Q: Is it acceptable to prohibit blasphemy in consideration of public safety?
Happy belated International Blasphemy Rights Day! Recent events have made this quasi-holiday associated with September 30 more important than ever.
Leaders of the Islamic community have recently petitioned world leaders to ban blasphemy, especially that which might incite violence, following the release of a low-budget YouTube film called “The Innocence of Muslims.”
I won’t waste much time detailing the film; it’s so purposely offensive that it’s pathetic from all sides, and it’s still on YouTube for those that care to look. However, since a portion of it was broadcast in September on the Egyptian television station, Al-Nas, numerous violent protests have erupted in predominantly Islamic countries. One of these violent outbreaks cost former U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens his life, and dozens more have died as a result of the turmoil.
I don’t commend the film’s producer for taking advantage of one of the most well-known taboos, depicting the prophet Muhammad, but I do expect audiences to recognize it as an attempt to aggravate them. Every one of the protests overseas represents a diplomatic nightmare for their host countries and a massive victory for some of America’s biggest assholes.
Which brings us back to the demands: As Muslims take to the streets trying to exact revenge on any American thing they can find, their leaders petition the United Nations to classify blasphemy as condemnable hate speech.
The problem with what they want is a lack of accountability. The extremists that seek revenge for blasphemy are a minority, and most Muslims don’t deserve to be associated with that, but it really doesn’t help when their officials take the wrong side. Instead of controlling the riotous members of their own community, they’re appeasing these extremists by requesting that we do the same. There isn’t another religion or culture in the world that would do that. Besides, what could be more hypocritical than banning attacks on a culture where our flag is a popular form of kindling?
Blasphemy with the sole purpose of aggravating people is indeed stupid, but then what does it tell antagonists when their targets take the bait and riot? Blasphemy will no longer be an issue of public safety if people stop supporting violent responses to it. It’s not always fair to meet one ultimatum with another, but there’s only one right choice between protecting feelings and innocent lives.
Travis Vail is a fourth-year communication major.
The tragic murder of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens coupled with the recent assaults on US embassies around the Islamic world over the trailer of the purported movie “Innocence of Muslims” raises the question, “Should blasphemy be banned in consideration of public safety?” The answer should be a resounding “No!”
No appeasement is going to stop the violence, because the goal of rioters is to force their religious beliefs on others. Blasphemy was formerly a punishable offense in many countries, but those who still consider it a criminal-level taboo have realized that this argument does not work on those who don’t believe in God or think it is God’s prerogative to defend himself. Nowadays, religious zealots have framed blasphemy as “hate speech” that needs to be punished, primarily because it hurts their feelings.
Those who are persuaded by this “hate speech” argument should note that any person who agrees with Islam would consider converting. Are those who have no desire to be Muslim supposed to shut their mouths about what they think is objectionable about Islam? That is a tyrannical expectation.
The trailer that caused the riots was crude, but people who had made more intelligent criticisms of Islam have also been threatened. Salman Rushdie has a bounty on his head from the Islamic Republic of Iran because of a novel, and the scholars Christoph Luxenberg and Ibn Warraq have to live under their respective pseudonyms to protect themselves from those who want to reply with violence to their disputation of the divine origins of Islam.
If we want the right to criticize sacred ideas, we will have to accept the risk that some people will threaten to harm us for exercising this right.
The pioneers of secular government were only a few generations removed from those people who fought the wars between Catholics and Protestants in Europe. Not surprisingly, they recognized that combining religion with government is a recipe for disaster. Government’s role is not to protect anyone’s feelings, but rather to punish those who wish to forcefully stifle free speech and critical thinking.
Zoltan Mester is a graduate student in chemical engineering.
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