International Blasphemy Rights Day is observed on 30th September each year to commemorate the much-debated and controversial cartoons published during 2005 in Jyllads-Posten, which is now known as the Jyllads-Posten Muhammed cartoon controversy.
A person in pursuit of this answer would only be moving in circles by contradicting oneself. Just as it is difficult to find answers to most philosophical dilemmas, Blasphemy is a complex mixture of ideas that are interlinked to questioning others’ believes. It is the act of insulting one’s God and sacred beliefs. It is one of the most hotly debated topics of our time, and acts of blasphemy have often drawn ire from groups in the past- often resulting in extreme violence, with the latest example being the riots in Sweden.
In 2009, 30th September was declared The International Blasphemy Rights Day as a response to the growing attacks on what critics of religious authority claimed to be ‘Freedom of Expression’. Today, over seventy-four countries have some forms of a law against blasphemy, meaning, hurting someone’s feelings could land you in jail or have you executed, depending on where you are. So it is only appropriate to question, should these laws exist?
Anti Blasphemy activists second the fact that religious beliefs are often indispensable and personal to people. At that time, ridiculing or criticizing their beliefs could be seen as questioning something that is a crucial part of people’s existence, which is something that should not be encouraged. At the same time, the very same religious zealots not only have a say in but often decide things like women’s clothing attire, choices with respect to pregnancy, whether or not they can drive- and so on. If there are laws that make questioning people’s religious beliefs illegal because they are personal and people might feel hurt, shouldn’t laws exist which upholds the concept of making other people’s personal decisions for them, illegal?
“Outrage connected with blasphemy has existed since time immemorial, with dissent. Criticism of sacred stuff always puts the criticized at a defensive stance and the basic thing to do is to get your point across without being deliberately offensive. When attacks reduce to the person, overlooking the ideology, it has the potential to get out of hand”
The answer is yes, they should, but they will not. The religions that say blasphemy should be illegal have one thing in common- they are deeply authoritative and rigid institutions. At that point, the act blasphemy becomes less one of questioning God and more one of subverting their authority and questioning their legitimacy. These institutions often want to uphold the status quo, which is often unfair and unjust, and thus any act against the status quo becomes punishable.
However, while we analyze the concept of blasphemy and try to configure the reason why there exist innumerable supporters for it, we realize how they seem potent to many. Blasphemy rights are structured to protect the interests and to provide a space to those who oppose religious practices. It has been framed to safeguard the voices of those who think differently than what exists within the accustomed societal standards of religion.
The population that supports blasphemy is usually disregarded in society as the majority conveniently ignore the ideology that, blasphemers as humans are also entitled to support their thoughts and expressions. When we view it from this angle, proclaiming blasphemy to be a crime is in fact the violation of censorship which is fundamental to any democracy. Hence, blaming and punishing anyone who supports blasphemy is the same as punishing someone for giving words to their emotions. Evidently, we are in a conflict of choice wherein one is forced to side with either supporting Hate Speech Laws or going in favor of Freedom of Speech with no choice left to choose either in equal proportions.
“Honestly in my opinion we need not view blasphemy as a negative activity. It is a measure to point out and criticize the ill-factors of religion. Even if a fact which has been criticized is actually a positive factor, when it is been scrutinized we will be able to reassure that it is a good thing.”
As we tread further on the path of supporting people who practice blasphemy and study the violation of ‘Freedom of Thought’, we start questioning the radical opposition by a blasphemer. The two poles of realization that exist exponentially complicate the problem of making a choice. On one hand, blasphemy harshly criticizes and destroys one’s ideologies while on the other, disregarding a blasphemer’s opinion is equivalent to playing with the concepts they uphold. While we cannot agree completely to punish a blasphemer, we cannot choose sides with a person who is extremely inhuman while attacking a religious believer’s choice and thoughts.
If we can replicate this to a complex democratic and political structure, the question of winning or losing and choice between majority or minority is only a crisis we fail to deal with. Although drawing conclusions regarding blasphemy from the much simpler model of democracy is questionable, on the comparison, we can find common grounds over which blasphemy often seems to be an overlapping by-product of democracy. Blasphemy should never be the reason behind the execution of someone or charging a person with treason. Just as a religious believer propagates their notion, a blasphemer should have the right to explain themselves. Realizing and probing further into ethical opposition should be the new foundation in any realm, let alone blasphemy and democracy.
Feature Image Credits:
Khush Vardhan Dembla