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Padraig Reidy: Blasphemy laws protect only power, never people

By Padraig Reidy / 31 July, 2014

It was, apparently, the posting of a “blasphemous image” on Facebook that led an angry mob to burn down houses with children inside them.

It’s been suggested that it was a picture of the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest site, that provoked the mob in Gujranwala in Pakistan. They rallied last Sunday at Arafat colony, home of 17 families belonging to the Ahmadi sect. As police stood by, houses were looted and torched. At the end of the night, a woman in her 50s, Bushra Bibi, and her granddaughters Hira and Kainat, an eight-month-old baby, were dead. None of them had anything to do with the blasphemous Facebook post.

Was the image even blasphemous? In some ways, it doesn’t really matter. What matters was that it was posted by an Ahmadi, whose very existence is condemned by the Pakistani penal code.

Ahmadiyya emerged in India in the late 19th century. It is a small sect based on the belief that its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was, in fact, the Mahdi of Muslim tradition. This teaching is rejected by Orthodox Sunni Islam.

In Pakistan, this means that being a member of the Ahmadiyya sect is dangerous. The law says you cannot describe yourself as Muslim. You cannot exchange Muslim greetings. You cannot describe your call to prayer as a Muslim call to prayer. You cannot describe your place of worship as a Masjid.

Any Ahmadi who “any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims” can be imprisoned for up to three years.

Ahmadis suffer disproportionately from Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, but they are not the only ones who suffer. Accusations of blasphemy are frequently levelled at members of other minorities and at mainstream Muslims too. Often, this is done out of sheer spite. Often it is done to settle scores.

As the New Statesman’s Samira Shackle has pointed out, amid the chaos and fear generated by the law, it’s often difficult to find out what people are actually supposed to have done, as media hesitate to repeat the alleged blasphemy lest they themselves be accused of the crime.

The fevered atmosphere created by the laws mean that to oppose them can be fatal. In Janury 2011, Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was killed by his own bodyguard after he pledged to support a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who had been accused of the crime. Taseer’s assassin claimed that the governor had been an “apostate”. He was widely praised by the religious establishment. Three months later, Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was killed, apparently because of his belief that the blasphemy law should be changed.

Meanwhile, an amendment proposed by Taseer’s colleague Sherry Rehman, which would have abolished the death penalty for blasphemy, was dropped. Rehman was posted to diplomatic service in the United States later that year, amid allegations that she herself had committed some kind of blasphemy.

The number of blasphemy cases is steadily rising, and Human Rights Watch recently claimed that 18 people are on death row after being found guilty of defaming the prophet Muhammad, though no one has as yet been executed.

The laws may seem archaic, but they are in fact utterly modern. While some of South Asia’s laws on religious offence date back to the Raj, the laws relating to the Ahmadi, and the law making insulting Muhammad a capital offence only emerged in the 1980s, as part of General Zia’s attempts to shore up his religious credentials.

The sad fact is this Pakistan’s new enthusiasm for blasphemy laws is not an international aberration. Nor is this a trend confined to confessional Islamic states.

Ireland’s 2009 Defamation Act introduced a 25,000 Euro fine for the publication of “blasphemous matter”. According to the Act , “a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if—

(a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and

(b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.”

Note how similar the wording is to the Pakistani law forbidding Ahmadis from offending Muslims. The Pakistani government repaid the compliment when, along with other members of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, it attempted to force the UN to recognise “religious defamation” as a crime, lifting text from the Irish act. Pakistan claimed, grotesquely, that criminalising blasphemy was about preventing discrimination. Cast your eyes back once again to how its blasphemy provisions treat Ahmadis.

Across Europe, more and more blasphemy cases are emerging. In January of this year, a Greek man was sentenced to 10 months for setting up a Facebook page mocking an Orthodox cleric. In 2012, Polish singer Doda was fined for suggesting that the Bible read like it was written by someone drunk and “smoking some herbs”. The trial of Pussy Riot in Russia was heavy with talk of sacrilege.

We tend to believe that the world is moving inexorably toward a secular settlement. The unintended upshot of this prevalent belief is that organised religions, even in countries like Pakistan, get to portray themselves as weak people who need to be protected from extinction, even as they wield power of life and death over people.

Religious persecution is real, and should be fought. Freedom of belief is a basic right. But blasphemy laws protect only power, and never people.

This article was posted on July 31, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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About Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy Padraig Reidy is a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.

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One Response to Padraig Reidy: Blasphemy laws protect only power, never people

  1. Basil Venitis Reply

    31 July at 12:45

    THE DEVIL CANNOT ENDURE TO BE MOCKED!
    Keynote Speaker Basil Venitis, venitis@gmail.com, http://venitism.blogspot.com

    The truth of the old adage that the devil cannot endure to be mocked has been confirmed again and again. The forces of oppression cannot endure to be mocked, and are eager to pass laws to make such mockery impossible. Such laws would be the death of free societies and the inauguration of tyranny. Consequently, such mockery is all the more necessary in these dark times. Most Occidentals want blasphemy laws to be abolished.

    Blasphemy is publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion. It’s scary to think that a progressive state would drag out antiquated laws to suppress freedom of speech. Sometimes you have to shake your head and wonder how in this day and age a law that supports prosecuting detractors of old fairy tales is allowed to be on the books.

    Blasphemy violates no one’s rights. To cave in to intimidation and not publish anything religulous freaks feel is offensive is to surrender the crucial principle of free speech. This clash is about respecting man’s right to express his views, however unpopular, in the face of religious attempts to subordinate that right to mystical dogmas. Instead of appeasing the mobs who call for executing anyone offending their faith, the West must support those who share its political ideal of free speech.

    BLASPHEMY LAWS ARE SILLY AND DANGEROUS

    Blasphemy laws are silly and dangerous. It is silly because medieval religious laws have no place in a modern secular republic, where the criminal law should protect people and not ideas. And it is dangerous because it incentivizes religious outrage, and because Islamic States are already using the wording of blasphemy laws to promote new blasphemy laws at UN level. Blasphemy laws are unjust, because they silence people in order to protect ideas. In a civilized society, people have a right to express and to hear ideas about religion even if other people find those ideas to be outrageous.

    Secular society is rejected by religulous freaks. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their religulous feelings. But this is incompatible with freedom of speech, where one must be ready to put up with insults, mockery, and ridicule. Journalists should treat religulous freaks the same way they treat atheists, cultists, spiritualists, spirituals, politicians, philosophers, scientists, artists, and businessmen, integrating them into the Graecoroman tradition of criticism and satire, because they are part of society, not strangers. Blasphemy is including, rather than excluding, religulous freaks.

    A growing threat to our freedom of speech is the attempt to stifle religious discussion in the name of preventing defamation of or insults to religion. Resulting restrictions represent, in effect, a revival of blasphemy laws. Ayatollah Khomeini declared it the duty of every Muslim to kill British-based writer Salman Rushdie on the grounds that his novel, The Satanic Verses, was blasphemous. Rushdie has survived by living his life in hiding. Others connected with the book were not so fortunate: its Japanese translator was assassinated, its Italian translator was stabbed, its Norwegian publisher was shot, and 35 guests at a hotel hosting its Turkish publisher were burned to death in an arson attack.

    Rushdie says: If you feel offended by something, it’s your problem. To be offended by a book is quite difficult; you have to work very hard at it. When you close the book, it loses its power to offend you. The world is complicated and one of the nature’s of a free society is that people will say and write and create all kinds of things which some other people won’t like. There’s no other way.

    Actors, the producer, and the director of an American play in Greece that depict Jesus Christ and his apostles as gay have been charged with blasphemy. A production of Corpus Christi in Athens was canceled after weeks of almost daily protests outside the theatre by freakish priests and stupid fascists.

    Stupid charges of insulting religion and malicious blasphemy have been filed after deranged Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus lodged a stupid lawsuit against those involved in Corpus Christi. Heroic defendants face several months in a Greek barbaric prison. The stupid charges drew international criticism from civil rights groups, describing the barbaric Greek blasphemy laws as anachronistic stupidities that must be abolished.

    Freakish demonstrators, including fascists and priests, blocked the entrance of the theatre and clashed with police on the night of the play’s premiere. Freakish priests holding crosses were shown on television tearing up posters promoting Corpus Christi. A powerful institution, the Orthodox Church enjoys religious monopoly and plays an influential role in the bewildered Greek society.

    Graecokleptocrats use the Church of Greece as a political tool to stupefy hoi polloi. That’s why the Greek government pays all salaries of clergy and major expenses of the Church. Malevolent Graecokleptocrats are presented to stupefied hoi polloi as a manifestation of God’s benevolence! Most bishops form a gay club full of scandals, and they can easily be blackmailed and manipulated by Graecokleptocrats.

    The prosecutor’s decision to press stupid charges against Corpus Christi was condemned by all civil society. It’s the religulous bullies outside the theater who should be put on the stand and not the actors. Persecuting art is a glorification of the stupid Dark Ages. The government is panicking and it’s looking to the stupid fascists for crutches.

    Graecokleptocrats have made their culture of corruption the norm of the national character of Greece. The debasement of the Greek soul is due to huge political corruption, statist propaganda, and religulous brainwashing. Plato and Aristotle asserted that different regimes produce different types of human beings, and regimes ought to be judged by the character of their citizens.

    Philip Loizos, who was poking fun at a bewildered Greek Orthodox monk who died in 1994, has been sentenced to ten months in prison for blasphemy! Lawyer George Kleftodimos says: Loizos was merely satirizing in a country that gave birth to satire. Never and by no means did he insult the Orthodox Church. Loizos has appealed against the ruling and will not be jailed before his case is heard by a higher court.
    The 28-year-old man was arrested on the stupid charge for creating a Facebook page mocking a deceased Orthodox monk prompting Greeks to take to social networking sites in protest. The man lampooned Elder Paisios, a widely popular religulous figure, using the name Elder Pastitsios. Pastitsio is a Greek pasta dish, and the page parodied the monk and his work in the mode of Pastafarianism, a lighthearted satirical movement that promotes irreligion. Elder Paisios is shown with a plate of pastitsio.

    Innocent Pastafarian was arrested at his home in Athens following stupid complaints received by the Greek police’s brutal Cyber Crime Unit (CCU). The violent cybercops also stole the man’s laptop. CCU is the most disgusting group of Greek police, which breaks in the homes of dissident bloggers, stealing their computers and files, and locking them in filthy jails which have neither soap nor toilet paper! Blasphemy in Greece carries a fine of up to 3,000 euros, and up to two years imprisonment. This reveals the barbarity and brutality of Greece.

    Pastafarianism, also known as the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, is a parody religion founded in USA. Pastafarianism comes from Rastafarianism, a religious cult, originally of Jamaica, that regards Africa as the Promised Land, to which all true believers will someday return, and the late Haile Selassie, former emperor of Ethiopia, as the messiah. Ras Tafari, Prince Tafari, was the former name of Haile Selassie.

    Bobby Henderson satirized the creation theory by professing his belief in a supernatural creator that resembles spaghetti and meatballs, interfering with His Noodly Appendage! Henderson argued that his beliefs and the creation theory were equally valid, and called for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism to be allotted equal time in science classrooms alongside the creation theory and the evolution theory!

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