This Week In Blasphemy

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, while commenting on the infamous anti-Islam film, said “When some people use this freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others’ values and beliefs, then this cannot be protected in such a way.”

Note that Ki-moon goes beyond just religious values and beliefs and includes all values and beliefs. That view is nonsense.

Four North African and Middle Eastern Anglican bishops have urged U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to adopt “an international declaration against religious defamation.” The bishops claim that such a declaration would not be a violation of free speech since people would be “responsible and self-restraining in expressing or promoting offensive or malicious opinions with regard to the religions of the world.” The bishops appear to be claiming that self-censorship under the threat of force does not constitute a free speech restriction.

The International Business Times is reporting that a 27-year old man in Greece has been arrested on blasphemy against Eastern Orthodox monk Elder Paisios, who died in 1994. The suspect had set up a Facebook page using the mocking name “Geron Pastitsios,” which is a Greek pasta dish. Greek Penal Code Article 199 calls for a maximum of two years in prison for anyone who “publicly and maliciously and by any means blasphemes the Greek Orthodox Church.” Reports claim that the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn was instrumental in pushing Greek authorities to make an arrest.

In Cairo, Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah is going to trial for tearing up a Bible while protesting outside the US Embassy. Oh, sweet irony! Egypt has called for an international law criminalizing contempt for religion.

Any spoken or written thought that opposes religion can be blasphemous. Religion surely needs protection from opposition since it receives no protection from reason and logic. As Martin Luther famously said:

Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but–more frequently than not –struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.

That’s an effect of blasphemy laws, criminalization of reason.

H/T: Ken (Popehat), Howard Friedman, Eugene Volokh, AP.

36 thoughts on “This Week In Blasphemy”

  1. Is this guy from the UN related to Sung Yin Moon? Or however ya spell it–the guy who just croaked. Could there be a full moon when this guy makes a universal rule on blasphemy part of the international agenda. Can one moon the Prophet Mohammed and yet not break the law. What about Jesus Christ superstar?

  2. I must ask the candidate for the Senate from the State of Mizzoura to give us his opinion on the consummation of the marriage of the Prophet Mohammed and his nine year old wife. Is this “legitimate rape”? Now Todd, I know that you are in a serious political race, but we need your input on this. Todd? Todd? Helloooo Tooodd. Can a nine year old consent to sex or is this a simple rape or is it a statutory rape or a legitimate rape? What if her parents were paid to consent on her behalf to being porked by this old coot? In Islam does a woman or mere child of nine, have a right to refuse to have sex with the husband? Is it blasphemy to merely raise these questions about the Prophet Mohammed? Is it true that there is a scripture which quotes the Prohphet as saying: Pork em if ya gottem.
    Inquiring minds want to know.

    If this is blasphemy then I want no part of it.

  3. Blasphemy Is Good for You
    Katha Pollitt
    September 26, 2012

    As I write, mobs all over the world are rioting about an amateurish video portraying Muhammad as a horny buffoon. Death toll so far: at least thirty, including Christopher Stevens, US ambassador to Libya, and three embassy staffers. Not to be outdone, Pakistan’s railways minister announced he would pay $100,000 to anyone who murdered the videomaker, and added, “I call upon these countries and say: Yes, freedom of expression is there, but you should make laws regarding people insulting our Prophet. And if you don’t, then the future will be extremely dangerous.” More riots, embassy closings and a possible assassination attempt or two followed the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo’s retaliatory publication of cartoons of Muhammad naked. To bring it all full circle, an Iranian foundation has raised to $3.3 million the reward it’s offering for the murder of Salman Rushdie. (Just out and highly recommended: Joseph Anton, Rushdie’s humane and heroic memoir of his years in hiding.)

    Shocking as these events were, some reactions here at home were not helpful: Newsweek’s notorious “Muslim Rage” cover, for example, with its photo of crazed-looking zealots. All together now: there are 1.6 billion Muslims, only a tiny minority of whom are involved in this nonsense. Would Newsweek present a story about opposition to gay marriage with a photo of the Westboro Baptist “God Hates Fags” church and the headline “Christian Rage”? Even worse are the posters that went up on September 24 in ten New York City subway stations, the thoughtful offering of birther blogger Pam Geller and her American Freedom Defense Initiative: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.” (The ads also appeared in August and September on public buses in San Francisco.)

    What about acknowledging and honoring the huge demonstrations by Libyans against the militias who are believed to have killed Stevens? And let’s not forget the Muslims who took over Newsweek’s hashtag: “Twitter is over capacity. Heading to the U.S. embassy. #MuslimRage.” “I won a lifetime supply of bacon #MuslimRage.” The Muslim response to the subway ads was also classy: “If you see something (stupid), say something (smart) #MySubwayAd.” “Hatred is the first savagery. Being a wanker is the first freedom #MySubwayAd.”

    What if the right to be a wanker—a jerk, an annoying obsessive—is indeed where freedom begins? On WNYC’s The Takeaway, John Hockenberry had a confusing exchange with BBC chief Jeremy Bowen:

    Hockenberry: I’m wondering if it’s possible for the United Nations to create an initiative that would talk about some sort of global convention on blasphemy, that would create a cooperative enterprise to control these kinds of incidents, not to interfere into anybody’s free speech rights but to basically recognize that there is a global interest in keeping people from going off the rails over a perceived sense of slight by enforcing a convention of human rights, only in this particular case it would be anti-blasphemy?

    Bowen: It would be a great idea if they could make it work, but of course you know, you think that the United Nations struggled for ages, and I don’t think it’s yet succeeded in coming up with a definition of “terrorism.” So, in the end, how do you define “blasphemy”?

    So the only thing preventing some sort of international convention against “blasphemy” is that people can’t agree about what it is? Perhaps the UN could ask Vladimir Putin, who was eager to send three members of Pussy Riot to prison for appearing at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior to perform an anti-Putin “punk prayer” to the Virgin Mary. Their crime: “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” The rise of the Russian Orthodox church in the former Soviet Union, and its connections to a corrupt authoritarian regime, shows that Islam has no monopoly on religious freakouts or their exploitation for political purposes. But you already knew that, having lived through mosque burnings in several states, and of course the extraordinary ongoing wave of arsons, bombings, assaults, stalkings and murders committed against abortion clinics, their doctors and staffs, almost all by deeply devout Catholics and evangelicals.

    Sorry, John and Jeremy, there is just no way to “control these kinds of incidents” without suppressing free speech, because the very concept of “blasphemy” entails powerful clerics deciding what a religion “really” says, and what questions about that are legitimate. And why shouldn’t religion be fair game for rude remarks, mockery and humor, to say nothing of bold challenges and open expressions of disbelief? Ethnic attacks like Geller’s ad are disgusting—calling Muslims savages is like calling Jews subhuman—but I’d say on the whole “blasphemy” has been a force for good in human history. It is part of the process by which millions of people have come to reject theocracy and think for themselves.

    When it comes to ideas—and religions are, among other things, ideas—there is no right not to be offended. (There’s no right not to be offended by speech where the issue is not religious, either, which is why it’s appalling that a British judge convicted 19-year-old Azhar Ahmed of “grossly offensive communication” for writing “all soldiers should die and go to hell” on his Facebook page after six UK troops were killed in Afghanistan.) In fact, if you need laws—and riots and prison and payments for murders—to protect your faith, maybe your faith is weak. Maybe, in your heart of hearts, you suspect that Muhammad was a flawed human being like the rest of us, the Virgin Mary was not all that much of a virgin and God is not so great after all.

  4. when Muslims say that Jesus was not Son of God but just a prophet , just not as perfect of a prophet as Mohammad, then would not that be considered as blasphemy against Christianity if we are to have an international blasphemy law?

  5. On blasphemy and images of the Prophet:

    My understanding of the ban on images of the Prophet is that he did not wish to be idolised. He was a man. If he permitted images, people might choose to attribute godlike characteristics to him / the_image.

    So: No images of the Prophet.

    Commonsense would hold that an image of the Prophet that did the opposite of idolising him would be most welcome to the Prophet himself.
    Such an image would be a supportive of his purpose in forbidding images – as his intention was clearly to avoid idolisation.

    Then the lawyers arrived.
    To them “no images” has no meaning other than “no images” – Period.

    I blame the lawyers – for everything 🙁

  6. Nal,

    I just read about Blasphemy Day in a Boston Globe article:

    How blasphemy divides the Arab world from the West
    Beyond the Mohammed-video riots lie clashing claims to two different kinds of freedom.
    By Graeme Wood, Globe Correspondent
    September 30, 2012

    This month of bloody riots against blasphemy in the Muslim world is scheduled to end just as it began: with a provocation. Today, a scattering of atheists and freethinkers will celebrate something called International Blasphemy Rights Day, a coordinated recognition of the freedom to slander any religion or prophet. The day’s most prominent festivities will occur on college campuses, where in the three-year history of the event, students have arranged philosophical panel discussions, showings of blasphemous art, and open-mic nights that welcome speakers whose speech might in another context draw a barrage of rocks or bullets.

    If Hallmark makes a card for this particular holiday, it’s unlikely to be sold in the gift shops of Cairo or Benghazi. Those cities are still recovering from reactions to a California-made YouTube video ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed, which caused riots in countries from Libya to Pakistan. It is tempting for observers in the West to write off these eruptions of street-level anger as local and temporary, fanned by religious sectarians and anti-US feeling. But the riots are also symptoms of a bigger clash in understandings of human rights, one taking place at the level of government and UN declarations, with one side defending the freedom to blaspheme, and the other calling for international law to enshrine a freedom from blasphemy.

    The controversy over the right to blaspheme—and the counterclaim, by Muslims in particular, of a right not to be subjected to blasphemy—is a key sticking point in relations between the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds. Predominantly Christian societies have, over the course of history, burned or banned their fair share of heretics and blasphemers, not to mention (in very recent times) their share of allegedly blasphemous art. But they have, it seems, come to an agreement that blasphemy is a private matter rather than a legal one.

    The Islamic world has, by and large, coalesced around a different view, and can cite international covenants to back its position up. Broadly accepted declarations of human rights do single out freedom of speech and conscience as inalienable, and International Blasphemy Rights Day was founded to help press that case globally. But the same declarations also safeguard countries’ rights to protect communities from the violence that hatred can incite. In many situations, merely to state something that most people find blasphemous is to provoke violence and, according to governments both Islamic and secular, give legitimate cause for censorship.

    “Blasphemy” might sound like an old-fashioned word in the West, but it lies at the heart of a very active collision between two rights—the right to speak and think freely, and the right to protect one’s society from violence. When it comes to blasphemous speech, even in open societies like those of Western Europe, it’s far from clear which will prevail.

    The one country where freedom to blaspheme is, at this point, legally uncontroversial is the United States. Courts’ interpretation of the First Amendment has protected even the grossest abuse of religion. But we’re an outlier, and one need not travel all the way to Tehran to find a place where blasphemy is potentially criminal. Toronto would be far enough. Canada, like just about all countries in Western Europe, has mechanisms to keep potentially harmful religious speech in check.

    The concept of “blasphemy” we use today is the product of three historical stages, according to Austin Dacey, a secular activist who teaches philosophy at the University of Central Florida and who campaigns for an internationally recognized right to blaspheme. First came a period when blasphemy meant a sin against the divine—“a direct verbal affront to the Godhead”—followed by a period when blasphemy was primarily a political problem: Rule by divine right of kings meant that blasphemy amounted to a challenge to the authority of the state. In both cases the standard punishment was death. The rise of the modern secular state led, starting in the 1600s, to the notion of blasphemy as a form of disrespect less against God or the state than against one’s neighbors. It constituted an extreme form of disrespect, and has come today to be seen as a communal sin rather than a personal or political one. (“It’s a relatively new idea,” Dacey says, cautioning that “new” in the context of religious history still means “several centuries old.”)

    Only around that time did Europe and the Muslim world really begin to diverge in how they treated blasphemy. But even then, they diverged less than one might think. In 1919, when George Bernard Shaw wrote “All great truths begin as blasphemies,” the line reflected his own Irish godlessness but not the legal systems of the British Isles. The United Kingdom continued to criminalize blasphemy—though only against the Anglican church; Islam was fair game—until 2008, although it rarely bothered to prosecute anyone. (The last successful prosecution, in 1977, targeted the publisher of a poem by James Kirkup about necrophilia between a Roman centurion and the crucified Jesus Christ.)

  7. Just found out that today, September 30, is Blasphemy Day

    Blasphemy Rights Day International is a holiday in which individuals and groups are encouraged to openly express their criticism of, or even disdain for, religion. It was founded in 2009 by the Center for Inquiry.

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