I’m deeply suspicious of those who believe their God expects them to do His dirty work in punishing blasphemy, without their God first offering conclusive proof that He exists. His followers seem to be affording themselves a privileged position – a position in which they free themselves to oppress – based on nothing more than how much they believe in their particular God, and how much the rest of us don’t. Indeed, for those of us who aren’t religious, we see no reason why you shouldn’t be free to believe in faiths that offend our every principle, at the same time as we’re free to ridicule that offensive faith. Neither you, nor I get to privilege ourselves by defining what is and isn’t to be considered universally ‘offensive’ when it comes to beliefs.
Today is international draw Muhammad day. Whilst argument persists about the nature – is it ‘Islamophobic’? Isn’t it? Who cares? – of the idea of ‘draw Muhammad day’, I’m left wondering why no one is concerned about the atmosphere that leads to this sort of a protest in the first place. It is the 21st century, and billions across the World continue to be denied the fundamental human right to express their view, if it happens to contradict the often far more vicious views of those who believe themselves inherently privileged on account of their religion. An atmosphere that appears to afford a bizarre “right” to not be offended – even among Western ‘liberals’ who clearly feel uneasy at offending religious concepts or arguing the superiority of liberal, secular values – a position of higher dignity than the right to self expression.
It is bizarre, because when it comes to individual liberty, only one of those previously mentioned presumed ‘rights’ is by its nature oppressive. When we express, we do not rescind the civil liberty of anyone else, and nor should anyone else – whether in the majority or not – rescind your civil liberty, for expressing contrary opinions. Our civil rights are equal, we are protected, I am simply expressing an opinion that is contrary to yours. I choose the way that I express that opinion, but I have no right to injure your liberty in the process. You might be offended by my expression, and that’s fine. Nothing happens. That’s it. You’re offended, and you move on with your life. Your liberty is protected, as much as mine is. The same is not true, of the presumed “right” to not be offended. This obnoxious presumption can only manifest itself in the removal of civil liberties – through blasphemy laws – of others, and so the privileging of your view above all others. Why – for example – should you have a right to believe in a faith that offends me, yet I shouldn’t have a right to offend that faith? This is you privileging your faith, or faiths in general, claiming ownership over my voice, this is supremacy, and it is by its nature, oppression. It is the claiming of ownership not only of the voices of others, but of skepticism in general. The very fact that you may seek to privilege your specific belief, protecting it from forms of criticism arising from skeptical inquiry on account of how deeply you believe it to be true, is the exact reason it must be open to criticism; to deflate its authoritarian desire to control my freedom to express.
For example, the anti-secular group ‘Christian Voice’ freely expressed their displeasure at homosexuality this week, when they grotesquely stated:
“The Eurovision Song Contest sank to a new low on Saturday night as a bearded homosexual drag artist swept to an overwhelming win.”
– So, given that ‘Christian Voice’ utilises the freedom to express and perpetuate their beliefs without reproach, one has to wonder why they refuse to support that same freedom for others. In 2005 ‘Christian Voice’ threatened to picket outside of the cancer support centre ‘Maggie’s Centres’ if the centre took a £3000 donation from ‘Jerry Springer: The Opera’, because it was full of “filth and blasphemy”. The donation would have been used to provide a better standard of palliative cancer care for sufferers and their families. ‘Christian Voice’, not content with dehumanising the LGBT community, also took £3000 away from vital cancer research. This is what happens when the religious claim ‘offence’. Not only do they seek to restrict the liberty of others to express opinions contrary to their own, they’re willing to put lives at risk for that privilege.
Similarly, Rashid Rehman – a lawyer in Pakistan representing a Professor accused of blasphemy – was shot and killed by armed men posing as clients, for defending blasphemy. In Pakistan, for even defending the right to a fair trial for someone accused of simply expressing their opinion, will get you killed. These people appear to be under the curious impression that harming another human being for words, is acceptable. The implication is that Islam must be considered privileged and protected, simply because believers in Islam say so, and you will die if you openly express disagreement. The irony is that one must be severely insecure in one’s beliefs – almost blasphemously so – if seeking to completely eradicate criticism of the faith, and only permitting a single narrative.
Those who seek to punish those deemed to be ‘offending’ faith, tend to be the most offensive people on the planet, themselves. You will find that most religious sects that position themselves as a political entity, seek to restrict criticism of their faith to some degree, whilst freely and happily expressing their own offensive views in public. Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Uthman Badar argued that Prophets and religions should be protected from insult. The same Hizb ut-Tahrir that called for the eradication of Jews, and followed on by insisting that homosexuality is an evil that destroys societies. Such is the nature of the child-like followers of organised religion; the hypocrisy, and self indulgent tantrum is breathtaking.
It is worth noting again, that you should be free to believe whatever it is you choose to believe, according to your own conscience, where that belief doesn’t manifest in shackling others to your belief. The state has no inherent right to restrict your personal belief, where it pertains to your life only. But the freedom to express, is as true for me as it is for you. And so if you choose to believe in a faith that seeks to, or has a long history of, condemning all those who don’t quite fit its narrow spectrum for salvation, then you must expect dissent. You must expect criticism and you must expect to have your beliefs offended. You must expect the life and words of your role model and the person you seek to emulate – be it Moses, Abraham, Jesus or Muhammad – critically examined. You must expect to accept that defending the dignity of your God, is irrelevant to those of us who don’t believe, and we won’t be told what we’re entitled to say about your God, by you, especially if the rules laid out by that God offend our principles. You must expect those who abandon a belief in your God, to speak out on their experiences free from harm. You must expect those who have been shackled by your beliefs, to fight to break free from those shackles. You must expect those who find your religion to be morally corrosive, to express exactly why they came to that conclusion, in their own way, and in a way that does nothing to harm your liberty. If your religion is strong, it will combat the falsity of the contrary opinion through reason, rather than force. That is the nature of the basic human right to inquire, to believe, and to express without fear. It comes hand in hand with your right to believe and to express that belief.
Blasphemy laws are an archaic expression of religious supremacy, an irrelevant, and irrational power structure that cannot deal with challenges to its authority in the modern World. We know better now. And so if you are more offended by blasphemy, than you are by the violent removal of the basic human right to expression, your principles desperately require redress.