Main Article (Australian English Version)
On the 24th of November 2008, the U.N. passed a draft resolution against defaming religion. It was sponsored by the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). They want nations to pass legislation against blasphemy. On Thursday, 26th of March, it was passed as a 'non-binding' resolution: a step closer to being a binding resolution. At this point in time, it is optional for each member nation of the U.N to adopt this resolution. There is no doubt that the OIC will continue to push for its enforcement worldwide.
I write this article because I believe the motive behind the efforts of the OIC is sinister. I want to ensure that you, the reader, are aware of this development because if the OIC gets its way, your right to express your opinion is at risk. It has happened before and it continues to happen in totalitarian regimes all over the world today. Only this time, it has the backing of the U.N.
Before I continue, let me be clear: I also want to protect human beings from being discriminated against and they should NOT be subject to physical violence because of their religious beliefs, or lack of them. This issue, however, is not about protecting people from other people. It is about taking our right to think for ourselves and to speak our minds.
A blasphemer is someone who speaks of (God or a sacred entity) in an irreverent, impious manner. Irreverent means ?lacking or exhibiting a lack of reverence: disrespectful?. Impious refers to irreligiousness. Many works of art, film and literature blaspheme a particular god or religion.
The justification behind the recent push for blasphemy laws is to avoid instances where the feelings of Muslims are hurt because of impious statements about certain things they consider sacred or holy.
I can draw three examples in recent history that have added urgency to the cause of the OIC to push for laws that protect Islam from free enquiry and criticism:
- The cartoons drawn by Kurt Westergaard
- The film, Submission, by Theo Van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali
- The film, Fitna, by Geert Wilders
I will discuss these cases one by one. In the process, I ask you:
- Who needs protection from whom?
- Were these works created purely to incite or provoke violence from Muslims or were they created out of curiosity, to ask questions and seek the truth?
Danish Cartoons by Kurt Westergaard
Perhaps the most popular incident most of us have heard about was that of Danish Cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard. He created the controversial cartoon of the Muslim prophet, Muhammad, wearing a bomb as a turban.
After the publication of his cartoons, Muslims worldwide were enraged. In two days of heavy rioting, five people were killed in two major cities and a private property, worth millions, was torched in Pakistan.
I have collected what some banners and chants said in these protests:
- Death to Denmark.
- Hang those who drew the insulting cartoons.
- This is the beginning of the end for you disbelievers.
- Denmark, go to Hell. George Bush, go to Hell. U.S.A, to Hell. Nuke, Nuke Denmark.
- We want Danish Blood.
- Europe, you will pay. Your annihilation is on its way.
- UK, you obey, Bin Laden is on his way.
- May they bomb Denmark so we can invade their country and take their wives as war booty
On February 12, 2008, Danish Security and Intelligence Service, PET, arrested three people: two Tunisians and one Dane of Moroccan origin. They were planning to murder Westergaard. In a statement on Jyllands-Posten's website, Mr Westergaard said: ?Of course I fear for my life when the police intelligence service say that some people have concrete plans to kill me??.
Submission by Theo Van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali
The film, Submission, is a 10-minute film directed by Theo Van Gogh and written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It was shown on the Dutch public broadcasting network (VPRO) on August 29, 2004.
The film tells the story of four fictional characters played by a single actress wearing a veil, but clad in a see-through chador, her naked body painted with verses from the Koran. The characters are Muslim women who have been abused in various ways. The film contains monologues of these women and dramatically highlights three verses of the Qur?an, 4:34, 2:222 and 24:2 that authorise mistreatment of women, by showing them painted on women?s bodies.
Hirsi Ali, now a Muslim atheist, was motivated to make the film because of the injustice she saw. She said:
It is written in the Koran a woman may be slapped if she is disobedient. This is one of the evils I wish to point out in the film. If you are a Muslim woman and you read the Koran, and you read in there that you should be raped if you say ?no? to your husband, that is offensive. And that is insulting.
In her book, Infidel, Hirsi Ali tells us what happened two months after the film was released:
Theo van Gogh got up to go to work at his film production company in Amsterdam. He took out his old black bicycle and headed down a main road. Waiting in a doorway was a Moroccan man with a handgun and two butcher knives.
As Theo cycled down the Linneaeusstraat, Muhammad Bouyeri approached. He pulled out his gun and shot Theo several times. Theo fell off his bike and lurched across the road, then collapsed. Bouyeri followed. Theo begged, ?Can?t we talk about this?? but Bouyeri shot him four more times. Then he took out one of his butcher knives and sawed into Theo?s throat. With the other knife, he stabbed a five-page letter onto Theo?s chest. The letter was addressed to me.
After Theo?s murder, Hirsi Ali went into hiding.
Fitna by Geert Wilders
Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician and member of the Dutch Parliament since 1998, is another fighter for freedom of speech. In 2008, he released a short film titled Fitna. Fitna means ?disagreement and division among people? in Arabic. Wilders said the 15-minute film showed how verses from the Qur?an are being used today to incite modern Muslims to behave violently and antidemocratically based on those verses. When you take a look at his film, it is the Koranic quotes and the zealous personalities captured in the film that incite violence, not Geert Wilders.
Fitna was released on the Internet on the video sharing website Liveleak, after which it was immediately removed because of serious threats being made to staff. After security upgrades to ensure the safety of the staff at Liveleak, Fitna was re-released.
Prior to the release of the film, Geert Wilders did an interview with Fox News where he made statements relevant to our discussion.
When asked why he would release a film with all these threats of riots on the streets, he responded:
That [threats are being made] just proves my point even more, that it is needed, a lot, to make such a movie. Indeed, only the proposition that I was going to make a movie [got] the Dutch government panicking, talking to imams all over the country, Muslim groups threatening to go to courts to prevent the movie being published, [it is as if] we have no freedom of speech here in the Netherlands. All the reactions, even before the movie is finished, let alone broadcasted on television, prove my point that it is very needed to make [such] a movie. People should bear some criticism also in the Muslim community
When interviewed, Geert Wilders already lived three years of his life under high security. He was asked by the interviewer whether it was more prudent for him to ?temper? what he was saying, just a little bit. Wilders response was:
If I do that, if I would moderate my voice or maybe stop talking like that, then the people who are not using democratic means, but undemocratic means ? like the death threats that I am getting everyday ? then, those people, would win.
In a democracy, if you are against somebody, you use your freedom of speech. Go and debate, write an article or vote for a party that thinks differently? This is civil society. This is everything that should be done in a democracy.
More than half a million people voted for my party and me personally, so I have an obligation to the voters who expect me not to stop saying what I really think. If I stop, then I would not only be playing a nasty game to my voters, I would also give a signal to everybody who says, ?If you say what we don?t like, we will kill you, behead you or do terrible things to you?, that they are winning.
Let us reflect on these three cases for a moment. The publishing and drawing of the cartoons was offensive to many Muslims and they are all within their rights to protest. What is a separate issue, however, is the way most of the protests have been conducted. The slogans and the chants, themselves, were criminal. They incited and spread hate, murder and violence.
What is most unacceptable for a society that values freedom of expression is that three men plotted to murder the cartoonist. Westergaard was lucky to have been protected by the Danish police. Unfortunately for Theo Van Gogh, the Dutch police was not there to save him.
I would like you to watch Submission and Fitna, which you can find for free on YouTube. Watch them and make up your own mind because to me, these are works inspired by their creators? genuine sense of enquiry and wonder, stemming from their desire for a more equitable, peaceful world.
Like I wrote earlier, the push for anti-blasphemy laws is not about protecting people from other people. It is about immunising religious ideas from intellectual probing and enquiry. We cannot protect ideas from other ideas. The ability to explore a full range of ideas is important because truth cannot be arrived upon unless all points are considered first.
John Milton (1608-1678) said, if facts are laid bare, truth will defeat falsehood in open competition, but this cannot be left for any individuals, or a government, to determine. It is up to each individual to uncover their own truth and no one is wise enough to act as a censor for all individuals, not even the U.N.
To those who voted for this resolution, I say, believing in freedom of speech means believing in freedom of speech of views you do not like. By passing anti-blasphemy resolutions, such as these, the U.N seems to expect us all to accept everything we are told to believe, because if we show dissent or express our opinions against these beliefs, we will get prosecuted as blasphemers.
Now that most of us live and share our cities with people from many varying religious beliefs, it is very important that we can discuss our religious beliefs, or lack of them, openly and maturely.
It is obvious that not all existing religions are right. Either one of them is right or none of them are. This implies that many of us currently believe in absurdities and this is very dangerous because ?those who believe absurdities will commit atrocities? (Voltaire).
To conclude, I echo what H.L. Mencken said eighty-two years ago:
Individuals have the right to harbour and indulge their imbecilities as long as they please, provided only that they do not try to inflict them upon others by force. They have a right to argue for them as eloquently as they can, in season and out of season. They have a right to teach their religion to their children. But certainly they have no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them. They have no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. They have no right to preach them without challenge.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Marquez Comelab is the author of The Tyranny Of God. In his book, he argues that if we believe that God truly exists, and his nature is as asserted by the Bible or the Koran, then it is only logical to assume that all laws must reflect God?s will. By its very nature, therefore, the rule of God is totalitarian: the exact opposite of democracy. See: www.reasonism.org.
 "blasphemer." The American Heritage? Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 31 Jul. 2008. .
 "irreverent." The American Heritage? Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 31 Jul. 2008. .
 "impious." Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 31 Jul. 2008. .
 BBC News: Hidden Motives Behind Cartoon Riots. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4716762.stm (Accessed: 15 August 2008).
 Sources: Times Online. 70,000 gather for violent Pakistan cartoons protest. Published February 15, 2006. (Accessed 15 August 2008) and CBN News. News report by Dale Hurd. Video Title: Out Of Time: Radical Islam Taking Over Europe & West. (Accessed: 15 August 2008).
 BBC News: Danish Cartoons ?Plotters? Held. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7240481.stm (Accessed: 15 August 2008).
 Dutch News Digest: Hirsi Ali on Film over Position of Women in Koran, http://www.dnd.nl/showarticle.php3?newsID=15018 (Accessed 15 August 2008).
 CBS News: Slaughter and Submission, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/03/11/60minutes/main679609.shtml. (Accessed 15 August 2008).
 I have paraphrased the last paragraph for clarity. The original transcript is this: ?So, if I stop saying what I really think, more than half a million people my party and me personally, so I also have an obligation to the voters who expect this from me? If I do not do that, I would not only play a nasty game to my voters but I would also give a signal to everybody who says, ?If you say what we don?t like, we will kill you, behead you or do terrible things to you?, that they are winning.?