The misguided efforts by UN and others to outlaw blasphemy
By Austin Dacey/Continuum
After decades of being regarded an obscure, if not discarded, concept, blasphemy has made a spectacular comeback as a hot issue. Efforts to criminalize blasphemy are well advanced in the United Nations, with talks of an international treaty. The Organization of Islamic Conference and the Vatican have become partners in lobbying for such a treaty.
(Unfortunately, Amir Taheri doesn’t offer up any evidence that the Vatican went into partnership with the OIC to lobby for such a treaty. As always, one must take Muslim claims with a grain of salt….)
In its convoluted style, the European Court of Human Rights also has endorsed the concept.
In recent years, blasphemy has also been at the center of court cases in France based on lawsuits brought by Catholic and Muslim clerics.
But what constitutes blasphemy? American philosopher and human-rights campaigner Austin Dacey begins his journey into this labyrinthine subject by tackling that question.
In its Judeo-Christian form, blasphemy meant taking the name of the Lord in vain and, more generally, failing to respect the divine.
The Hebrew Bible uses the wordsnakob(speaking distinctly) andqillel(to curse) to describe two different but ultimately linked transgressions against the divine.Nakobmeant uttering the forbidden name of God whileqillelwas insulting the divine. The Greek translated the two words asblasphemein, or injuring by speech. Punishment was death by stoning.
Some Christian scholars were more relaxed about the whole thing. Aquinas quipped that an injurious word would not scratch the Godhead.
A Death Sentence For Blasphemy Against Islam Â Â Â Read more . . .
The Islamic version of blasphemy,tajdif, never attracted as much attention askufr, or rejection of “the Divine Truth,” an unforgivable sin.
Blasphemy today is a child of political correctness. The UN and various European courts that have ruled on it see it as “failure to respect a person’s or a group’s religious beliefs.” It is as if the divine has been scripted out of the debate.
Dacey shows that blasphemy is no longer the exclusive concern of Abrahamic religions. Some Hindus and Sikhs have also adopted the concept in its politically correct version.
For example, the Indian Muslim-born painter F.M. Husain was hounded out of his homeland by “over a decade of harassment and lawsuits by Hindu conservatives outraged by his nude portraits of Hindu goddesses.”
In exile, Husain’s travails continued; even in democratic England, he was hounded by fanatics. An exhibition of his work in London was closed after only days amid threats of violence.
Sikh militants have stopped the staging of a play by a British Sikh playwright in London, and leftists joined Islamists to force the cancellation in Berlin of the performance of a modern interpretation of an opera by Mozart, in which the severed heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed were on display.
Across the globe, the list of plays, art exhibitions and concerts stopped on grounds of the new definition of blasphemy is getting longer by the day.
In 2008, the Indian High Court in Delhi sounded this warning: “A new puritanism is being carried out in the name of cultural purity, and a host of ignorant people are vandalizing art and pushing us toward the pre-Renaissance era.”
In many cases, those who use blasphemy as a weapon have no religion themselves. They claim to be acting on behalf of a religious community supposed to have been “injured” by a novel, a play, or even a cartoon.
As Dacey demonstrates, defense of “cultural purity” is not the sole motivation of the benighted denizens of neo-blasphemy. More potent, and thus more dangerous, is the invocation of “respect” for virtually any version of a real or imagined “community” or “religious identity.”
But, should one respect what one does not believe to be worthy of respect?
And would it be sufficient to oppose the use and abuse of blasphemy in the name of freedom of speech?
By some estimates, there are more than 5,000 different “religions” or versions of them across the globe. Should the UN ban criticism of all of those, or should some “religious communities” be regarded as second-class and left defenseless against blasphemy?
Another problem is to decide who speaks for a religion at any given time, and who decides that blasphemy has occurred. More importantly, could someone outside a religion be charged with blasphemy in the context of that religion?
Dacey believes that the matter could not be settled by international treaties forbidding blasphemy and/or laws passed by any nation. Instead, he proposes a No Compliance Principle. This means refusal to allow anyone to deny anyone else’s freedom of expression in the name of religion.
To Dacey “the practice of violent retaliation” against blasphemy is “analogous to the violence used by terrorists in pursuit of a political goal, or by kidnappers and extortionists in pursuit of personal gain.” Dacey continues: “Governments and law enforcement officials universally adopt a public posture of not negotiating with terrorists and hostage-takers.” This is because they wish to show that violence is an ineffective means of achieving political and/or personal gains.
The same principle should apply when blasphemy is cited as an excuse for violence. If universally adopted and practiced, Dacey’s proposed No Compliance Principle would force those offended, or pretending to be offended, by blasphemy to fight back with art, literature and argument rather than bombs and daggers. The No Compliance Principle would make sure that “no lawful expressive acts are prevented by threat of violence.”
Censorship is Offensive
“I have read some of your media and it disturbs me very greatly that your media is responsible for sympathizing with theÂ criminal, dirty harami woman Aasia Bibi, who insulted our beloved Prophet (Peace be upon him). …. Furthermore, your media has been portraying such haramis like Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti as “shaheeds” (martyrs), they are both haramis and jahannamis (destined for hell) and gustakh e Rasool (blasphemer of prophet).”
The writer told Bhatti,
“I would like to remind you of one very important fact. Pakistan is an Islamic nation. It is a nation for Muslims, by Muslims, of Muslims.”
Well Pakis: there’s a place for ya! Â Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!