A Jordanian writer turned himself in over the weekend to face charges of insulting Islam with a cartoon that he shared on Facebook intending to mock the worldview of ISIS fighters. Nahed Hattar, a controversial left-wing Christian columnist and staunch supporter of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, is currently jailed in Amman pending an investigation.
The cartoon that Hattar shared last week depicts an ISIS fighter in bed with two women while ordering God to fetch him a drink. The panel by an unidentified artist was actually skewering the militant group’s well-known hypocrisy regarding observation of Islamic practices, but many Jordanians have taken it as a blasphemous insult to both God and Islam. Even Hattar’s lawyer Faisal al-Batayneh, who has successfully defended him on other charges “several times in the past,” withdrew from the case on Sunday after seeing the cartoon. Although Batayneh felt unable to defend Hattar himself, he said in a press statement that the case should be dropped because Hattar “did not stoke sectarian and religious feelings in a malicious manner.”
Christians make up about 4% of Jordan’s population, and sectarian strife with the Muslim majority is rare. The government and many Jordanians believe this peaceful coexistence results from strict bans on incitement to hatred, violence, or discrimination from any quarter. Amman’s public prosecutor has also banned media within the country from covering Hattar’s case due to “public safety concerns.” If convicted, Hattar could be jailed for up to three years.
Although Islam is the official state religion of Jordan, the government of the constitutional monarchy is secular. The crime of insulting God is a relatively new one, as the law previously held that “the divine entity would not require the defence of humans.”
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.