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The Slippery Slope Of Banning Blasphemy

Posted on 17th March 2017

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According to this story on the BBC, the Pakistani government has asked FaceBook to help them to fight against blasphemy in content posted by Pakistanis on the social media website. Well, good luck with that!

I have written before (here) about how ridiculous it is to try to legislate against blasphemy. It is equally ridiculous to try to censor social media on what is deemed by some to be blasphemous.

True, Pakistan has an official religion: Islam. There are, however, many different flavours of Islam. Most people have heard of Shiites and the Sunnis, but Pakistan also has quite a few Sufis (technically not a sect; Sufism exists in both Shia and Sunni Islam), whose beliefs and practices are considered by some Muslims to be blasphemous, which has resulted in persecution from time to time, including recently. There are a number of other Muslim sects or denominations, some of whom are present in Pakistan. Each of these sects have differences in their beliefs, doctrines and practices; how then can the Pakistani government even define what blasphemy is?

Then there is the question of democracy. Expressing and sharing opinions is part of the democratic process. Deciding whether blasphemy should be a crime, and what the definition of blasphemy is, is rather hard if you get arrested because your view on the matter is considered blasphemous.

It seems that too many people are unable to think rationally on this subject, so maybe we should let them see what a world would be like if blasphemy were more generally illegal and the laws were enforceable. What about a World Blasphemy Week, during which blasphemy would be illegal in all jurisdictions (so that state prosecutors could file blasphemy charges against all and sundry), and people could also file civil suit on the matter. The Hindus, Buddhists, Shinto, Pagans/Wiccan, and other multi-theistic religions could fight in court with the mono-theistic religions like Christianity, Islam, Judaism about how many gods there are. The Roman Catholics could beat-out the issue of transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ during communion against the protestants. Then there is the issue of whether it is possible to have a personal relationship with your god (whichever god) or whether you need a priest or other anointed official to be an intermediary. We could all have such a grand fight about diet: Kosher, Halal, is it not OK to eat beef (as the Hindus believe) or are the Jains right about what we should eat (no meat or dairy, and nothing from below the ground). I think that after a week of such a free-for-all, we would all be firmly against laws and censorship about blasphemy (and anyone not able or willing to learn the lesson should perhaps be quietly locked in a padded cell in a mental hospital).