Blasphemy Laws – Turning Morality Upside-down

Blasphemy laws have an amazing ability to turn morality upside-down.  They transform villains into heroes, philanthropists into felons, truth and human rights into crimes and subsequently, order into chaos.  Allow me to explain.

Villains into Heroes and Philanthropists into Felons

In June 2009, Aasiya Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, was involved in a dispute over having drunk water from the same cup as some Muslim women.  One of the women had a long-standing grudge against Aasiya and accused her of insulting Islam.  This anonymous women’s testimony, absent any other form of evidence, was enough to land Aasiya, a mother of five, on death row, where she sits today in a sweltering rodent and roach-infested cell the size of a closet.  Her lawyer, after receiving death threats, was forced to flee and go into hiding and the Mullahs of Pakistan, men whose thuggery holds sway over the political and legal system of that chronically religious nation, were successful in stirring up their credulous and crazed sheeple into a frenzy over this poor woman’s alleged blasphemy.[1]

One man, a brave Muslim Punjabi governor, Salman Taseer, had the courage to stand up for her and protest Pakistan’s brutal and backwards blasphemy laws.  This husband and father was cognisant of the dangers associated with his humane and heroic advocacy, yet he came to her assistance anyway.[2]  In the past, Taseer had been imprisoned for his compassionate brand of politics and on one occasion, this philanthropist spent close to seven months in solitary confinement, shackled to the floor like an animal.  Throughout his political career he had been arrested 16 times and placed under house arrest on several occasions.[3]

Coming to Aasiya Bibi’s aid was to be his last act of philanthropy, for in January of 2011, he was murdered.[4] His killer, Malik Qadri, was a member of Pakistan’s Elite Police and requested to be on Taseer’s security detail, so that he could slay this lover of liberty at either the express or implicit behest of powerfully influential Muslim clerics and Mullahs.  Despite Qadri’s arrest and his heinous deed, hundreds of Islamic clerics came to his defence and his lawyer argued that Qadri had merely “implemented the law of Pakistan” by murdering Taseer.[5]

As insane as it happens to be, Qadri’s lawyer presented a legally sound argument, for in Pakistan, morality and the legal system have yet to be introduced to one another. On the way to court, thousands of people lined the streets and showered Taseer’s murderer with rose petals and to this day, hundreds of clerics and thousands of their followers are petitioning for his release.[6] This murderous villain has become the hero of the people, a people whose obligations to their fellow human beings find no place amongst the desires they harbour for their own violent delusions.

Blasphemy laws are not only dangerous and contrary to morality due to their arbitrary enforcement, their capacity to mobilize fanatical mobs or even their power to vindicate murderers, but, as demonstrated in the case above, they have the power to turn philanthropists into felons.

The story of Raif Badawi is yet another example in a myriad of tragic cases that establishes this point beyond any reasonable doubt. Badawi is a Saudi blogger and a humanitarian who started the Liberal Saudi Network.[7] He was dedicated to peacefully reforming the tyrannical nature of his country’s religious aristocracy.  Badawi is a brave advocate for peace, equality and human rights, but in adopting his philanthropic stance, he stepped upon the toes of a number of powerful and corrupt religious theocrats in Saudi Arabia. 

Saudi Arabia is one of this world’s foremost abusers of human rights and its Islamic legal system, being predominantly underscored by Shariah Law, represents a most horrifying and backwards set of legal codes.[8] At its core, Saudi Arabia is a Stone Age nation fastened within the sands of times past by leaders who, if one were to believe in time travel, seem to have been directly transported from the 7th century to today.  Choosing to leave the religion of Islam is an automatic death sentence, along with practicing “witchcraft,” adultery, homosexuality and blasphemy, to name just a few of the capital offences in that offensive theocratic monarchy.[9]

Raif Badawi was a light of hope, a ray of sunshine that shone upon that dark and ignorant kingdom, and his courageous efforts to bring Saudi Arabia into the more civilized 21st century were rewarded with a 10 year prison sentence and 1000 excruciatingly painful lashes of the cane.[10]

These two cases, Taseer and Badawi’s, are but the tip of the iceberg and if one is to spend any length of time investigating the various blasphemy cases from around the world, one will be sickened by just how many good people have been derided as criminals and conversely, by just how many criminals have been cloaked in the garb of the hero.

Truth and Human Rights into a Crime

In Denmark, the Islamic apostate and political activist, Firoozeh Bazrafman, was convicted under Denmark’s Penal Code (Section 266b) for saying that Islam is a misogynistic religion.[11]  Well, is it?  What does the Qur’an say about women?  How do the Hadiths treat women?  More importantly, what have been the fruits of the various misogynistic verses found in these “holy” books?

According to a report by Amnesty international:

“Discrimination against women impacts upon and compounds the wide range of human rights violations commonly reported in Saudi Arabia.” [12]

In Pakistan, Amnesty International reported that;

“Women and girls and those campaigning for their rights continued to face discrimination and violence in the home and in public.  Human rights groups documented thousands of cases of violence against women and girls across the country with a majority from the most populous province of Punjab.  Cases included murders, rapes, and incidents of domestic violence.” [13]

In fact, if we examine most Islamic countries, we see high rates of domestic violence and in many of these same countries, we also find a deplorable state of affairs with regards to women’s rights.  In a study conducted in 202 Arab-American homes, it was discovered that interviewees approved of a man slapping his wife under the following conditions:

(a) if she insults him when they are at home alone (34% of women and 33% of men),
(b) if she insults him in public (17% of women and 43% of men) and
(c) if she hits him first in an argument (59% of both). (Kulwici and Miller 1999) [14]

When we couple these statistics and the various findings of reports into domestic violence and women’s rights in various Islamic countries and communities, with verses from the Quran and the Hadiths that encourage husbands to beat their wives (Surah 4:34); that pretend men are the rulers over women(Surah 4:34), that relay stories of the prophet Muhammad striking his child-bride, Aishah [15], or laughing when his two fathers-in-law struck both her and his other wife for annoying him,[16] can we not voice the obvious causal link between these religious teachings and the crimes they have given birth to?  Are we to place the rights and welfare of abused women and children beneath the hurt feelings of religious fanatics and all those who wish to impose chattelhood upon women?  I guess what I am really asking is, should the truth be capriciously converted into hate speech, even if that truth is to the obvious benefit of our species?

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Now, I am not an “Islamophobe,” whatever that means, and I do concede that there are verses and passages throughout both the Qur’an and the Hadiths that gently advise men to treat their chattels (wives and female sex-slaves), with a modicum of compassion and equity (Quran: An-Nisaa 19; Qur’an Ar-Rum 21; Sahih Al-Bukkhari Vol. 8. #68); I also concede that many moderate Muslims place greater weight on these kinds of verses, than the more misogynistic and archaic ones, and the same is true of the way moderate Christians, Hindus and Jews employ their scriptures.  On an ancient Greek Temple of the god Apollo, in Delphi, there is an inscription which reads, ‘meden agan’ (Nothing in excess/All things in moderation),[17] a philosophy later adopted by Christians and Muslims in their holy books and such moderation is the dwelling place of many peaceful, loving, kind and moderate people of all faiths.

The etymological root of the English word ‘moderate,’ stems from the Latin ‘moderare,’ which is akin to the Latin word ‘modus,’ meaning to ‘measure’.[18]  Moderate members of the Abrahamic faiths are forced to cautiously measure their adherence to their own scriptures, or ‘cherry pick,’ as is the more common expression employed to describe the random and pragmatic exegesis of religious scripture.  If they did not cherry pick their scriptures, they would constantly come into conflict with many modern and more civilized legal systems across the world, legal systems that have outlawed slavery, murdering people for collecting sticks on a Saturday, raping virgin female prisoners of war, stoning children to death for disobedience, etc..  In the words of the great, Robert G. Ingersoll:

“If a man would follow, today, the teachings of the Old Testament, he would be a criminal…”

The same is also true of the Qur’an and even of portions of the New Testament and with this we find our exit from this part of the discussion.

Due to the extreme and extremely ambiguous nature of the scriptures of many of the major religions of the world, people and groups are free to cherry-pick teachings that satisfy and compliment their own personal, social and political agendas. We see this with the way in which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia employs brutal Shariah Law to dismember the limbs of the poor and kill and imprison political dissidents.  We see it in the way in which Pakistan employs such measurements of the majority religion to violently persecute religious minorities; we see it in the method employed by Boko Haram to rationalize their atrocious behaviour and we may also observe it within the manner in which the Westboro Baptist Church justifies their inhumane and insane conduct, and so on.

What blasphemy, hate speech and other religious insult laws do, is protect the more insane, cherry-picking practices of groups who pose a real threat to humanity, by shielding their insanity from criticism and insult, and in so protecting, such laws sacrifice not only the cornerstone human right to express our contempt for such villainy, but they succeed in criminalizing the truth.

To further emphasize this point, I would like to present the following case.

Sanal Edamaruku, the head of the Indian Rationalists (“The Guru Busters”), travelled around India exposing fake miracles and other supernatural hoaxes.[19] On one occasion, a deluded Yogi believed he could kill people with his thoughts and acquired followers as a result of his pretended power.  Sanal took the challenge and faced off against this charlatan.  After spending a number of hours on two separate occasions, the man was unable to kill Sanal with his thoughts, but his powers were not altogether devoid of effect, for he was able to reduce Sanal to fits of laughter.  Dripping with sweat the Yogi exhorted; “You must have very powerful gods protecting you,” to which Sanal laughingly replied, “I am an atheist.”

Sanal eventually came across a fake Catholic miracle, a statue of Jesus that appeared to be leaking water from its feet.  Crowds gathered, leaflets were printed and priests distributed the magical Jesus-foot-water for their gullible and suggestible sheep to drink.

Upon investigation, Sanal discovered that the water was coming from a broken sewage pipe at the back of the statue and in so discovering, subsequently exposed the bogus nature of this alleged Christian miracle.

What followed goes to the point I wish to make, namely, that blasphemy laws turn truth into a crime. The Catholic Church in India pursued a blasphemy charge against Sanal and succeeded.  Sanal was going to be imprisoned for telling the truth under Section 295A of India’s Penal Code, but due to physical attacks and the threat to his life posed by crazed Christians, Sanal had to flee his homeland and he now lives in exile in Finland.[20]

Order into Chaos

Quite often in countries with active blasphemy laws and inactive democracies, mob violence can, and often does, ensue with the mere allegation of blasphemy.  In 2013, in Pakistan, a homeless man was seen burning papers to keep warm.  Some thought that the papers included pages of the Qur’an and upon this unfounded allegation, the man was dragged out into the street by an angry and delirious mob, brutally stoned to death and then had his battered remains of his body burnt.[21] Once again in Pakistan, in 2013, an angry mob ransacked and torched a minority Christian neighbourhood after a man was merely accused of blasphemy[22], and the cases like these in Pakistan and other fragile democratic states are seemingly endless.

Commenting on this issue, Jo-Anne Prud’homme, author of ‘Policing Belief’ says:

While it is true that all types of defendants are subject to ill-treatment and injustice in societies where the rule of law is weak, blasphemy cases entail an added layer of abuse in that they are applied in a discriminatory manner, focusing on already disadvantaged minorities and stoking mob violence against them.[23]

Blasphemy laws provide a legal excuse for angry religious mobs to vent their frustrations and express their offended feelings in the most offensive manner.  For this reason, blasphemy laws add fuel to the fire in countries with a zealous religious majority and cause social upheaval and civil unrest, the very things they are allegedly enacted to prevent.

So, when I say that blasphemy laws have an amazing ability to turn morality upside-down, and that they transform villains into heroes, philanthropists into felons, truth and human rights into crimes and subsequently, order into chaos, perhaps now, you will know what I am talking about.

References:

  1. Anne-Isabelle Tollet – Blasphemy Law - 4th Geneva Summit
  2. BBC News – Salman Taseer: ‘Thousands Mourn Pakistan Governor'
  3. Salman Taseer
  4. BBC News: South Asia – ‘Punjab Governor Salman Taseer Assassinated in Islamabad:’
  5. Al-Jazeera English (AJE) Stupidest Law in the World – AJE Investigates Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law
  6. BBC News: World – ‘Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi gets 10 Year Jain Sentence
  7. Amnesty International – Saudi Arabia
  8. The Law Library of Congress - Laws Criminalizing Apostasy
  9. BBC News: World – ‘Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi gets 10 Year Jain Sentence'
  10. The Copenhagen Post – ‘Artist Convicted of Racism Speaks Out
  11. Amnesty International 2013 Report – Saudi Arabia
  12. Amnesty International 2013 Report – Pakistan
  13. Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence – APIA Forum: Peaceful Families Project
  14. Sahih Muslim (4:2127)
  15. Sahih Muslim (9:3506)
  16. A. Trevor Hodge, "The Mystery of Apollo's E at Delphi," American Journal of Archaeology, 85 (1): 83-84.
  17. Merriam-Webster Dictionary – ‘Moderate'
  18. CNN – ‘India’s Weeping Jesus
  19. Ibid.
  20. Al-Jazeera English (AJE) Stupidest Law in the World – AJE Investigates Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law
  21. RT News
  22. Jo-Anne Prud’homme. ‘Policing Belief: The Impact of Blasphemy Laws on Human Rights.’ Freedom House Special Report. (October 2010). p. 5.

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