Trying to Silence Critics of Religion

Jordan has asked Interpol to hand over the editors and cartoonists who in 2005 published illustrations of the Prophet Mohamed, including both the original publication and those that showed solidarity in re printing them during the mass hysteria. The request also includes Geert Wilders for his film “Fitna” on the link between the Koran and Islamic terrorism.

[WARNING A PHOTO OF A MODERN EROTIC SCULPUTURE BY TERENCE KOHL OF JESUS FOLLOWS IN THIS BLOG. IF PUBLICITY SEEKING ART OFFENDS YOU IGNORE.] 

While the request will be denied there is a worrying trend in silencing those that would criticize religion. The United Nations passing a Resolution on Combating Defamation of Religion last December misses the point that the emphasis on rights is on people, not religions. Otherwise the right to have a dissenting opinion, or even change your mind about a belief comes into question if we place religion above the rights of people as individuals. That resolution only mentioned Islam by name.

The Resolution reads:

Draft resolution VI on Combating defamation of religions (document A/C.3/62/L.35), approved as orally revised by a recorded vote of 95 in favour to 52 against, with 30 abstentions, on 20 November, would have the Assembly express deep concern about the negative stereotyping of religions and manifestations of intolerance and discrimination in matters of religion or belief, still in evidence in some regions of the world. The Assembly would emphasize that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which should be exercised with responsibility and may therefore be subject to limitations, according to law and necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others; protection of national security or of public order, public health or morals; and respect for religions and beliefs.

This was adopted by 108 with 51 opposed including EU countries and the USA. Though not legally binding on countries, this together with the latest attempts in Jordon for extraterritorial reach to suppress free speech suggests that the wind is moving against values we take for granted.

Often it is missed that the critics of religion are concerned for the rights of individuals themselves. Religion does not grant you the right to put adulteries to death. It does not grant you the right to kill apostates or blasphemers, whether within your shores or outside your boundaries. There is a natural right for people to believe what they will believe. As such both the religious and the infidel are protected as individuals – not on the basis of a religion. Criticism may cause offense, but to base law on offense rather than an objective measure of discrimination or incitement to violence is a trend that society had best avoid.

Not exactly a hommage to Greek Sculpture

Not exactly a homage to Greek Sculpture

While the blasphemy law has been abolished in the UK, there was an attempt to ban an art exhibition which featured ET, Mickey Mouse and Jesus with their phallus fully erect. There were signs at the gallery about what the exhibition contained (police decided no case to answer), but a private prosecution is being brought supported by the Christian Legal Center. To be honest I find the sculpture rather pointless, and the fuss over the exhibit gives the artist Terence Koh free publicity.

The critics made the point that they would not dare do a sculpture of the Prophet Mohamed with his tackle out. Which does not appreciate that Jesus was the number two prophet in Islam, and that depictions of Jesus are offensive to Muslims. Indeed it is offensive to suggest that god would have children or that Jesus is God in the theology of Islam.

How do we deal with offense as a society? Well we say whether something is in good or bad taste. But subjective views of what makes art good, bad, inspired or shocking is not something left to the courts to enforce. Where exhibitions are of an adult nature, or likely to cause distress to certain sensibilities (like nudity), then a warning seems appropriate.

As I have mentioned in a previous blog we have a right to hear what other people want to say to us. We can decide if it is distasteful, wrong or false and should have the ability to criticize. Banning our right to hear or see a work of art is the wrong reaction – and using religion to make the case does not correct that.

Attempts to disrupt the Dawkins website and other atheist sites, and of course what happened on this day seven years ago in the 9/11 attacks are all a part of censoring and controlling how we react to religion. The only way civilisation can respond is to focus on people, and protecting their rights and freedoms. It may mean we give offense; but to live in a world where sensibilities rule out criticism or free debate is to export a different form of rules to which Western Society has developed.

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