There are three interpretations to statements made by Harvard's Muslim chaplain, Imam Taha Abdul-Basser, about the position of Islamic law on apostates.
a) Traditional Islamic law calls for the death penalty for apostates everywhere, but Abdul-Basser does not support that position as he is a liberal cleric.
b) Traditional Islamic law calls for the death penalty for apostates, but only in majority Muslim countries, and this is the position supported by Abudul-Basser as he is a "moderate" cleric.
c) Traditional Islamic law calls for the death penalty for apostates everywhere, and this is the position supported by Abdul-Basser as he is a lying cleric.
Only position a above is tenable on a college campus. The problem with the imam's answers for clarification about his position is that one can read it as either a or b. That is, it sounds like he is denying that he supports killing Muslim apostates until you read on and he describes how such killing is only practiced in Muslim countries and he would never support such laws here in the US.
Which sounds kind of like a non-denial denial of position b above.
Imagine, if you will, a Catholic priest arguing that while he does support freedom of religion in the U.S. and in other majority Protestant countries, that Catholics should return to the Dark Ages in countries where they are the majority and start killing apostates, too.
But let us suppose that Abdul-Basser's position is that of "a" above. He's horrified at the thought of killing apostates.
But in so doing he has admitted what many in the West are afraid to speak out loud: that Islamic law has never traditionally allowed Muslims to be free.
Which, I think, is telling.
Whether or not Islam as a religion can be separated from Islam as a legal code is up for Muslims to decide. I hope that the Dean's World author, Azziz Poonawalla, quoted in the article is right and that it can be. Certainly millions of Muslims around the world hold this position.
What we who are outsiders to this debate cannot do is sugarcoat the reality of Islamist movements who wish to impose Islamic law. Even so-called "moderate" Islamists are enemies of fundamental human rights such as the right to join or leave religious communities and the right to criticize those communities openly.