Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Book review: Silenced by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea

Review by Riley K. Smith

Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide
By Paul Marshall & Nina Shea

It is unquestionable that the death sentence given to Christian Asia Bibi of Pakistan has resonated with people around the world. To think that a young mother could die for challenging her Muslim co-workers in an issue related to Islam—and (ironically) after they had taunted her Christian faith—is frightening.

Her case has stirred up all kinds of unsettling questions. What kind of law would impose a death sentence for allegedly offending someone from another religion? And do Westerners need to be concerned about such blasphemy codes becoming law in their countries?

Paul Marshall and Nina Shea address the blasphemy and apostasy laws in their recently released book entitled Silenced. The authors clearly state what the book is not: “a work on Islamic law or history,” nor an analysis of “the development of apostasy and blasphemy concepts.” Their intent is “to survey the contemporary use and effects of such accusations and threats.” In a globalized economy with products being exchanged between countries, are religious defamation laws a “commodity” that Westerners wish to see imported into their countries? I think not.

Marshall and Shea invited three Muslims to contribute their evaluation of blasphemy and apostasy laws. One asserts that such laws are used purposefully to thwart reform of Muslim societies, and another argues that current human rights dialogue is not exclusively a Western conviction but is supported by many Muslims. Sandwiched between the contributors are chapters focusing on a number of Muslim-majority countries. These chapters explain recent blasphemy and apostasy cases against not just Christians, but also Hindus, Ahmadis, Baha’is, Jews, as well as accusations among Muslim sects. Four chapters are then dedicated to show how blasphemy laws are affecting Western countries, such as Australia and Canada.

This book is recommended for those wishing to broaden their understanding of the scope of blasphemy and apostasy laws in Muslim-majority countries beyond how it has affected Christians like Asia Bibi. In addition, it equips the Western reader to discern potential laws that may sound good on the surface with their intention to create a harmonious society, but have tragic legal consequences that silence society.

As followers of Christ, we know that the purposes of God will proceed regardless of such laws being imposed. But as citizens of two kingdoms—our earthly kingdom and heavenly kingdom—it is our responsibility to be good stewards of the society the Lord has allowed us to inhabit, while diligently praying for and acting on behalf of our persecuted family who are affected by such laws.

Riley K. Smith is the author of four Restricted Nations books available through The Voice of the Martyrs.

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