You Can Defame Religions All You Want March 26, 2011

You Can Defame Religions All You Want

For over a decade, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference has fought to make “defamation of religion” a crime. They wanted to punish you for blaspheming God, Allah, Islam, or a whole host of other religious beliefs some group holds sacred. We already know how much chaos ensued over cartoons featuring Muhammad.

So much for free speech.

But a new resolution from the United Nations Human Rights Council rightly puts the focus on defending people instead of their beliefs:

The new three-page resolution, which emerged after discussions between U.S. and Pakistani diplomats in recent weeks, recognises that there is “intolerance, discrimination and violence” aimed at believers in all regions of the world. Omitting any reference to “defamation”, it condemns any advocacy of religious hatred that amounts to incitement to hostility or violence against believers and calls on governments to act to prevent it.

Here’s the full resolution (PDF) on “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief.”

I don’t know how much effect this resolution will have — does anyone think mockery of Allah will now go by unnoticed in the Islamic world? — but we should welcome any resolution defending criticism of religion.

Blasphemy is a victimless crime, after all.

What’s the next step?

Leonard Leo, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, puts the target on countries that still punish religious critics:

… this new resolution recognizes that religious intolerance is best fought through efforts to encourage respect for every individual’s human rights, not through national or international anti-blasphemy laws. What is needed now is for countries, such as Pakistan, that have blasphemy laws to eliminate them.

(Thanks to Antonio for the link!)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Jon

    Definitely in favour of getting rid of laws like the blasphemy one in Pakistan – it affects everyone in that country whether they have no faith or are of an alternative faith to Islam, c.v. the Christian politician who was recently murdered for speaking out against the blasphemy laws.

  • Anonymous

    Hope you’re well, Molly Norris.

    Thank you for your integrity, Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti.

  • Richard Wade

    Blasphemy laws exist in countries where there is a mutual parasitic (not symbiotic) relationship between the government and the religious power structure. They feed off of each other. Ireland, Pakistan, Iran, and several others are examples. It is self-perpetuating, even though it is to the long-term detriment of the overall well being of the country.

    There’s a wave of populist uprising sweeping across the Middle East. From some of the revolutions a few democracy-like states might emerge, but don’t expect to see their new constitutions have any clauses about separation of mosque and state. Holy men do not willingly relinquish their power.

    I doubt that most of these laws will ever be assertively repealed. They will simply be forgotten when the countries have slowly become so secular that nobody cares, in perhaps 150 years.

    If anyone thinks I’m wrong, please convince me. I’d love to be wrong about this.

  • bigjohn756

    “Blasphemy is a victimless crime…?”
    I think that poor defenseless Allah would disagree with you there, Hemant. After all, He is completely at our mercy, you know, especially since He doesn’t exist.

  • Ibis

    @Richard I admit I’m not an expert in the history of Turkey, but I believe if it can happen there (i.e. a secular government), it can happen in Egypt, Iran, and elsewhere. The same people who are pushing for democratic reform in Iran (the young) are more likely to be secularists. I imagine the situation is similar in Egypt.*

    *speculation based on personal knowledge and impressions; no hard evidence at hand

    ETA: Religion also thrives when a country wishes to distinguish themselves from their neighbour “enemies” (e.g. Pakistan from India; Iran from Iraq). When these conditions are gone, religion wanes.

  • Ibis

    In my last statement, I said “when these conditions are gone”. Of course what I meant was that when the conditions that require such differentiation are changed or wane in their importance, religious zeal wanes concomitantly. For example, with Saddam gone, Iran no longer has to worry about another Iraqi invasion. The hold that the religious authorities had when Iranians had to protect themselves will weaken. As you say, the extremists will be loud and violent and will relinquish their power only with a fight, but the secularists will prevail (I hope).

  • ironically, I’m pretty sure jesus would insist that his followers love and accept everyone unconditionally at all times, even those who blaspheme…

  • @Anonymous,
    I also wish Molly Norris well, but she’s no hero in my opinion.
    Here’s my take on that whole fiasco.

  • Josh Evolved

    Why isn’t there a clause about protecting those with no belief? I know it says “based on religion or belief”, and I may only be over thinking this, but without a clause that clearly states “and those with no belief”, it only serves to cement that violence against believers is wrong but atheists are still fair game. I don’t think this is just a pointless semantic debate. Though I guess the inter alia line COULD be construed to benefit atheists, but it is a weak connection.

    That said, this is a stupid concept, akin to United States hate crime laws; it’s just designed to make it look like they are doing something. I call this sort of thing impotent hypocrisy.

  • @Richard Wade,

    “If anyone thinks I’m wrong, please convince me. I’d love to be wrong about this.”

    Nope, you’re right…mostly.
    If anything, you are not cynical enough. I was raised Muslim and Christian, served in the Middle East in the U.S. military, worked there as a PMC (security contractor) and still have family that I visit from time to time in Hezbollah controlled territory in Lebanon.
    Honestly, very few people there even understand the concept of Western style democracy, much less want it.
    They’re just tired of being messed with by the thugs that are currently in charge. They want jobs, food on the table, roofs over their heads and a modicum of respect.

  • Dan W

    I noticed the same thing as Josh did when reading the text of the UN resolution. I am a bit worried that, because it did not also include protecting “those with no religion”, some religious people could use that to mean that discrimination (etc.) against atheists and others with no religion is okay. I’d hope that wouldn’t happen, but you never know.

    Other than that little issue, I think this is a fine resolution. Like Richard Wade and other commentors, I am skeptical that countries with blasphemy laws will get rid of them so easily.

  • I also noticed the lack of a reference to non-belief, but most uses of the word belief include non-belief. In this country we hear people say things like “The Constitution says freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion” (never mind that neither phrase appears in the Constitution).

  • I read through it and it’s a lot better than the anti-blasphemy version that was proposed.

    As far as it getting implemented we should remember that in 1948 the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which included…

    Article 18.

    * Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

    There are still places where changing religions (away from Islam) is a crime.

  • qwertyuioip

    Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief.

    I have to wonder if Christians and Muslims will be be required to follow that rule, since they are so notorious for that kind of behavior. Gay hate, Jew hate, atheist hate, etc.

    I get the feeling this is just another attempt to shut up critics of religion since the religious can and often do construe criticism as hate speech. Atheists get that shit thrown at them all the time.

  • Kelsey Leah

    I really wish they would just get over it.. intolerance, discrimination, and violence will be present as long as religion is present. That’s the way it is, because let’s face the facts. Religious people will go to great lengths to get rid of anyone who is a non-believer of their faith. And non-believers will defend themselves.. causing conflict. So.. I’d advise you to quit protecting yourselves with laws and keep it to yourself. There will ALWAYS be people who disagree with your beliefs, that’s just the way it is. And if you want to be protected by a bunch of laws, then so be it, but I won’t conform to your belief system no matter how many laws you make.

  • ckitching

    I really wish they would just get over it.. intolerance, discrimination, and violence will be present as long as religion is present.

    I have to disagree with you slightly on this. These will be present even if religion completely fades away. Similar to the link between poverty and crime, eliminating poverty will not eliminate crime, even if it may sharply reduce it.

  • Josh Evolved

    I agree with ckitching there. While religion may give people excuses for violence, it doesn’t make them violent (in most cases). As I like to say, an asshole is an asshole, no matter what they believe.

    The only way we are ever going to get rid of violence and crime is with education and financial opportunities for the disenfranchised, but even that won’t stop crime (Bernie Madoff is a good example), it will just lower violent crime (except for the possible retribution).

    People are greedy by nature, and that isn’t going to change. I am of a socialist sort of mind, but even I am still greedy to an extent. There are always going to be haves and have-nots, and that is where a lot of the problems come from. That and your actual sociopaths and people with violent personality disorders.

  • Mortimer B. Jones

    Does anyone else find a distinct lack of self-criticism inherent in religious folks claiming they don’t want anyone to defame religion? Let’s face facts…there aren’t THAT many non-believers, especially in the US. So most religious defamation must just be different religions dissing each other. Muslims defaming Christianity isn’t religious defamation because to a Muslim, Christianity is wrong. So who cares? But Islam should be defamed because it’s right.

    What a load of self-important crap…

  • Vash Howller

    This is more or less a national attempt to say “we are taking steps in the right direction” but until its actually proven by abolishing anti blasphemy laws
    its nothing more than a beautiful lie. I would also agree would Josh Evolved about the haves and have-nots as well as human nature, there is only so much governments can do and individuals need to take responsibility for their actions as well. “We can lead a horse to water but we cant make him drink”.

  • Josh Evolved

    Why isn’t there a clause about protecting those with no belief?

    Because they cannot defame our sincerely held lack of belief. They can’t raise caricatures of our religious leaders because we don’t have any. They can’t mock our non-existent holy book.

    That said I do think that not believing in gods counts as a “belief” in the eyes of the law. In that case if they do find some way to defame the prophet of atheism PBUH (whoever that might be) then we’ll just have to put up with it like the religious folk will.

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