07 February 2006

Just days after the British parliament dealt a blow to the “Racial and Religious Hatred Bill,” long contested by an unlikely coalition of free speech advocates and conservative religious groups claiming that the bill would criminalize their faith and arguing that blasphemy laws on the books (which, incidentally, protect only the Christian from insult) were adequate protection against religious hatred, the deadly protests over the Mohammad cartoons has raised the issue again. Muslim heads of state from Lebanon to Bangladesh are calling upon the E.U. to apply existing blasphemy laws to anti-Muslim slurs, and a Catholic activist organization, the Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ), has called for a reconsideration of possiblereligious hatred legislation, arguing that the Christian-only blasphemy laws represent a double standard and that hate crime legislation which penalizes violence does nothing to prevent inter-religious strife. Meanwhile, disingenuous suggestions from conservative groups such as the U.K. Evangelical Alliance, that Muslims develop thicker skins about insults to their faith, add to CARJ’s sense of a double standard, especially seeing as last year the Evangelical Alliance patterned its own protests over Jerry Springer: The Opera on violent Sikh protests, and associated groups went so far as to publicize the home addresses of BBC executives who allowed the play to air. What’s the road out of this mess? More comprehensive blasphemy laws, which can equally curtail criticism of religion across the board? No blasphemy laws, so that free speech is only hindered by corporate considerations? Or how about a wingnut response like that of Hamshahri, Iran’s biggest newspaper, which is responding to the Danish cartoons with a contest series of 12 cartoons about the Holocaust, so that everyone can experience the stupidity and lack of judgment that is part of the free speech package.