Over the weekend, a drama with potentially horrific consequences for freedom-loving Americans played out half-a-world away. A Saudi newspaper columnist named Hamza Kashgari was detained in Malaysia, reportedly on the basis of an alert by Interpol. "This arrest was part of an Interpol operation which the Malaysian police were a part of," Reuters quotes a Malaysian police spokesman as saying. The alert apparently was mounted in response to a "red notice" (or request for help apprehending an individual) issued by Saudi Arabia. Mr. Kashgari was then sent back to Saudi Arabia, where he faces almost certain death.
Mr. Kashgari's crime? He criticized the founder of Islam, Muhammad, on his Twitter account. According to press reports, he addressed the man Muslims call the Prophet directly, writing: "I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you. There is a lot I don't understand about you. ... I will not pray for you."
The reaction in Saudi Arabia has been characteristically over the top when it comes to such alleged "blasphemy" against Islam. Clerics have denounced Mr. Kashgari for apostasy, a capital offense under the totalitarian Islamic code known as Shariah. Tens of thousands of his countrymen have expressed indignation, with some 13,000 signing an online petition calling for the columnist's execution.
Jago Russell, chief executive of the British nongovernmental organization Fair Trials International told the Guardian that Interpol is an international coordination mechanism for national police authorities that is supposed "to respect human rights and free speech" and steer clear of "religious or political cases." So why, if the Malaysian police are telling the truth, did it apparently violate all such guidelines?
An Interpol spokesman insists that his organization had nothing to do with Mr. Kashgari's apprehension in Malaysia and involuntary return to Saudi Arabia. What is clear at this point is that the Saudis sought help apprehending the man who fled their not-so-tender mercies. It seems likely that the Saudi red notice to Interpol provided the Malays a pretext for intercepting and extraditing a columnist who dared to exercise free speech.
If Interpol is now being used, in effect, to enforce Shariah blasphemy laws, it is not just somebody else's problem. It is ours.
After all, in a December 2009 executive order unveiled on a Friday afternoon in the run-up to the Christmas holidays, President Obama issued Executive Order 13524. It amended an earlier order by President Reagan that conferred on Interpol some - but not all - of the privileges of a foreign diplomatic mission.
Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor and one of the finest legal minds and essayists of our time, wrote that Mr. Obama's amendments would have the effect of establishing here "an international police force immune from the restraints of American law." He added that, thanks to the Obama executive order, "This international police force (whose U.S. headquarters is in the Justice Department in Washington) will be unrestrained by the U.S. Constitution and American law while it operates in the United States and affects both Americans and American interests outside the United States."
There has been a lot of anxiety across the country lately about the possibility that provisions of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act could be used to have the military arrest American citizens and detain them indefinitely without due process. Like Mr. McCarthy and Charles Stimson, the author of a new study from the Heritage Foundation on the subject, I believe such concerns to be unfounded.
It appears, however, that pursuant to Mr. Obama's directive, red notices issued by foreign powers against U.S. citizens could result in their apprehension by or with the help of Interpol, and perhaps lead to their surrender to hostile foreign powers. Whether something similar happened to Mr. Kashgari remains to be clarified. But we need to know: Could the carte blanche inexplicably given Interpol by Mr. Obama lend itself to such abuse against Americans in a future case?
What makes all this particularly worrying is that the Obama administration is currently helping the Saudis and the multinational lobby the kingdom hosts in Jedda, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, in a longstanding campaign to criminalize expression that offends Muslims. The "Istanbul Process" is inexorably translating into legitimization of Shariah blasphemy laws - and a threat to those not only in Muslim nations but in Europe, Canada and even the United States, who flout them.
The more the international community accedes to clearly anti-constitutional restrictions on freedom of expression, the more an international police force is empowered to act in extra-constitutional ways, the more certain it becomes that the Constitution of the United States risks becoming a dead letter. Or, at least, our Constitution will no longer be "the supreme law of the land," as its Article VI declares. Instead, we will have conceded an equal, if not superior, place to Shariah and put at risk all who dare to resist its tyranny.
Congress needs to enact legislation countermanding Executive Order 13524 and serving notice that America remains the home of those free to speak their minds and brave enough to resist Interpol's - or anybody else's - efforts to keep them from doing so in what amounts to submission to Shariah.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy (SecureFreedom.org), a columnist for The Washington Times and host of Secure Freedom Radio, heard in Washington weeknights at 9 p.m. on 1260 AM.