The famous American writer and intellectual Thomas Paine once wrote:
“Is it not a species of blasphemy to call the New Testament revealed religion, buy cialis when we see in it such contradictions and absurdities.”
Were Mr Paine living in modern Algeria, grip Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan or Poland, he would likely face arrest, detention and be tortured for little outbursts like that.
The US-based organization Freedom House, a think tank which monitors the status of freedom, democracy and human rights around the world through a large hodgepodge of influential annual reports, just came out with a 138-page whopper on blasphemy laws.
“Policing Belief: The Impact of Blasphemy on Human Rights” explores the ways in which domestic blasphemy laws in the seven aforementioned countries are used to violate freedom of expression, discriminate against religious minorities and to legitimize state-run crackdowns on dissidents and minority groups deemed to threaten the state’s narrow interpretation of religious doctrine.
“It is unsurprising that blasphemy laws violate the fundamental freedom of expression, as they protect religious institutions and doctrine–abstract ideas and concepts–from insult, offence, or debate,” said Courtney C. Radsch, editor of the report and freedom of expression officer at Freedom House. “It is perhaps more surprising that the majority of people impacted by these laws are in fact Muslims who are not able to practice–or not practice–their faith in the way that they choose.”
The report outlines a litany of human rights violations that blasphemy laws often lead to, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and discrimination based on gender and religion (for example check Change.org’s coverage of the criminal defamation case against two members of Indonesia Corruption Watch).
While such findings might seem rather obvious to rational, democratic and progressive minded folk, their significance lies in an important push by activists who have become increasingly pissed off by an ongoing initiative by the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) member states to integrate the ‘defamation of religions’ into international law.
The OIC argues that satire and criticism of religions is a violation of the human rights of religious believers, and leads to discrimination and violence against them. Fair enough.
But after a decade of successes that OIC argument has been losing ground, and this week’s freedom house report is an attempt by activists to further push back against the idea by exposing what ‘defamation of religions’ laws are actually used for in practice.
Readers all over the world, particularly those of you in Muslim (OIC) states, should contact your leaders to express concern over attempts to enshrine blasphemy laws into international law.
Be careful, though, not to defame any religions while doing so.
Photo credit: Newtown grafitti (flickr)