Yesterday, Nahed Hattar, a writer and political activist, was shot dead in broad daylight outside a courthouse in Amman, Jordan, where he was due to stand trial for the crime of posting a cartoon on social media that was considered offensive to Muslims.
Hattar was arrested in August. The cartoon depicted a jihadist, in bed with two women, who orders God, also pictured, to bring him a glass of wine. Any depiction of Allah is considered an offence to Islam in Jordan, and so Hattar was charged with violating religious laws and causing ‘sectarian strife and racism’.
This was the first death of its kind in Jordan, a Muslim-majority Middle Eastern country that is usually known for its relative stability, and its peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Christians. Compared with most other Muslim countries, Jordan is considered moderate. But in a state where someone can be punished for criticising religion, what does ‘moderate’ really mean?
Hattar was Christian-born, but described himself as a ‘non-believer’. He was an anti-Islamist activist and known for being a controversial writer, but he didn’t go out of his way to offend. When he came under fire for posting the cartoon, which was titled ‘God of Daesh’, he apologised and said his intent was to mock ‘terrorists and how they imagine God and heaven… [the cartoon] does not insult God in any way’.
Similar to what happened in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings, Hattar’s death has been met with mixed responses. The Muslim Brotherhood, the ultra-conservative Muslim political party, condemned the shooting collectively, but Brotherhood MP Dima Tahboub also wrote on Twitter: ‘Seculars are the downfall of our society.’ And while some have taken to social media to stand up for freedom of speech, others have openly celebrated Hattar’s death.