We have often discussed the various protests, often violent, in Islamic countries over alleged blasphemous statements or images. These usually involve depictions of Mohammad or religious symbols. In Mumbai, however, Muslim protesters found a new blasphemous symbol: the use of a piggy bank to show where ISIS gets its money to conduct worldwide terror campaigns. This is a standard illustration of a “piggy bank” to show the savings of a group or person. Yet, some took this from a different perspective.
The protesters burned copies of the Marathi newspaper Lokmat in various cities and there are accounts of violent attacks. Muslim leaders called for the arrest of the editor and the artist who drew the illustration. The police responded by registering cases against the editor and the writer of the article.
We have previously discussed the scourge of blasphemy laws, particularly in Muslim nations, used to punish and even execute people with differing views of religion. By allowing people to be arrested for blasphemy, the government reinforces the view that people should be punished for religious views and expressions. This point was made by Louis Brandeis:
Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means — to declare that the government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal — would bring terrible retribution. Against that pernicious doctrine this court should resolutely set its face.
Dissenting, Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928).
Much of this writing has focused on the effort of the Obama Administration to reach an accommodation with allies like Egypt and Pakistan to develop a standard for criminalizing anti-religious speech. We have been following the rise of anti-blasphemy laws around the world, including the increase in prosecutions in the West and the support of the Obama Administration for the prosecution of some anti-religious speech under the controversial Brandenburg standard.
These cases reflect the true purpose of blasphemy laws: to silence minority sects and religious critics in the name of a “true faith.” Fortunately the effort of Hillary Clinton and others in the Administration to reach a compromise on blasphemy failed, though there continue to be efforts to create an international standard. These efforts reinforce the view of many that free speech does yield to religious sensibilities.
In this case, the editors used a ubiquitous symbol of a bank with the symbols of various national currencies falling into a piggy bank, which was painted like the ISIS flag. The use of a haraam animal was enough to demand arrests for blasphemy. Various political parties demanded apologies as well as nationwide protests. It worked. The newspaper Lokmat caved to the pressure and published an apology on the front page in their Monday editions. The apology assures protesters that “action has been taken” against the responsible persons.
Of course, a piggy bank is not a real pig, let alone pork. That distinction did not seem to penetrate the logic of protesters and politicians. It was deemed blasphemy and thus punishable. Moreover, this was a graphic describing an organization that uses Islam to justify vile acts of murder, rape, and wanton destruction. Yet, the editor and writer face calls for their arrest because it is deemed as insulting to Islam. This is precisely why the effort under Secretary Clinton was so dangerous in the establishment of a criminal standard for criticism of religion.