Friday 30 October 2009

Islamic countries push a global 'blasphemy' law

A recent article in  the Christian Science Monitor gives a concise description of the latest activities of the Organization of the Islamic Council (OIC) on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR)

Under the leadership of Pakistan, the 57-nation OIC wants to give resolutions against "blasphemy" legal teeth by making them part of an international convention. It proposes "legal prohibition of publication of material that negatively stereotypes, insults or uses offensive language" on matters regarded by religious followers as "sacred or inherent to their dignity as human beings."

If enacted such legislation would be extraordinarily wide-sweeping. We all know that the religious can manifest offence for reasons that, through the eyes of a sceptic, appear quite trivial. The use of the words "negatively", "insult", "offensive", "sacred" and "dignity" would all be subject to whatever interpretation a Government, advised by its "religious followers", would choose to put on them.   How can a religion be criticised even mildly and politely without drawing the charge of negativity? How negative would it have to be before a religious follower felt his dignity was impugned?  The answer is, of course, whatever the religious followers decide. Moreover how would "religious follower" be defined? Would it include scientologists, pagans, pink unicornists and pastafarians and if not why not? Who is to define what is and is not a religion?

As the CSM points out it would effectively be the criminalisation of the expression of ideas as opposed to the defence of human rights and such suppression of speech in the name of religion can come with a negative effect – the suppression of people and theological fault lines that at some point will erupt.  It could also end the freedom to disagree over faith which is precisely the freedom that allows for the free practice of religion.

The US, after years of boycott, has now joined the UNHCR and Hilary Clinton, reported here, encouragingly, has come out strongly against these proposals, stating that, "a person's ability to practice their religion was entirely unrelated to another person's right to free speech" . She went on to argue that "the best antidote to religious intolerance is enforcement of antidiscrimination laws, government "outreach" to minority religious groups, and "the vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and expression."

To an atheist it simply looks as if the Islamic countries are fighting a desperate rearguard action and what they really fear is the exposure of their religion to the searchlight of science, reason & rationality: that this, together with globalisation and rising levels of education and prosperity, will cause their religion to whither and die as have other religions in the prosperous countries of Europe.

1 comment:

  1. This is really worrying. We are lucky it does not have force of law, but it puts enough pressure on Western democracies by itself.