Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Blasphemous Rumours

Blasphemy (n)
1. Profane talk
2. An instance of this

1. Treat (a sacred thing) with irreverence or disregard
2. Violate or pollute (what is entitled to respect)

Blasphemy is a funny old thing.

We no longer have a specific offence of blasphemy in the UK, although we do have the broader and more nebulous idea of incitement to religious hatred law. This requires an intent to incite hatred against a person or group of people based on their religious beliefs (or lack of them). The intent clause was not originally in the act, which in effect would have made the Bible and the Qur'an illegal because of the language used against non-believers.

I have no problem with laws that protect people from hatred.

Everybody has a right to quietly get on with their lives, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others to do the same. Obviously in a modern society where we live crowded together in urban environments this requires a modicum of politeness, neighbourly give and take and sensible compromise. As long as everybody follows the golden rule of do as you would be done by, then we will all get along fine.

I do have a problem with laws that give abstract ideas special protection.

In Pakistan the blasphemy laws have been used in vindictive ways, to persecute minorities or with malicious intent against rivals. Even where no offense has been proved, an accusation of blasphemy has been enough to see people killed by vengeful mobs or dying in unexplained circumstances whilst in police custody.

Now Punjabi governor Salman Taseer has been shot dead by one of his own bodyguards on Tuesday for supporting fairly modest reforms of the blasphemy law. Some religious groups are even going so far as to say that "anyone who expressed sympathy over the death of a blasphemer was also committing blasphemy" (and presumably also deserves shooting). Lovely people.

What no one will explain is why Jehovah or Allah or whichever deity it may concern requires any sort of protection. Judging by the old testament, there was no shortage of smiting of non believers, and even in the new testament two followers of the apostles were struck dead for not putting all of their money into the communal pot (funny how the American evangelists skip over this chapter).

By insisting on laws to protect the delicate feelings of their deity, the believers are saying that their god, much like our own dear Queen, is not allowed to answer back and defend themselves against criticism. However, they can't point to any passage in their holy texts where their god has said 'enough with the smiting, I'm retiring from actively intervening, and I expect you to shoot anyone who blasphemes against me'.

Now the Pakistani government is shuffling its feet and refusing to back the reforms, and there do not appear to be any moderate believers saying that shooting people over imagined slights is a bad thing.

To say that a belief is worthy of more respect than a human life is the most offensive thing that I can imagine. All blasphemy laws must be abolished, as a fundamental tenet of human rights.

If anybody would like to accuse me of blasphemy, then go right ahead, just so long as I can cross examine god as the injured party in court ...

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