Questionable Motives

January 1, 2010

Is criminalizing blasphemy a good way to start the new year?

Micheal Martin, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, opposing attempts by Islamic States to make defamation of religion a crime at UN level, 2009 said:

We believe that the concept of defamation of religion is not consistent with the promotion and protection of human rights. It can be used to justify arbitrary limitations on, or the denial of, freedom of expression. Indeed, Ireland considers that freedom of expression is a key and inherent element in the manifestation of freedom of thought and conscience and as such is complementary to freedom of religion or belief.”

Just months after Minister Martin made this comment, his colleague Dermot Ahern introduced Ireland’s new blasphemy law, which defines blasphemy as publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted. (From blasphemy.ie here)

The OIC-sanctioned defamation of religion non-binding resolution at the UN quoted this Irish definition of blasphemy, and presented the then proposed Irish blasphemy law  as evidence that defamation of religion was not just an Islamic issue but one that should protect all religions.

Do religions really need legal protection from criticism? Consider what Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor said in 2009: ““Whether a person is atheist or any other, there is in fact in my view something not totally human if they leave out the transcendent… we call it God… I think that if you leave that out you are not fully human.”

Isn’t that a lovely thought? There are humans – those that believe in god – and then there are those other things not quite human, like atheists and agnostics (are you listening out there , all you agnostics?). Does this kind of statement made by the cardinal reveal a religious sentiment that honestly needs legal protection from blasphemous criticism? It seems to me that the current legal direction to protect religious beliefs from criticism, if anything, is exactly backwards. Perhaps we need a law that protects the rights of individuals from this kind of religiously inspired dogmatic terrorism against basic human rights, freedoms, and dignity. Wait a sec… oh, that’s right… we already do. From various secular national constitutions and charters of rights and freedoms to the UN declaration of Human Rights, we already have enunciated the legal precedence for the welfare of individual to be held in higher regard by the secular law than respect and legal protection for various competing ideas, be they religious, cultural, or political. Why, then, has this current crop of pious law makers circumvented this most fundamental national and international legal principle? Because they are too myopic and self-interested to see their actions as the travesty to individual human rights and dignity that they are. That, and many of these same pious people don’t actually care about the welfare of real individuals who disagree with them in comparison to showing piousness through some discriminatory religious belief set that supposedly honours their religious faith. (Hence the notion somewhat popular in the Islamic world these days that we find fueling so much mass murder: I can prove my love and respect for god by killing you. The good Cardinal’s understanding of what makes a person fully human is not that far behind acting as at least a partial excuse for these kind of religiously inspired crimes against individuals. )

The blasphemy law and the UN defamation resolution are intellectual obscenities. They are of a kind – legal bludgeons to be used for one purpose only: to protect acts inspired by religious beliefs from legitimate criticism that directly undermine the secular enlightenment value of freedom of expression.

Let’s hope that this year will allow more reasonable and sane people to replace the ones currently occupying the majority of the Irish parliament and UN General Assembly so that they may successfully repeal these examples of religious pornography. Let’s make a resolution to support those who criticize the intrusion of religious beliefs into the public domain, those who criticize the abuse of national and international law to wreak havoc on individual rights and freedoms. Let’s give them our support. The advancement of such religiously inspired and regressive measures must be challenged and stopped or all of us – for each one of us IS an individual – will lose more than our freedom of expression. The battle starts with each of us and each of us needs to take a side.

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