THE BLOG

On Blasphemy

27/01/2014 12:01 GMT | Updated 26/03/2014 09:59 GMT

As far as freedom of expression and freedom of speech are concerned, the last few days have been interesting. On Sunday, 19 January, Maajid Nawaz, director and co-founder of anti-extremism think tank Quilliam Foundation, tweeted a picture from popular satirical cartoon series, 'Jesus and Mo', in order to state he, and many other Muslims, are not offended by it, and expressed his perplexion over why God too should find it offensive (it was certainly a very mild cartoon). A storm of outrage followed; from calls to him to be dropped as the PPC for Hampstead and Kilburn in next year's General Election, right up to the frankly abhorrent and obscene: death threats. The aforementioned events have inspired me to write a short piece on the ridiculous and frankly outdated concept of blasphemy.

Even today, in post-enlightenment society, many countries, particularly members of the Islamic Conference, have their own so-called blasphemy laws. These make it illegal for anyone to criticise, insult, or 'defame' the prophet or God. On top of that, even apostasy is a capital offence in some countries. The consequences are grisly for such crimes, of course, being capital offences, they warrant the death penalty. Even in secular Austria, a section of the penal code explicitly forbids the 'vilification of religious teachings' and the says that any act that "disparages a person or thing that is the object of worship of a domestic church or religious society, or a doctrine", in other words, anything that 'offends' will be punished. So much for a liberal, enlightened society. It's nothing but cowardice.

Let me put down my own opinion. I loathe the idea of blasphemy. I resent the backwards blasphemy laws that are strangling the intellectual development of many Middle Eastern and Asian countries. Crying 'blasphemy' is a way of putting down any kind of legitimate criticism of religion, by enshrining religious doctrine as infallible and untouchable. How dare we expose its many flaws! How dare we threaten its supposed faultlessness! I don't believe, that if there indeed is a God, it surely would not be so petty as to be enraged by words uttered by us mere mortals.

If anything, we should be doing more of it. Atheists and non-believers everywhere should be able to be as open about their beliefs (or lack thereof) as the religious are about theirs. No opinion or world-view is beyond criticism, and just because one is wrapped in the shroud of religious doctrine, doesn't make it immune.

But hey, that's just my humble opinion.

Finally, I would like to offer my full support to Mr. Nawaz for championing free expression and not cowering away in the face of such horrendous responses or bowing to religious fundamentalists. Nawaz embodies the spirit of liberalism and secular values, and is certainly an asset to the Liberal Democrats. To call for him to be dropped as a PPC is absurd, and if such an act is carried out by the party, they can sure drop the 'liberal' from their name. I think it would be fitting to conclude this piece with a classic Hitchens quote...

"One of the beginnings of human emancipation is the ability to laugh at authority."