Theists have really gone overboard this time in labelling anyone who disagrees with them as being engaged in hate speech against them. With more specificity, the Delhi High Court has demanded that Facebook — the international social media site — remove all images the judge has deemed “hateful”: to wit, images of Hindu deities, Jesus Christ, and Mohammed. Yes, the Muslim prophet Mohammed, a prophet who existed before cameras and thus whom nobody knows what he actually looks like. Meaning every image, of anything, that anyone claims is of Mohammed, is violating this ruling and must be removed.
Aldo Matteucci does an excellent job disassembling this news and its implications on legislation against “objectionable” materials:
- Assume “objectionable” material is sent through the mail. Is the Post Office bound to vet the content of every letter? Would the DHC block postal traffic if the Post Office fails to devise mechanisms to check and remove objectionable material? I doubt the DHC would act in this way.
- Assume “objectionable” material is put in an “advertisement section” of a paper. Is the newspaper bound to vet the content of each advertisement? I suspect jurisprudence says it does.
Different standards are upheld – depending on the judicially perceived feasibility of “vetting”, and, I’d say, the prejudice of the court. If the Postal Office belongs to my country’s friendly Crown, it will get off easily when it declares itself unable to do the vetting. Internet providers are all-powerful “foreign devils”.
But the core issue before the DHC seems to me actually to be another one. In the olden days the main issue was one of (political and morals) censorship – the state vs. the individual. The DHC case and other similar cases, however, appear to refer to Government involvement on behalf of privacy rights of third parties.
It’s funny, because this dovetails neatly with something Ophelia posted recently about an atheist Facebook group:
Essentially, a large of group of Muslim students felt offended that there were pictures of Mohammed on the facebook group. As a result, they felt that our facebook group was no longer a ‘safe space’ for Muslims. Thus, they have ‘requested’ that we remove the offending images. Until an official complaint procedure is completed they cannot mandate we take it down. However, they made it pretty clear that would be the next step should we choose to keep the images.
Was the atheist society’s Facebook page ever intended to be a “safe space” for Muslims? Is that the point of such societies – to be “safe spaces” for their opposites? Aren’t people allowed to be X without also having to be a “safe space” for anyone who disagrees with them?
Considering the discussions we’ve had very recently about the need for moderating spaces, to create safe spaces for certain classes of otherwise underprivileged folks, it’s funny that certain people have determined that this means EVERY space must be safe, and that “safety” means the same thing in every context. While the Muslims in question apparently believe it means safety from dissenting opinions, and that every space must be free of criticisms of Islam, to create a “safe space for atheists”, one has to hold criticism of religions a sacrosanct right. Atheism is, at its core, the lack of belief in (a.k.a skepticism about) everyone else’s religious truth claims.
The question this ruling raises is, if you make a space safe for atheists, does that mean it must also be safe for the religious? If you make a space safe for women, does that mean it must also be safe for anti-feminists and MRAs and misogynists? If you make a space safe for skeptics, does that mean you have to make it safe for astrologers and crystal healing and ghost hunters? Are any of these safe spaces even achievable when the needs of one group completely trample the needs of another?
This is why blasphemy laws are fundamentally unworkable. Unless you’re going to impose a strict ruling on what religion is “true”, every epistemological claim is blasphemous to someone. You cannot create a space that is safe for every religion, because someone will be offended by anything, even the most innocuous of claims. Talk about the moon landing, and you’re offending the Hare Krishna, who believe it can’t have happened because the moon is further away than the sun. Talk about evolution, or cosmology, and you’re offending the Evangelical Christians, who believe everything was created ex nihilo about six thousand years ago. Everyone loses if every space must be made “safe” for every religion.