Another Year of Blasphemy

One year ago, during tumult over the "Innocence of Muslims" video, a series of academics suggested that we Americans cling too tightly to our concept of free speech, and that we should be open to alternative views — including the views of people who urge laws criminalizing blasphemy in order to protect religious sensibilities. I explored that view by examining a full year of instances of blasphemy prosecutions across the globe. My point was this: if there are values and norms we should consider, how do they look in practice? I concluded that anti-blasphemy laws are most often used as a tool of systematic abuse of religious minorities and other powerless and despised groups.

What's changed in a year?

As you will see below, the practice of blasphemy laws hasn't changed. But the call for them to be imposed in the West has subsided a bit. The King of Saudi Arabia — which is ostensibly an ally, at least during those moments when it's not beheading people for sorcerydemanded an international anti-blasphemy law in the past year, and the Arab League continues to call for them, although the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has backed off of the issue. But the UN seems less receptive than it once was. In fact the United Nations' special rapporteur on freedom of religion expressly called out the connection between apostasy and blasphemy laws and the abuse of religious minorities.

Calls in academia have been less frequent, but are not unknown. For instance, Howard University School of Law hosted a presentation by Dr. Qasim Rashid, who argues that the easy transmission of communications over the internet justifies restrictions on offensive speech when such speech may inflame people across the world. He advocates using the model of "cyber-bullying" laws to address speech offensive to religious sensibilities. This is clever; in framing the issue as one of giving offense over the internet, Dr. Rashid may find support from sectors of academia calling for restriction of free speech rights online. The view that online speech is a special case that justifies censorship is shared by — for want of a more derisive term — some mainstream academics, who like Dr. Rashid frame it as a right to be free of certain kinds of online offense.

If calls for anti-blasphemy laws have slackened, enforcement of those laws has not.

October 2012

Pakistan: A 16-year-old boy was charged with sending blasphemous text messages, his mother was immediately suspended from her job, and after the family fled a mob hauled their possessions from their home and set them afire. "Police at the Mobina police station where the case was lodged said, 'How can we arrest a mob for they are the ones who are among the complainants.'" Meanwhile, Christian pastor Karama Patras was arrested for blasphemy after a mob attacked his home upon the rumor that he blasphemed Islam during a Bible study there. Pastor Patras, taken into "protective custody," was more fortunate than Sajjad Hussain, who was shot to death by two men after he was acquitted of blasphemy based on lack of evidence.

Egypt: Alber Saber Ayad was one of many Coptic Christians charged with "defamation of religion" under Egypt's new government. He was arrested after an angry mob stormed his house. Ayad's prosecution arose from him asking questions like “How do I know who the true God is?”

Turkey: Pianist Fazil Say stood trial for "insulting religious values" for a series of statements on Twitter. "The staunch secularist has also regularly criticised the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), accusing it of having a secret agenda to Islamise Turkey."

Poland: Poland's Supreme Court ruled that heavy metal musician Nergal is subject to blasphemy charges — and a potential two-year prison sentence — for ripping a Bible onstage.

Indonesia: Alexander Aan, an atheist blogger, appealed his two-year-six-month prison sentence imposed for writing things like "God doesn't exist." There is no appeal for his brutal beating by a mob.

November 2012

Pakistan: Upon rumors that a teacher distributed blasphemous materials to students, a mob torched a school for girls and the headmaster was arrested for blasphemy. The headmaster was remanded to custody at the demand of clerics despite a lack of evidence that he had anything to do with the alleged lessons. Meanwhile, Hazrat Ali Shah — accused of blasphemy by his village and his own family — was sentenced to death, a ten-year prison sentence, and a fine amounting to approximately $1,700. On the brighter side, charges were finally dropped against Rimsha Masih, an illiterate and mentally impaired 14-year-old from a religious minority accused of desecrating a Koran.

United Kingdom: British Muslims asserted that passing anti-blasphemy laws is necessary to combat "Islamaphobia."

Egypt: An Egyptian court sentenced seven Coptic Christians to death in absentia for their alleged role in "the Innocence of Muslims."

December 2012

Turkey: Turkish authorities fined a TV station for offending religion for showing a Halloween episode of the Simpsons in which Ned Flanders is shown taking orders from what he thinks is the voice of God.

Egypt: Alber Saber Ayad, mentioned above in October 2012, was sentenced to three years in prison for criticizing organized religion in a video.

Pakistan: A 22-year-old jailed for blasphemy died mysteriously in custody. Meanwhile, Professor Iftikhar Khan got into a dispute with his nephew over real property; his nephew accused him of blasphemy and he was arrested. Also, after a mentally unstable man was arrested on accusations of burning the Koran, a mob stormed the police station, liberated him, beat him to death, and set fire to his body. This is not to be confused with the July 2012 incident in which a mob carried a mentally unstable man from police custody upon allegations that he burned the Koran, beat him to death, and set him on fire. That was a completely different province.

Netherlands: After the Dutch Parliament decriminalized blasphemy, a Somalian radical Islamist group threatened "major consequences."

Yemen: Yemeni authorities sought to execute a blogger and force his divorce and for "only believing in Quran as the main source of Islamic rules . . . ignoring the Sunnah and consequently of retreating of Islam."

Saudi Arabia: Novelist Turki al-Hamad was arrested for blasphemy for comparing the strict social controls of Islam to the strict controls of Nazism. They sure showed him up.

January 2013

Pakistan: Ghulam Ali Asghar was charged with blasphemy for misquoting a Hadith — that is, a saying of Muhammad — in the Punjabi language. However, he was convicted of offending religious feelings and sentenced to ten years in prison. Meanwhile Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's envoy to the U.S. — who, as I mentioned in last year's coverage, was subject to death threats over her opposition to blasphemy laws — was charged with blasphemy in Pakistan over comments she made in a 2010 television interview. Also, Barkat Masih — a Hindu who converted to Christianity — saw his death penalty for blasphemy overturned by Pakistan's high court. Masih was accused of blasphemy when in the course of his job as a security guard he prevented several Muslims from entering his employer's office to steal papers related to a property dispute. They accused him of blasphemy.

Russia: The head of the Russian Orthodox Church called for blasphemy prosecutions, defending the incarceration of the group Pussy Riot.

February 2013

Kuwait: Atheist blogger Abdel Aziz Mohamed Albaz was arrested and charged with blasphemy and sentenced to a year at hard labor.

Pakistan: Four employees of a printing press were arrested for blasphemy. The book they were loading into their truck when arrested is about the minority Ahmadi faith shared by the men. Meanwhile, Christian pastor Karma Patras was released; he had been jailed for four months on the blasphemy accusations of Muslims who heard him preaching about Christ at a funeral.

March 2013

Pakistan: Reacting to allegations that a Christian blasphemed Mohammed, a Muslim mob torched 200 homes in a Christian neighborhood. In a separate incident, police rescued a mentally ill man from a mob — and arrested him for blasphemy — when he was accused by children of burning pages from a Koran.

Egypt: An Egyptian court rejected the appeal of two Coptic Christian children, 10 and 9 years old, imprisoned since April 2012 on a blasphemy charge. Also, an actress was accused of blasphemy and investigated by prosecutors for saying that Mohammed's wife was raised by a Jewish tribe.

Belgium: A Belgian court convicted a man and sentences him to four months in jail for "racist hate speech" for tearing up a Koran in front of a group of Muslims.

April 2013

Saudi Arabia: A Shi'a cleric in this Sunni-majority country was sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Pakistan: A Christian man — accused by Muslim neighbors of interrupting their singing to make blasphemous remarks — was acquitted and his death sentence lifted after six years in prison.

Russia: Russia's parliament preliminarily approved a bill making it a crime to offend religious feelings.

Bangladesh: Mobs took to the streets, infuriated by writings of atheist bloggers, demanding enactment of anti-blasphemy laws. They shout "God is great – hang the atheist bloggers." Bangladeshi police arrested three atheist bloggers. Bangladesh's Prime Minister took the position that the country's defamation of religion law — which allows a ten-year jail sentence — should be sufficient to protect religious feelings.

Egypt: Pianist Fazil Say, mentioned above, was given a suspended sentence for blasphemy. Humorist Bassem Youssef was arrested and charged with offending religion after satirizing President Morsi.

Indonesia: Four teenagers were arrested for blasphemy for dancing to a Maroon 5 music video during a prayer.

Malta: A State Department report revealed that Malta prosecuted 99 people for blasphemy against the Catholic Church in the last year, down from 119 the previous year.

May 2013

Pakistan: The Chinese manager of a construction project was cleared of blasphemy charges, but only after a mob attacks his offices.

Bangladesh: 27 people died in clashes between police and protestors demanding anti-blasphemy laws.

Egypt: A court increased the sentence of a Coptic Christian teacher, accused by her students of blasphemy. Another court sentenced a blogger to jail for "openly denigrating the religious values held by a certain portion of the population."

Australia: Australian National University forced a student paper to destroy an issue with a satirical infographic about the Koran, citing international violence against blasphemy.

June 2013

Pakistan: Rimsha Masih, the 14-year-old girl falsely accused of blasphemy, fled to Canada as she and her family continued to suffer death threats. Professor Junaid Hafeez was accused of blasphemy for words on Facebook; for representing him, his lawyer received death threats. Local bar groups severed ties with him.

Egypt: Amnesty International reported on the increasing prevalence of blasphemy charges against religious minorities in Egypt. Meanwhile, a court sentences a Muslim preacher to jail for tearing up a Bible during an anti-U.S. protest. Another court convicted a Coptic Christian lawyer in absentia on allegations he mocked the Koran at a law library.

Syria: Rebels summarily executed a 15-year-old boy for blasphemy.

Russia: The Duma unanimously approved the final version of the law criminalizing “public actions expressing clear disrespect for society and committed with the goal of offending religious feelings of the faithful.”

July 2013

Pakistan: A Christian was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to life in prison despite his accuser recanting. Protestors demanded his execution. He was convicted on allegations he sent blasphemous text messages. Days later a Christian couple was arrested for blasphemy on the same theory. Meanwhile a man deemed mentally unfit to stand trial for the past four years was scheduled to return to trial on charges that he burned the Koran.

August 2013

India: A novelist was arrested for blasphemy upon an accusation that his latest novel portrays the Hindu god Lord Ganesha in an offensive manner.

Pakistan: Muslim cleric Khalid Chishti — who admitted to making false blasphemy accusations against 14-year-old Rimsha Masih, leading to death threats and incarceration — was acquitted and released when prosecutors failed to present evidence against him. An attorney fled his latest hiding place after Islamic militants discovered it; he has been subjected to death threats because of his opposition to blasphemy laws and his relationship to a cousin accused of blasphemy. His cousin, Aasia Bibi, was moved to a different prison after the Taliban assault her previous prison, where she was awaiting imposition of her death sentence for blasphemy.

United Kingdom: Broadcasting officials fined an Islamic TV station after a host tells the audience that Muslims have a right and duty to murder blasphemers.

September 2013

Pakistan: Authorities banned "the nation's first gay website" as blasphemous. Meanwhile police arrested a woman for blasphemy for saying she's a prophet. In another village, dozens of Christian families who have clearly been paying attention to what country they live in fled their homes after their pastor was accused of blasphemy. A Pakistani high court reversed a lower court finding of blasphemy against a columnist who had written that Mohammed's respect for women was unmatched in history; critics said it implied Mohammed had secular values. Pakistani authorities, perceiving issues with the application of blasphemy law, decided that more killing may help and contemplated a law imposing the death penalty on people who make false accusations of blasphemy.

Bangladesh: Four of the atheist bloggers who inspired riots earlier in the year are indicted for making derogatory comments about Islam and Muhammad. A fifth blogger was not charged on account of having been hacked to death by a mob.

October 2013

Pakistan: The family of a mentally ill man asked a court to convict him of blasphemy. “He has insulted our religion and anyone doing that should be sternly dealt with,” said a family member. The man faces life in prison.

Qatar: Legislators drafted a model law for Islamic countries to ban blasphemy. “The main feature of the draft is that it gives every state the right to put on trial those who abuse and hold in contempt religions even if they are outside the country.”

That Was The Year That Was

These are the values that advocates of blasphemy laws would have us accept: use of state power to enforce religious orthodoxy, suppression of political and religious minorities, and the rule of law employed to channel mob violence against the powerless.

As I said last year:

It is right and fit that any nation be prepared to examine its own values, and evaluate competing ones. But I feel no qualms whatsoever at rejecting the competing values embodied in that year of blasphemy. Instead, I will stand by the values embodied in the modern interpretation of the First Amendment. When others advocate that America ease protections for free expression to ease international relations or to protect feelings and sensibilities or to move towards some imagined international consensus or to achieve "progress," I will point to this year and ask: do you truly grasp what values you are promoting, and what values you are abandoning?

The people who support anti-blasphemy laws and anti-blasphemy norms should be regarded accordingly.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

Comments

  1. Fasolt says

    No anti-blasphemy laws for me, thanks. That is the kind of thing that leads to people getting to say something like this and then getting to inflict that viewpoint on other people.

    "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women. That is best."-Conan the Barbarian, channeling Genghis Kahn.

    I saw the documentary on Pussy Riot. A prison sentence for playing music and dancing around in a church. Those Russian Orthodox patriarchs and their congregations need a sense of humor and a fresh perspective on what's important.

  2. pillsy says

    From one of the linked articles, about the UN special raporteur:

    Legislation outlawing apostasy – the act of changing religious affiliation – and insults against religious figures could be used to violate the rights of minorities, Heiner Bielefeld said in a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

    Emphasis mine. I'd say it's not only the case that laws against blasphemy or apostasy could be used to violate the rights of minorities, it's almost hard to imagine they would be used in any other way.

    I don't see any reason why there's something special about bagging on people's religious beliefs that means we should be making exceptions to the rule that the antidote for speech is more speech.

  3. BobHale says

    As an atheist, almost anything I could possibly say on the subjecty of religion would be breaking someone's anti-blasphemy law.

    I'd say that far from creating anti-blasphemy laws a good case could be made to create anti "anti-blasphemy law" laws and for the UN to ban the creation of laws that can be used to persecute minorities on religious grounds in any member states.

    I realise that in practice this would be impractical (probably even impossible) but I think a good philosophical argument could be made for it.

  4. Harrow says

    When I see a group calling for draconian measures against those who would question their belief, I understand that the members of that group know deep in their hearts that their faith is weak and their belief is silly.

  5. Another anonymous NAL says

    After reading this and the previous "Year in Blasphemy" post, one thing that struck me was the number of incidents involving children or the mentally handicapped. How the minorities with the least amount of ability to organize against any religion end up on the chopping block–or the bonfire–is beyond me. Too, the frequency with which rampaging mobs get involved in blasphemy rulings tells me that things like "due process" aren't really a priority with these folks.

  6. Bryan says

    I've often wondered if people want anti-blasphemy laws to allow them to feel a bit better about being duped into believing in a god or gods.

    Sadly it's going to take lots of education and time to get rid of the need for religions.

  7. Erwin says

    On one hand, I don't favor anti-blasphemy laws in the US. And, elsewhere, they seem to be abused for political purposes. So, they have definite gigantic downsides.

    On the other hand, in places with significant numbers of devout people who accept the use of deadly violence to enforce religious norms… I think I'd prefer being arrested to being torn apart by a rampaging mob. At least I'd get a trial. Those laws may actually be a 'good' thing, in that they transfer authority for investigation to an actual legal system.

    Perhaps child rape would be the closest analogy in the US. If you removed the laws against such behavior, the citizenry would most likely form lynch mobs.

    …that said…I have a problem with any belief system that kills people for negative behaviors without any negative externalities. Like, um, the war on drugs…which is arguably, in direct harms at least, much worse.

    …I'm not certain that anti-blasphemy laws are much different that any other law in terms of targeting the young and the mentally ill. I'm not sure that that criticism is fairly directed at anti-blasphemy laws instead of criminal laws in general. Although, I may be prejudiced by California substituting jails and the local streets for asylums.

    –Erwin

  8. barry says

    I can see some reason for including hate-speech laws in with blasphemy laws in this article, but from another angle, it's different stuff.

    Blasphemy implies a state religion which the law of that state is protecting. ie, don't offend the majority religion. But hate-speech laws are aimed more at protecting minority religions.

    Blasphemy itself is against the particular god, while hate-speech is against the followers. eg, in the Belgium example the tearing up of the Koran was probably to offend the onlooking Muslims more than to offend Allah. And in the Australian example, the University had ordered the pulping of the offending newspaper under threat of withdrawing its funding, not really by any blasphemy law.

    There are also similarities between blasphemy and flag-burning, but I don't think they should be merged together either.

  9. Anony Mouse says

    How do you charge the God Of Filth, Decay, Disease And Corruption with blasphemy? I mean, isn't that part of his job description? Discrimination, says I.

  10. says

    This is the only response worth making to those who would advocate in favor of blasphemy laws:
    http://www.theonion.com/articles/no-one-murdered-because-of-this-image,29553/ {Ed: NSFW}

    IAE, I see little distinction between "hate speech" and "blasphemy" laws. Both fall into the same category of attempting to outlaw hurting someone's feelings, and both accomplish it by hurting someone's body. As this site has shown via extensive debate, those who choose to defy social convention face extreme non-violent, non-governmental punishment via the choices of those in their surrounding society to disassociate themselves from them.

    It is also impossible to support any kind of religious diversity or tolerance where blasphemy or hate speech laws regarding religion exist — if such laws were actually enforced uniformly. By definition, if I state "My religion is right", I am stating "Your religion is wrong." How can that not be construed as an insult? I'm saying that the thing you use to define how the universe works, and how you define morality and ethics, is a fetid load of dingo's kidneys. Oh, I might not use those exact words, but that's like saying there's a difference between "We're afraid we're going to have to let you go." and "Security is cleaning out your desk." Either way, you're just as fired. Any assertion of faith (or atheism) is an assertion that everyone else is wrong, and error comes from ignorance ("You don't know the truth!", deception ("Your parents and preachers LIED to you!"), or stupidity ("You're too dumb to know how wrong you are!"). (Those places which claim to have both religious diversity and hate speech laws do so by selective, arbitrary, and politically biased enforcement.)

  11. Randall says

    Of course, blasphemy and apostasy laws only work in one direction. No one is ever going to be prosecuted for converting to the dominant religion in a particular society, nor is anyone ever going to be torn apart by a mob for blaspheming against Wicca.

  12. pillsy says

    barry:

    I can see some reason for including hate-speech laws in with blasphemy laws in this article, but from another angle, it's different stuff.

    The original intent of such laws may be the same, but there doesn't seem to be that much difference in terms of the end result. Ken even includes an example of someone being convicted of hate speech in Belgium for, basically, blasphemy. There's also a link activists in the UK saying that the UK should have laws against blasphemy for the same reason the UK has laws against hate speech.

    I'm not even entirely sure, given what went on in Belgium, that there really is a clear difference in many cases. This slipperiness is another reason I oppose laws against hate speech, though basic free speech is more than enough reason for me to reject them.

  13. says

    Supporters of blasphemy laws make the crucial error of not seeing how it could be applied to themselves. For example, Muslims deny the divinity of Jesus, which the Christian tradition considers a basphemy. As with most rules, the appropriate way to look at this is from the sports model–are you willing to have the referee apply this rule equally to both you and your opponents?

  14. jb says

    What strikes me most about the list in the post is this: The majority of the incidents were hard-to-prove, hearsay accusations made with a high likelihood of ulterior motives and mob anger. Many of the victims weren't even proven blasphemers, just people who were accused of it by people with something to gain. Even someone who thinks that blasphemy should be punished should recoil at the thought of punishing an innocent party.

    Sadly, "innocent until proven guilty" is beyond the comprehension of far too many people.

  15. says

    I can see some reason for including hate-speech laws in with blasphemy laws in this article, but from another angle, it's different stuff.

    I could have put a part in about definitions and methodology, but the post was all teal deered to hell already.

    Suffice it to say that I only included "hate speech" incidents when they seemed functionally indistinguishable from blasphemy — like the Belgian incident.

  16. Erwin says

    @scav I'm not sure. Even in countries like the UK without AFAIK anti-blasphemy laws, it isn't necessarily easy to keep prominent blasphemers alive.

    The most negative aspect of the laws seems to be their abuse towards chilling legitimate anti government speech.

    The most positive aspect, well, a friend from China once told me that, if you're caught stealing in the market, you should pray that the police arrest you before the mob finishes beating you to death. I got the general impression that he'd participated. Nations are, sadly, made of individuals, and, past a certain threshold absolutely hating and being willing to butcher people exercising a certain freedom (75%?), it is, in my opinion, fairly hopeless to try to safeguard that freedom.

    So, I'd guess that anti-blasphemy laws are markers of intolerance more than instigators.

    –Erwin

  17. Ken White Fan says

    What is a teal deer, and/or how do you teal-deer or un-teal-deer a text? Sorry for my ignorance.

  18. En Passant says

    Lizard wrote Oct 14, 2013 @5:01 am:

    IAE, I see little distinction between "hate speech" and "blasphemy" laws. …

    It is also impossible to support any kind of religious diversity or tolerance where blasphemy or hate speech laws regarding religion exist — if such laws were actually enforced uniformly. …

    Everyone is an atheist with respect to somebody's religion. Everyone is a blasphemer with respect to somebody's religion. Everyone is an apostate with respect to somebody's religion. Everyone's speech is "hate speech" to somebody.

    These things are great mysteries to devout followers of the Everlasting Church of Divine Indulgence for the Perpetually Offended.

  19. Dion starfire says

    I know almost nothing about Islam, but the snippets I have heard leave the impression that violence, murder, and torture (without provocation) are much greater crimes against Allah than mere blasphemy.

    Which, to me, means religion is just the excuse for people giving in to their baser instincts not an instigator of violence.

    I think the supporters of anti-blasphemy laws (in modern, free societies) mistake this intolerance as coming from a rational, considered world-view, when it's really just the same sh*t Europe and America went through a couple centuries ago (when the different sects of christianity were slaughtering and disenfranchising each other).

    Religion unites people (from varying tribes), then it divides them (for varying interpretations of the "holy" texts). Finally, they rediscover the values that brought them together in the first place and learn to ignore the labels and petty differences that tore them apart.

    *removes his "entitled American" hat and goes back to serving his feline master*

  20. says

    Which, to me, means religion is just the excuse for people giving in to their baser instincts not an instigator of violence.

    In other news, fire burns. :)

    That's why I do not join many of my fellow atheists in believing that if somehow we got rid of religion, we'd get rid of the countless evils religion is often used to excuse. We'd get rid of one excuse, but there's a trillion others just as good. We won't stop being *human*, and being human is the problem.

    I think the world would be better without religion, but in the same sense that cleaning out nine catboxes is better than cleaning out ten catboxes. Even if it were possible, it wouldn't change things as dramatically as some might hope. Just ask the otters.

  21. Sean C says

    The volume of citations lends weight to your post, so +1 for the teal deer.

    for want of a more derisive term — some mainstream academics

    I use 'Academia nut' but it seems too light hearted for the depth of moral repugnance this deserves.

  22. says

    A number of years ago, while sitting in a Swedish bar enjoying the EUFA Championships, I got into a discussion with an African man about the United States. He claimed that much of the problems we were facing were because people didn't have the fear of god in them. My response: "Because this is working out so well for the Middle East?"

    And on that note, I'm noticing how many of these (but certainly not all) are occurring in Middle Eastern countries (or Islamic) and reflect that a rather (and relative) vocal few here in the US think the solution to our woes is MORE integrated religion – specifically, Christianity.

  23. NI says

    The real agenda behind blasphemy laws is to criminalize any criticism of religion, no matter how justified.

  24. En Passant says

    Lizard wrote Oct 14, 2013 @8:41 am:

    That's why I do not join many of my fellow atheists in believing that if somehow we got rid of religion, we'd get rid of the countless evils religion is often used to excuse. We'd get rid of one excuse, but there's a trillion others just as good. We won't stop being *human*, and being human is the problem. .

    Which is why I support the Internet Communications Act Negating Teh Stoopid Truculent Opinions Puportedly Denying Other Gods [I CANT STOP DOG Act], which will forbid internet access for everyone except dogs. Email your congressman today!

  25. NI says

    And by the way, there's a wonderful story in the Bible about a man named Gideon. Gideon knocked down some altars belong to the god Baal, and Baal's followers came looking for him to kill him. Gideon's father told them, in essence, that if Baal needed their help in defending his honor, then he wasn't much of a god.

  26. says

    @Anon: While I assume you're being tongue-in-cheek, it does bear mentioning that calling for limitations on speech — or wholesale changes to the Constitution — is, itself, protected speech.

  27. Sharon says

    Good gods, my irony meter just exploded at the suggestion that someone's citizenship be revoked for speaking their opinion on a freedom of speech issue.

    Personally, I view the entire Middle East as the best argument ever against any combination of church+state.

  28. Chris F says

    Harrow

    When I see a group calling for draconian measures against those who would question their belief, I understand that the members of that group know deep in their hearts that their faith is weak and their belief is silly.

    What do you think about the Holocaust then? Sometimes people are just so against saying certain truths are untrue that they think it shouldn't be allowed.

  29. says

    @Chris: Who here has supported laws against Holocaust revisionism? Or is this some kind of "free speech litmus test"? "Ah-ha, you CLAIM to be for free speech, but I'll bet you won't allow THIS! Bwahaah!"

  30. Chris F says

    Lizard, I took Harrow's words to mean, "If someone wants to outlaw saying something is untrue they must really believe that what they are defending is untrue." I'm simply pointing out an example where saying something that's accepted by those passing the laws as proven historical fact (rather than belief) is being outlawed.

    There are a lot of people that hold to beliefs so strongly (in this case that the Holocaust happened and needs to be remembered so it doesn't happened again, in the cases in the post that {religious belief x} is sacred) that speaking against them is wrong. There are certainly people who do go down that road due to a desire to not be weak when they really question the belief but we have no way of knowing what reason is more common.

    I honestly don't think Harrow or by far the majority of people that read this support laws against saying that the Holocaust didn't happen and if what I wrote communicated that I need to be more clear.

  31. says

    @Chris: I sort of think I follow you. I think, at the root, most of those who advocate censorship do so because they sincerely believe they are preventing harm. This could be the harm done to social order by permitting dissent, it could be the harm done to an individual's soul if they're deceived into a false faith, it could be the harm done by preventable illness due to anti-vaccination propaganda, it could be the harm done to minorities by perpetuation of negative stereotypes, whatever. Ultimately, motivation is irrelevant. Mandating censorship because of the possible harm done by ideas is wrong, no matter how sincere or insincere the claim. (This is a horse that's pretty much beyond dead on PH, so I won't bother going into more detail.)

  32. C. S. P. Schofield says

    Nobody I have ever spoken to who advocates punishing unpopular speech has ever been able to explain to me what the First Amendment is supposed to protect if it doesn't protect unpopular speech.

  33. AlphaCentauri says

    What responsibilities do family members have under Sharia law for caring for mentally ill/mentally retarded family members? If they're expected to provide lifetime care, a blasphemy charge might be the only way to get crazy uncle Ashad institutionalized.

  34. Alistair says

    I thought I'd check if my country has a blasphemy law, and it turns out we do!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy_law_in_New_Zealand
    Awesome, nearly as good as Saudi Arabia.
    On the downside, only one prosecution, and the blackguard was acquitted. In my book anyone who publishes these lines:

    O Jesus, send me a wound to-day,
    And I'll believe in Your bread and wine,
    And get my bloody old sins washed white!

    ought to be strung up.
    Oops.
    Anyway off to round up a mob, I'm pretty sure the neighbours are Zoroastrians.

  35. Suedeo says

    Dear Ken White Fan,

    "Teal Deer" = "TL;DR" = "Too long, didn't read".

    It's how trolls reply when they want to dismiss a comment or author, sight unseen. Snark-on-the-go for today's busy discussion participant.

    The TL;DR technique also features an added benefit: high likelihood of "first reply!"

  36. perlhaqr says

    Erwin: Perhaps child rape would be the closest analogy in the US. If you removed the laws against such behavior, the citizenry would most likely form lynch mobs.

    I would like to politely submit that the significant flaw in your analogy is that child rape involves actual harm, as opposed to the "Butt Hurt in the First Degree" that anti-blasphemy laws deal with.

    And that as such, in the absence of formal laws prohibiting the rape of children (or anyone, for that matter) "lynch mobs" (or as they might be referred to, "spontaneous justice systems") would be absolutely the correct and moral answer.

    I will be forced to admit that I prefer more orderly systems.

  37. barry says

    Anyway off to round up a mob, I'm pretty sure the neighbours are Zoroastrians.

    I wouldn't say anything against Zorro.

  38. perlhaqr says

    Chris F: What do you think about the Holocaust then? Sometimes people are just so against saying certain truths are untrue that they think it shouldn't be allowed.

    I'm not Harrow, but I'll answer and say that I actually think Anti Holocaust Denial laws harm the cause of Holocaust recognition. I think it's actually way better to let shithouse-rat-crazy motherfuckers display their lunacy by eating barrels of limburger and applesauce and then showing up at fancy dress parties, dropping trou, and just shitting all over the living room carpet. Because really, there is nothing you can possibly say that will be as eloquent in displaying their fucknuttery as mere silence following such a performance.

    I mean, sure, you never invite them back after that, but it utterly pulls the rug out from their martyr complex "See! It's a conspiracy, man!" street cred if rather than using the force of the state to officially oppress them, you just roll your eyes and sneer at them. "Seriously? The carpet shitting guy? Ugh. What about him?"

    Treating these people seriously via official enforcement mechanisms lends them a credence and air of legitimacy they don't deserve.

  39. Suedeo says

    Perlhaqr: On one hand, we want to assume good faith. On the other hand, some members of our audience will need to be excluded from Open Mic Night.

    How do you identify and exclude cranks without becoming exclusive? Can it be done inexpensively? If not, welcome to another episode of Tragedy in The Commons.

  40. Rich Rostrom says

    The blasphemy laws are a symptom. I note that about half of the incidents listed are cases of mob violence (and hysteria). I also note that essentially all those cases are Moslem.

    Having said that, I find the report from Malta of ~100 Catholic blasphemy cases a year remarkable. It's a small country. What's going on?

  41. Erwin says

    @perl …agreed that there is a difference in the type of activity being prohibited and the amount of external harm. However, still not sure it makes much difference if the local populace forms a lynch mob regardless of whether or not there is a law and the police tend to support the mob. Basically, it is unfortunate that societies exist that pass such laws and ridiculous that Western societies think of copying them, but I suspect the central problem is the people, not the law. I could easily be wrong.

    Now, in New Zealand, I can't imagine that anti blasphemy laws are more potent than sodomy laws in the USA.

    –Erwin

  42. AlphaCentauri says

    Apparently saying a curse word in public is considered "blasphemy" in Malta. If you start counting all the drunks getting arrested for shouting curse words in residential neighborhoods at 2 am, 99 in a year doesn't sound like so many.

  43. grouch says

    Henceforth, whosoever shall make public utterance or demonstration promoting, encouraging or espousing any religion, or any religion-based doctrine, decree or dogma, without overwhelming scientific evidence in support of that religion, its espoused beliefs, doctrines and decrees, shall be guilty of crimes against humanity and thenceforth shall be shunned and bannished from all contact with other human beings, on pain of death.

  44. grouch says


    And by the way, there's a wonderful story in the Bible about a man named Gideon. Gideon knocked down some altars belong to the god Baal, and Baal's followers came looking for him to kill him. Gideon's father told them, in essence, that if Baal needed their help in defending his honor, then he wasn't much of a god.

    — NI

    Oh, yes, that bible thing has such wonderful children's stories, too:

    23 Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!” 24 When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number. 25 And he went from there to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.
    — 2 Kings @:23-25

    Moral: Don't be mocking old bald farts, lest they conjure up some bears on yo ass.

    The world will not be civilized until we can control the carriers of the disease called religion.

  45. HandOfGod137 says

    At times like this, when the lands are overrun with sinners mocking the imaginary friends of other sinners, I like to retire to the family chapel and consider the wise words from the Book of Armaments, Chapter 2, verses 9-21:

    And Saint Attila raised the hand grenade up on high, saying, "O LORD, bless this Thy hand grenade that with it Thou mayest blow Thine enemies to tiny bits, in Thy mercy." And the LORD did grin and the people did feast upon the lambs and sloths and carp and anchovies and orangutans and breakfast cereals, and fruit bats and large chu… And the LORD spake, saying, "First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin, then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who being naughty in My sight, shall snuff it

    And then we have the ceremonial Burning of the Witches (inc those who disagree with the punctuation in the 78th paragraph of our Holy Book, who are clearly right bastards), followed by eggnog and roast chestnuts. And some bloke in a dress tells us about some fascinating events in the middle east from 2000 years ago. Blessed are the cheesemakers (and manufacturers of allied dairy produce).

  46. Asher says

    @ Randall

    nor is anyone ever going to be torn apart by a mob for blaspheming against Wicca.

    Mob? Maybe not. But try 'blaspheming' a minority group on a modern US campus as a student and see what happens to you. Is the mindset really any different for Islamic blasphemy than it is for the student who shouted "water buffaloes" at passing drunk, noisy girls who happened to be black and had his life ruined? Not really.

    Much anti discrimination law is the anti blasphemy law of the modern left. BTW, lots of anti blasphemy/anti discrimination law in the west is about protecting minorities, not majorities.

  47. Asher says

    @ adam

    He claimed that much of the problems we were facing were because people didn't have the fear of god in them.

    Except that widespread atheism seems to lead to intellectual nihilism. I am an atheist. I call myself "history's only atheist" because religion is just a specific manifestation of the category of magical thought. Every atheist I have ever encountered has expressed all sorts of magical thinking.

    Atheism is an intellectual burden that should be reserved for a very select few. Everyone else is inevitably going to find some sort of religion so they should just pick one and stick with it.

    @ NI

    The real agenda behind blasphemy laws is to criminalize any criticism of religion, no matter how justified.

    This is blatantly false. the agenda behind anti blasphemy laws in the US is to prevent violations of the "rights" of minorities to be free of being offended.

    @ grouch

    The world will not be civilized until we can control the carriers of the disease called religion.

    Human beings clearly have an evolved instinct to religion. This is very obvious, and I say it as an atheist. You're going to have to kill off 99 percent of the human race if you want to eliminate the carriers of that "disease".

    Compared to you Hitler was a piker. Godwin's law does not apply, here, because you actually just advocating eliminating a bunch of people.

  48. Asher says

    fwiw, in the Bible the same term for blasphemy is used to describe false charges brought against human beings. "blame" comes from the old french "blasmer" which just means to assign blame, usually in a false sense.

    So, there is a perfectly legitimate usage of the term "blasphemy", which simply means "to bring false charges"; perjury is, then, a form of blasphemy. All topics of human cognition are products of the objects of its experience, meaning that there is a reality behind the concept of blasphemy.

  49. Asher says

    Acts 13:45 and 18:6 are translated as "abusive" but it is the same greek word translated as blasphemy.

  50. Asher says

    The Greek term is βλασφημέω and means "speech that injures", i.e. hate speech. Hate speech laws are just another form of anti blasphemy law.

  51. perlhaqr says

    Suedeo: Except, the flaw with my analogy is that "open mic night" here is just "freedom of expression". There's no actual event that's being held, other than "life".

  52. Steven H. says

    @Grouch:

    The world will not be civilized until we can control the carriers of the disease called religion.

    Yeah, we'd be so much better off if we followed the Atheist guidlelines of the Committee for Public Safety….

  53. says

    To those who want to lump anti-hate-speech laws in with anti-blasphemy kind, remember that the former usually are (and IMO always should be) directed only against speech that foments violence or active prejudice. If you say, "that person's God is nonsense and their beliefs are ridiculous," you're blaspheming but not partaking in hate speech. If you say, "that person should be (killed, hurt, run out of town, prevented from enrolling in school) because of their beliefs," you're trying to inflict your hate on them. That latter should be illegal.

  54. says

    @Jonathan Gladstone: as I said, in this post I only included instances where "hate speech" laws were used when the use seemed indistinguishable from blasphemy law.

    At the risk of detouring into an entirely separate debate, I don't think that most hate speech laws on various foreign books are as narrow as you suggest — that is, they are usually not limited to advocating violence against someone.

  55. says

    Nobody I have ever spoken to who advocates punishing unpopular speech has ever been able to explain to me what the First Amendment is supposed to protect if it doesn't protect unpopular speech.

    It's supposed to protect my unpopular speech from public criticism or social consequences, while banning speech that's unpopular with me because "Free speech doesn't apply to that." or "There have to be some limits.". Have you been on the Internet at all?

  56. says

    If you say, "that person should be (killed, hurt, run out of town, prevented from enrolling in school) because of their beliefs," you're trying to inflict your hate on them. That latter should be illegal.

    (Emphasis added)

    So, in the case of "Darn Near Everyone vs. Pax Dickinson", you would advocate that the bloggers who highlighted Dickinson's speech and organized net.rage against him are guilty of hate speech (targeting someone for his beliefs (primarily, his belief that competent female programmers were non-existent) and demanding he be run out of town — or at least out of his job.

    While this is obviously not the current state of the law in the USA, I want to be very sure that I understand your intent: That this is what you WANT the law to be: That if Person A says, "Good and Morally Upright People should not associate with, do business with, support, or otherwise condone, Ungood People (such as Pax Dickinson) Who Express Wrongthink", Person A should be criminally liable.

    To use another example: If I say, "People should not go to see Ender's Game, because it will enrich Orson Scott Card, and I disapprove of OSC's ideas about homosexuality and Obama's secret thug army.", I am, under your apparent system, engaging in hate speech, which you would wish criminalized, because I am encouraging others to shun/avoid/condemn/etc. a person (Orson Scott Card) due to his beliefs.

    Is this, in fact, your argument? If not, please explain what I'm misunderstanding.

  57. HandOfGod137 says

    @Steven H

    Yeah, we'd be so much better off if we followed the Atheist guidlelines of the Committee for Public Safety….

    I think most atheists would be perfectly happy with a purely secular society: believe whatever you want, just keep education and the management of society in the domain of the empirically demonstrable. And as beliefs are a choice, it is clearly fine for them to be laughed at if they are daft.

  58. grouch says


    You're going to have to kill off 99 percent of the human race if you want to eliminate the carriers of that "disease".

    Compared to you Hitler was a piker. Godwin's law does not apply, here, because you actually just advocating eliminating a bunch of people.
    –Asher

    Projection much?
    Tip: "control" does not necessarily equate to "eliminating".

    See also, http://www.iep.utm.edu/reductio/

    Anti-blasphemy laws and anti-blasphemy law supporters seek control over everyone who disagrees with them. History (and Ken's article) is stuffed with horrors committed by evangelicals. Ergo, promotion of religion is promotion of continuing those horrors and therefore a criminal act against humanity itself. In order to make the world safe for humanity, we must exercise control of those who publicly promote religion. Think of the children.

  59. Asher says

    @ grouch

    promotion of religion is promotion of continuing those horrors and therefore a criminal act against humanity itself

    Except religion is … is. What I mean by that is the religious instinct is very clearly a genetically evolved function and will always manifest itself in groups of people. It is possible for scattered individuals to be true atheists but such people are very, very rare.

    Every atheist I have met has been lying when they called themselves an atheist. And I say this as an atheist.

  60. Steven H. says

    @HandofGod137:

    I take it you didn't recognize the reference to the French Revolution? If not, you might want to read up on the Committee for Public Safety and related people.

    I especially liked the part where they took a barge, anchored it midriver in midwinter, filled it with nuns, and set it afire.

    Do try to remember that (self-professed) Atheists have their share of atrocities to their names….

  61. HandOfGod137 says

    @Steven H

    Do try to remember that (self-professed) Atheists have their share of atrocities to their names….

    I think you could point that accusation at any group or nation if you include the clause "if we consider their behaviour over the entire history of the human species". I don't really think the appalling acts of the sans-culottes at the end of the 18th Century can be mapped with any accuracy onto the beliefs and morality of rationalists at the start of the 21st, but in general I try not to judge people on the behaviour of their antecedents from 200 years ago if I can avoid it.

  62. says

    People don't change, not in 200 years, nor 2000.

    If more atrocities, etc., have been committed by religious people than by non-religious people, this is only because the majority of humans are religious. The aspects of human nature that allow atrocities to happen do not vanish if religion does; all that changes is how we excuse and justify these atrocities.

    Whether it's "the will of God" or "the will of the People" is pretty irrelevant to the people being killed. It's also pretty irrelevant to the people doing the killing.

  63. Asher says

    People who think that religion causes war are reversing cause and effect. Our species is naturally divisive and this leads to conflict which causes cultural differentiation, i.e. religion.

    Religion doesn't cause war, war causes religion.

  64. says

    @Asher: Then, we would see isolated cultures which have no religion, but this is not the case. Unless your argument is that religion developed prior to cultural isolation, but then it becomes non-disprovable.

    Even given this, religion consumes resources. If the religion arises from war, and a sufficiently long time passes without a war, religion would atrophy in a culture — it would serve no purpose and consume resources which could be put to other use. Few cultures other than very wealthy ones (which are not isolated) have resources to spare.

    Religion is best understood as a way of defining community, of creating social structures. If you look at religion as a way of actually understanding the universe, it makes no sense that it continues to exist. But if you look at religion as primarily a social activity, not a philosophical or a scientific activity, it makes perfect sense. "Going to church" is a Thing To Do With Others. It's a shared, ritualistic, activity that creates and reinforces social bonds. It's the same, really, as The Friday Night Poker Game or the Monday After Work Trip To Applebees, only with more hooplah and fewer deep-fried appetizers.

  65. Asher says

    @ Lizard

    It was a somewhat tongue in cheek comment. I'm quite certain that there is an evolutionarily evolved instinct to religion for people functioning in groups. Religion, as we know it, is a fairly late development in human society and war has always been ubiquitous. Religion. logically, has to play some regulating role in the functioning of human society or the instinct to it would not have evolved.

    It may have been Chesterton (Acton?) who wrote about a man walking down the road and seeing a gate that doesn't appear to have any function considers knocking it down. The advice given was to knock down the gate only if one could first explain why it was erected in the first place.

    The moral: don't destroy something just because it doesn't appear to serve a function, to you.

  66. AlphaCentauri says

    If you find primate fossils and are trying to determine the status of that species in the flow of evolution, how would your assessment change if you found that the bones were buried with goods apparently intended for the deceased to use in the afterlife?

    Our perception of ourselves as different from other animals has a lot to do with our belief in some part of ourselves that is more than a function of our physical structure and that will survive our death. You can intellectually believe that no such spiritual nature exists, but it's hard to avoid the influence of that belief in how we view ourselves.

  67. grouch says


    Except religion is … is. What I mean by that is the religious instinct is very clearly a genetically evolved function and will always manifest itself in groups of people. It is possible for scattered individuals to be true atheists but such people are very, very rare.
    –Asher

    Religion as "instinct"? Religion as "genetically evolved"?
    Strawmen created out of the ether.

    And you still seem to have a problem with reading comprehension.
    Try this highly simplified version:

    If anti-blasphemy laws are good, then anti-religion laws are good.
    If anti-religion laws are not good, then anti-blasphemy laws are likewise not good.

    If it is acceptable to evangelize religions, then it should be equally acceptable to disparage religions.

    Is my position clear to you now? Or will this simply lead to more strawmen and more evangelizing of the religion of atheism?

  68. Harrow says

    Dear @Chris and @Lizard:

    What I actually meant was, "If someone wants to outlaw saying something is untrue they must really FEAR that what they are defending is untrue."

    Holocaust rememberers believe two theses with religious fervor:

    (1) The holocaust happened, and

    (2) The holocaust must be remembered.

    But these are not the same thing at all. The first is a historical fact, and the second is a political opinion. Apparently both holocaust rememberers and holocaust denyers have become somewhat confused about the difference. They have taken to fighting over the first thesis as a proxy for the second.

    When holocaust rememberers pass a law against history revision, they are not afraid that people won't believe that the government of Germany decreed the death penalty for being in a condition that cannot be voluntarily accepted nor avoided, e.g. being Jewish, and exacted that penalty from at least six million of its own citizens.

    They are afraid that people won't believe that the human species can avoid a repetition of this unthinkably terrifying event only by having monuments, oratory, billbords, and other reminders constantly shoved into everybody's faces all day every day of our lives.

  69. says

    @Ken, thanks for your response. My comment was not directed at your original post or comments – some others have made the comparison between hate-speech and anti-blasphemy law rather more strongly than you. In particular, some like @Asher seem to confuse etymology with current usage: blasphemy is not usually currently understood as "speech that injures" but rather as "speech against a particular religion or creed". (See Merriam-Webster, Free Online Dictionary and/or Wikipedia for easy references.)

    I concede that hate laws are often broader in scope, both as written and as applied, than you or even I would prefer. But (without trying to push the detour) my preference seems a little broader than yours – I think it should be illegal to advocate active hatred and prejudice ("brown Johnnies should be kept out of our nice, white schools and communities; we should hate all brown Johnnies" or vice versa) as well as violence ("hurt and/or kill brown Johnnies!").

  70. says

    Fortunately, it remains legal (in the US) to advocate darn-near anything, just not to *incite* it. You remain free to advocate changing the law, naturally. That's how it works.

  71. says

    I keep wondering if the 200+ year old blasphemy law that was used against the National Lampoon over Son Of God Comics is still in effect. (For those of you that have ever looked at the prices of old NatLamps, now you know why there are three issues in nosebleed territory.)

  72. DataShade says

    Wasn't it basically the case that behind the Innocence of Muslims movie were two men, an American Christian fundamentalist "prepper" lawyer and an Egyptian Coptic Christian convicted-felon fraudster?

    Isn't the lawyer on record as telling his 'followers' that Muslims have secret sleeper-cells all over the North American continent, waiting to rise up and violently overthrow the Christian nation that is the USA, and that is why it is his followers' Christian duty to own high-powered rifles and purchase his lecture tapes? Isn't the lawyer on record as saying that he and his followers would one day stage an event that would outrage these supposed sleeper cells and draw them out into the light where they could be dealt with permanently?

    Wasn't the fraudster posing as a Jew, and working with the lawyer to create the aforementioned event that would incite these secret muslims to violence?

    Isn't inciting a riot, especially a riot targeting, specifically, one or more members of a long-persecuted minority group, a crime, even a hate crime?

    I never understood how special new laws were required to deal with this, or other, similar, situations.

  73. says

    @Datashade: Producing a movie isn't "incitement to riot" under US law. It's not illegal to say mean things that make people mad, especially people in foreign countries. For that matter, neither is pretending to be a Jew (unless, I suppose, it's a component of a larger, actually criminal, fraud scheme, but then, the specific lies told are irrelevant — claiming to be a Jew, a ninja, or a Jewish ninja are all equal), lying about Muslims, or hawking your crappy tapes to gullible suckers, as long as you actually send them the tapes you promised to. (Otherwise, it's fraud, naturally.)

    We don't need new laws to deal with non-crimes, so I'm not sure of the point of your post. The person involved did violate parole, and was arrested for that, which Ken covered extensively back when it was relevant.

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