Thursday, October 27, 2005

A disturbing trend

[Hattip to Mike L for this article]

Legislating religious correctness (Weekly Standard)

Scot, a diminutive 55-year-old bearded Pakistani with speckles of white in his black hair, was forced to flee Pakistan for Australia in 1987. As a devout Christian who says that he's filled with evangelistic zeal, Scot had never shied away from debating Muslims on theological matters. Unfortunately for him, in 1986 Pakistan adopted a vague and open-ended blasphemy law, section 295-C, which prohibited any speech that directly or indirectly defiled the Prophet Muhammad. Punishments included the death penalty and life imprisonment.

According to Scot, he came under official pressure to convert to Islam near the end of his time in Pakistan, and was charged with blasphemy when he refused. When he fled to the safety of Australia, he didn't imagine that he'd again face legal penalties because of his faith.

Australia going the European route, it seems. As the article notes, noted Italian commentator Oriana Fallaci is facing a trial for villifying Islam. I wonder how these laws would have dealt with the Satanic Verses?

And it's not just about Christians criticizing Islam. In a free country, Muslims should be free to criticize Christian views as well. The unintended consequences (or maybe they're not so unintended) of such laws are quite chilling.

Recall the case in Britain last year of the play Behzti (Punjabi, for, I think, Shame), which talked about sex-abuse in the context of a religious setting, within the gurdwara. The play was forced to be cancelled because of riots from offended Sikhs. I recall how appalled I was when I heard that on NPR. It reminded me of the thuggish behavior of Shiv Sainik goondas in Mumbai (the Shiv Sena being the neo-fascist ultra-right-wing Hindu nationalist party that has had a deathgrip on local politics for ages). Salman Rushdie condemned the event -- who should know better about the importance of free speech, offensive free speech, in a liberal society? What was more troublesome was the endorsement of this censorship by the (Catholic) Archbishop of Birmingham. Yes, a religious community should be treated with respect. And true, when it comes to Christianity, a lot of stuff is produced simply to offend (remember that Madonna in a jar of urine thingie in New York a while back?). Religious communities can and should have the freedom to protest. But not to censor, necessarily.

And where, o where did we come up with this inalienable right, the right not to be offended?

[Christopher Hart at the Sunday Times has interesting commentary on Britain's attempt to join the anti-vilification club.]

1 comment:

assiniboine said...

In this instance, not disturbing at all -- the account you got was more than a little slanted.

This guy and his fellow Holy Roller (a Sri Lankan) went way over the top in exercising their freedom of speech and they really were villifying Islam by any objective standard. Of course it's possible to do that in all innocence under the draconian blasphemy laws of Pakistan and other Lands of the Pure, and I am not for a moment defending that sort of stifling of even the slightest degree of candour. Questioning others' articles of faith can be a useful exercise in broadening everyone's understanding when it's done respectfully. But these guys were taking it way beyond that. If there were such a thing as a tort of group defamation they would be liable for general, punitive and exemplary damages with costs on the solicitor and own client scale.