Graffiti is illegal; anti-Islam remarks are not


  1. amen

  2. Quoted from above,”But while we celebrate, we must guard against condemning Islam as the force behind bin Laden’s reign of terror.”
    One has to wonder just what was the force which propelled Bin Laden? Just wondering.

    From TIME magazine, “After the infidels have been expelled from the land of Islam, bin Laden, like other Islamic radicals, foresees the overthrow of current regimes across the Muslim world and the establishment of one united government strictly enforcing Shari’a, or Islamic law. This vision harks back to the age of the caliphs, the successors to Muhammad who ruled Islam’s domain from the 7th century to the 13th. What might a caliphate look like today? In bin Laden’s view, it would look something like the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which he has praised as “among the keenest to fulfill [Allah’s] laws.”

    Read more:,9171,1101011015-178412,00.html#ixzz1MHJXcnMR

  3. kaatib,

    sorry, don’t have time to read your article, the rays are on, but let me preempt…..ubl has “misinterpreted” the koran. but isn’t that funny that only newt or wilder (that might be mispelled ..the dutch guy) says or writes something and someone “misinterprets” it that they are responsible for the actions of those who misinterprete”. when the afgahns killed 20 un personnell the un guy came out and said it wasn’t the afgahns fault but terry jones fault……really, only in the international community…..clearly the koran has inspired violence.

    Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.

    [8.1] They ask you about the windfalls. Say: The windfalls are for Allah and the Apostle. So be careful of (your duty to) Allah and set aright matters of your difference, and obey Allah and His Apostle if you are believers.
    [8.2] Those only are believers whose hearts become full of fear when Allah is mentioned, and when His communications are recited to them they increase them in faith, and in their Lord do they trust.
    [8.3] Those who keep up prayer and spend (benevolently) out of what We have given them.
    [8.4] These are the believers in truth; they shall have from their Lord exalted grades and forgiveness and an honorable sustenance.
    [8.5] Even as your Lord caused you to go forth from your house with the truth, though a party of the believers were surely averse;
    [8.6] They disputed with you about the truth after it had become clear, (and they went forth) as if they were being driven to death while they saw (it).
    [8.7] And when.Allah promised you one of the two parties that it shall be yours and you loved that the one not armed should he yours and Allah desired to manifest the truth of what was true by His words and to cut off the root of the unbelievers.
    [8.8] That He may manifest the truth of what was true and show the falsehood of what was false, though the guilty disliked.
    [8.9] When you sought aid from your Lord, so He answered you: I will assist you with a thousand of the angels following one another.
    [8.10] And Allah only gave it as a good news and that your hearts might be at ease thereby; and victory is only from Allah; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise.
    [8.11] When He caused calm to fall on you as a security from Him and sent down upon you water from the cloud that He might thereby purify you, and take away from you the uncleanness of the Shaitan, and that He might fortify your hearts and steady (your) footsteps thereby.
    [8.12] When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.

  4. This is a great article but the Islamic Thinkers Society would not agree with it.

  5. kaabit,

    great article. say what you will about bin laden, but at least he declared war on america before he attacked us. he is just doing what he thinks his god wants done.

    [5.32] For this reason did We prescribe to the children of Israel that whoever slays a soul, unless it be for manslaughter or for mischief in the land, it is as though he slew all men; and whoever keeps it alive, it is as though he kept alive all men; and certainly Our apostles came to them with clear arguments, but even after that many of them certainly act extravagantly in the land.
    [5.33] The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement,

  6. @Mike

    These verses have totally different translations and interpretations. We quote this verse “[8.2] Those only are believers whose hearts become full of fear when Allah is mentioned, and when His communications are recited to them they increase them in faith, and in their Lord do they trust.”

    here the Arabic term “WAJILAT QULUBUHUM” should be translated as “their hearst vibrate”— in my Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi sufi lineage, once u attain the initiatic spiritual connection — your heart vibrates internally and chants the name of the lord. Some people “HEAR” chant coming out of their heart, but most feel a vibration. So that is what this verse refers to, NOT “:become fearful”

  7. irsad alam,

    thank you for your insight. i think you make an important point that not all muslims agree on what the koran says. the example of usama bin laden is a glaring example of disagreement as to what the koran says. i don’t by any means, mean to paint islam with a broad brush. much like christendom there are many schools of thought, sects if you will. sunni, shia, sufi (please correct me if i’m wrong, sufi are a sub-sect of sunni)…well if you have the time let me know of what you think of this page…

    as for my posts of the koran they come from the university of michigan, go blue, jk i’m a gator (the sec rules, big ten sucks)

    let’s see what my hard copy (the message of the quran translated and explained by muhammad asad) says. as an american of german descent (a hun) i like the title of the surah, spoils of war. but it’s ironic coming from the religion of peace. looks like this surah deals mostly with the battle of badr.

    8:2 “believers are only they whose hearts tremble with awe whenever god is mentioned, and whose faith is strengthed whenever his messages are conveyed unto them, and who in their sustainer place their trust.” footnoted as literaly “and whenever his messages are conveyed to them, they increase them in faith”.

    btw there is some serious lightning out side. is that a bad sign? then agian i’m in pinellas county florida, the lightning captial of the world. glad i didn’t take the boat out today.

    so do you believe that god sent the angels down to kill the meccans in the battle of badr?

    if i don’t hear from you today have a good weekend.

  8. Early Arabic was written without vowels, and had no dots for some of the letters which, without dots, look the same. The dots (and signs to indicate vowels) found in Arabic writing today are not found in early texts.The dots found today in Arabic writing were one of the first innovations that came after the spread of Arabic (after Islam). It’s no wonder there is disagreement as to what is really in the Qur’an.This has presented quite a dilemma for scholars trying to determine true meaning.

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