I find religion boring, when I don’t find it laughably bizarre or dangerously authoritarian. There’s a whole lot of nothing there, and I just can’t make myself pay attention for very long.
There. Blasphemy Day done. Check.
Except today isn’t actually Blasphemy Day. It’s Blasphemy Rights Day International, and me exercising my rights in this part of the world doesn’t do much to change the situation in the rest of the world. It doesn’t free any “blasphemers” from jail. It doesn’t stop them from being executed. It doesn’t even stop them from being legally discriminated against.
That isn’t a slam against people who participate in Blasphemy Day. Maintaining our rights is important to, and having any broader impact–or even knowing how to try–isn’t always easy. Luckily, the Center for Inquiry, which helped start the day, is on the case.
Multiple incidents over the last twelve months have underscored the appalling lack of freedom in many countries to express even the blandest criticism of either religion in general or the dominant religion in a particular country. To name just some examples, there are the cases involving Rimsha Masih, Hamza Kashgari, Alexander Aan, Sanal Edamaruku, Hamad al-Naqi, Pussy Riot, and Alber Saber.
One reason our concern for the freedom of others should not stop at our borders is because the desire of the dogmatists to regulate speech does not stop at their borders. Various leaders from Islamic countries have recently demanded international laws prohibiting attacks on religion. Embarrassingly, proponents of such laws have included NATO allies, such as Recep Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey. The quality of the arguments in favor of such international laws is exemplified by the recent UN speech of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s president. Morsi told the UN that “Egypt respects freedom of expression,” just not “a freedom of expression that targets a specific religion or a specific culture.” In other words, Egypt respects the right to freely express those views that the majority of its people like.
There are any number of ways to commemorate IBRD (please see the Facebook page for IBRD), including simply educating oneself about the threat to human rights and free speech posed by blasphemy laws. This year CFI has decided to use IBRD as the launch point for a new Campaign for Free Expression, which will include, among other things, a website devoted to highlighting individuals who have been persecuted for exercising their freedom to speak. Look for an announcement shortly.
This still won’t be an easy fight, but fighting it in an organized way can only make it easier. So if you value more than just your own opportunity to say, “The Catholic Church and fundamentalist Muslims should get together to celebrating their kiddie-raping ways”, keep an eye on this campaign as it launches. Find out what you can do to make blasphemy safer for everyone.