Blasphemy Rights Day
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author's and not necessarily those of TheSprout or CLIConline.
“I believe that cheese is magical and sings to me in my sleep.”
“I believe that we should end immigration because foreigners are taking all our jobs and destroying our sense of culture, and if we don’t act soon Britain will be destroyed by multiculturalism.”
“I believe that all humans are descended from two naked people who lived for hundreds of years and are responsible for naming all the animals. One of those people, the woman, was led astray by a talking snake who persuaded her to eat some fruit, and that’s why women suffer during childbirth. Eating fruit meant that all her children would burn and suffer for all eternity after they died. Fortunately a virgin had a baby who could walk on water, turned water into wine, died on a cross, then rose from the dead so that we could avoid burning in Hell, provided we believe in him and love him for his sacrifice.”
In my opinion all three of the above statements are incredibly stupid. You might agree. But if someone said one of them during a dinner conversation, would your response differ depending on which one they picked?
For a lot of people, questioning, criticising and even outright mocking a belief is socially acceptable if that belief pertains to politics (point 2) or personal opinion (point 1). However it does not extend to religion (point 3). Tell people you believe cheese talks to you and they’ll probably give you a funny look and ask for some sort of evidence to back up that claim. But tell them God speaks to you and that’s generally seen as something polite people don’t question.
More than just being frowned upon or viewed as "offensive", criticising religion is actually illegal in some countries and can even lead to execution.
I believe in freedom of religion: every person on earth should be allowed to believe whatever they choose. I also believe in freedom from religion: no person should have to limit what they say or do because of religion. That’s why today I am proudly supporting the 5th International Blasphemy Rights Day.
International Blasphemy Rights Day (also simply called Blasphemy Day) is part of the Campaign for Free Expression: it's a day to promote freedom of belief and freedom of expression. It is a show of solidarity for the liberty to challenge religious beliefs without fear of arrest, attack or execution. September 30th was chosen as it marks the anniversary of the Muhammad cartoons controversy: 8 years ago today, a Dutch newspaper called Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons which made fun of Islam and – particularly – the prophet Muhammad. They did this in response to a recent news article highlighting how a number of illustrators were afraid to draw anything relating to Islam out of fear of reprisal. As a result of printing these cartoons at least 200 people were killed in subsequent riots and reprisals and the cartoonists were forced into hiding out of fear for their lives.
Just let that sink in for a second. 200 people died because of some cartoons.
Supporters of Blasphemy Day believe that "offense" and "blasphemy" are never justifiable reasons to persecute (or kill) anybody. Their mantra is "Ideas don't need rights, people do."
What is blasphemy?
Blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for a religious deity, holy person or sacred object or belief. In a number of countries it is illegal and in some even carries the death sentence. Blasphemy laws were only abolished in the United Kingdom as recently as 2008 (not including the Republic of Ireland who actually passed the Defamation Act the following year, which states "A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding â‚¬25,000.")
Blasphemy can be as simple as uttering a phrase like "God damn it." As it is defined not only as "insulting religion" but also "showing lack of reverence" you can be guilty of blasphemy by merely asking questions or expressing doubt about an element of religion. Here's a good example of why I have a problem with that:
Last year in Mumbai a statue of Jesus began dripping with water. It was dubbed a miracle and worshippers flocked to the site to collect vials of this "holy water". A man called Sanal Edamaruku was curious and investigated the statue: he found that the water was actually coming from a leaking drain. He pointed this out to people, and is now facing imprisonment under India's blasphemy laws.
There was also the schoolteacher in Sudan who was arrested and faced lashes because she let her class name a teddy bear.
Drawing cartoons. Naming a teddy bear. Pointing out a leaking drain. Should people truly be arrested, punished and even killed for these things, all in the name of protecting religious beliefs? I certainly don't think so.
So wait, you support insulting other people's deeply held beliefs? That's kinda mean.
To quote from their website: "The purpose of Blasphemy Day is not to promote hate or violence; it is to support freedom of belief and expression, support the right to criticise religion, and to oppose any resolutions or laws that discourage or inhibit freedom of speech of any kind.
While many perceive blasphemy as insulting and offensive, this event is not about getting enjoyment out of ridiculing and insulting others. Rather, it was created as a reaction against those who would seek to take away the right to satirise and criticise a particular set of beliefs given a privileged status over other beliefs. Criticism and dissent towards opposing views is the only way in which any nation with any modicum of freedom can exist."
I believe that nothing should be exempt from criticism. I think Salman Rushdie said it best: "The moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible."
I believe blasphemy laws have no place in civilised society, and that anyone who threatens, condones or commits an act of violence against someone and justifies it by saying "they insulted my faith" is misguided.
So that's why I'm supporting Blasphemy Day. What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below.