World

Blasphemy!

Jun 29, 2017 · Wade Kaardal

Imagine you couldn't criticize Guanxi Magazine under penalty of death. This is not a thought experiment, but reality for those who live in countries with blasphemy laws.Blasphemy is an action or statement that has been deemed inappropriate because it fails to show the proper level of admiration or respect for a diety or religion. You can be charged with blasphemy for apostasy, harming holy relics, or less obvious offenses like calling for reforms.

In South East Asia alone you can be charged with blasphemy in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. China has freedom of religion, but only allows citizens to practice that freedom within government sanctioned religious organizations. World-wide, there are 32 nations with blasphemy laws, and 87 countries with laws restricting defamation or expressions of hate toward a religion.

Punishments for blasphemy include fines, jail time, floggings and even death, sometimes meted out by machete-wielding mobs as recently occurred in Bangladesh, where four secular bloggers were killed in the streets. The Bangladeshi government has responded by asking bloggers to keep quiet.

Back Bender Black by Zachary Wigren
Back Bender Black by Zachary Wigren

 

 

This choice, stay quiet or suffer the consequences, is faced not by “angry atheists,” but by rationalists, supporters of church-state separation, reformers, champions of freedom of speech and religion, even the average doubter in the pew, mosque, or temple. Consider Raif Badawi, a Muslim who started the website Free Saudi Liberals to promote discussion of religion, as well as other liberal values. On the site, he criticized some of Saudi Arabia's religious leaders and institutions. For this he was charged with insulting Islam, and received 1,000 lashes, 10 years in jail, and a fine of nearly US$300,000. The 10 years in jail is superfluous as most do not survive the lashings.

This choice, stay quiet or suffer the consequences, is faced not by “angry atheists,” but by rationalists, supporters of church-state separation, reformers, champions of freedom of speech and religion, even the average doubter in the pew, mosque, or temple. Consider Raif Badawi, a Muslim who started the website Free Saudi Liberals to promote discussion of religion, as well as other liberal values. On the site, he criticized some of Saudi Arabia's religious leaders and institutions. For this he was charged with insulting Islam, and received 1,000 lashes, 10 years in jail, and a fine of nearly US$300,000. The 10 years in jail is superfluous as most do not survive the lashings.

Blasphemy laws by their nature are unfair as they allow governments to decide which types of expression are appropriate and valid, ultimately favoring certain viewpoints. Ask yourself, can one truly have freedom of religion and expression, if one's religion or lack there of is deemed invalid by the government?

Furthermore, these laws are problematically enforced. In Pakistan, Christians are often accused of blasphemy, not because of any committed offense, but convenience. Like witch hunts, to be accused is to be convicted and locals have cried blasphemy as a way to settle disputes. Governments are limited in their ability to stop this. Defending the blasphemer, or asking for a fair trial, is likely to turn against the officials or result in riots.

Complicating things, theology offers no solution. No religion can offer a coherent doctrine that applies to every denomination and believer included under its umbrella. Even something as trivial as the Ten Commandments is not beyond debate. In the Bible, there are two sets of commandments listed as the Ten, and the ones commonly thought of as the Ten Commandments, include thirteen distinct clauses. These clauses are grouped together and each denomination has its own preferred grouping. There are no interpretations a government could choose that will suit all, and thus their best choice is to choose none.

This may seem like a problem of little concern to the average expat, but blasphemy hurts believer and non-believer, citizen and foreigner alike. A woman teaching English in Sudan was arrested for allowing  students to name their class teddy bear Mohammed, the most popular name on the planet. In Malaysia, tourists who enjoyed some topless fun on the summit of Mt. Kinabalu were arrested, when it was determined that their nude romp was the cause of an earthquake that occurred later on the mountain.

Greater understanding and respect for people of all religions is something worth striving for, but ideas should always be open to criticism. Open discussion has been crucial for the continued improvement of humanity and is a vital part of any democracy. Blasphemy laws stop these discussions and limit humanity's forward progress, and therefore should be struck from any law books where they are currently found and left for the pages of history.

Published in Guan Xi Magazine- Fall 2015 issue

From the Lolicon subculture. The hand gesture from the dolls represents unconditional acceptance. by 陳品龍dragan1980
From the Lolicon subculture. The hand gesture from the dolls represents unconditional acceptance. by 陳品龍dragan1980

 

 

religion blasphemy

Wade Kaardal

English Teacher and Humanist Activist

Wade is an English Teacher in Taichung and the Chairperson of the Asian Working Group of the international humanist organization, IHEYO