Poisoning Schoolgirls in Iran
Unbelief Brief
February 27, 2023
A spate of attacks primarily on girls' schools has led to illness in several Iranian cities. Plus, a blasphemy arrest in Bangladesh.

Girls’ Schools Targeted in Poison Attacks

In multiple Iranian cities, girls attending school appear to have been deliberately targeted in a spate of attacks poisoning the schools’ water supply. This comes in the context of the wider backdrop of protests and unrest that have rocked the nation since the murder of Mahsa Amini in police custody.

Initial reporting told of sickness spreading among students, mostly girls, in the Iranian city of Qom, but in the succeeding days similar incidents began to crop up in other cities, including the capital of Tehran. 

Similar waves of illness in schools have reportedly occurred irregularly over the last several years in many countries, including Afghanistan, often with no direct evidence of poisoning. This case, however, appears to be different, with even Iranian authorities voicing their view that the illness was a result of deliberate poisoning of the schools’ water supply, with the likely motivation of stopping girls from going to school.

Such extremism—and violence, if of an unconventional kind—in the Islamic quasi-theocracy is unsurprising. One can hope there will be justice for this, but the same Iranian authorities who murder young women for failing to adhere to hijab requirements may not have much of a stake in seeing justice served.

Teacher Jailed in Bangladesh

The euphemistic blasphemy laws of Bangladesh have sunk their claws into another victim: a village girls’ school headmaster. Arrested and detained for “hurting religious sentiments,” he could face a sentence of one year in prison if found guilty under the part of the law that applies to him.

The teacher, Md Abu Saleh, allegedly made “defamatory” comments “on religion.” Further specificity as to the nature of his remarks has not been reported, except that he made the comment “in front of a student’s guardian,” who later spread the word of his crime.

The harshest penalties for blasphemy in Bangladesh are reserved for those who “hurt religious sentiments” using an online platform, which can result in seven years’ imprisonment. Nonetheless, this man may well spend a year of his life behind bars merely for making an idle remark, whatever it was. Bangladesh is not anywhere near as bad as its neighbor Pakistan on this issue, but it continues to violate human rights openly and flagrantly.

Interfaith Blasphemy

The All India Shia Personal Law Board, an association of Shia clerics in India, has accused the Sunni government of Saudi Arabia of blasphemy (again, as often, “hurting religious sentiments”). 

The controversy surrounds a proposed “mega shopping, entertainment and residential complex” that the Saudi government plans to build in Riyadh—which, apparently, would resemble the Kaaba. These Indian Muslims contend that the construction of such an object would “deeply hurt the religious sentiments” of Muslims around the globe.

This is, of course, a relatively lighthearted—even amusing—manifestation of the blasphemy accusations that sometimes occur across denominational boundaries in Islam. Too often, though, it manifests as Shias in Sunni-majority countries being jailed for practicing their faith or vice-versa. Another reminder that the “blasphemy” nonsense hurts Muslims too.

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