I’ll be speaking at the Blasphemy, religious hatred, and human rights: Who speaks for the sacred? conference today Saturday at Conway Hall in London.
My talk will focus on how accusations of blasphemy, offensive speech and ‘Islamophobia’ censor and restrict free speech, limit citizen rights, and aid and abet Islamism. With all that’s going on, it’s a good time for blasphemy…
I’ll be bringing leaflets for the 11 February London rally for Free Expression to the event in case anyone wants to come and pick some up for distribution. And yes, it’s got Jesus and Mo on its cover…
Other speakers at the conference are Kenan Malik, Andrew Copson, Austin Dacey and Jacob Mchangama. See what they’ll be speaking about below.
11.00AM Kenan Malik
Beyond the sacred
Kenan writes: The idea of blasphemy is closely linked to the concept of the sacred. Detachment from the sacred, the former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor claimed at the installation ceremony for his successor, has been responsible for war and terror, sin and evil. In this view the acceptance of the sacred is indispensable for the creation of a moral framework and for the injection of meaning and purpose into life. I want to deconstruct the concept of the sacred and to challenge the idea that without a notion of the sacred there can be no boundaries to human behaviour, no anchor for our ethical beliefs, no meaning to our existence. The sacred, I want to argue, is less about the transcendent than it is about the taboo. ‘The sacred order’, as Leszek Kolokowski, the late Polish Marxist-turned-Christian philosopher, observes, ‘has never ceased, implicitly or explicitly, to proclaim “this is how things are, they cannot be otherwise”.’ The certainties of the sacred, I will argue, provides false hope and in so doing undermine our humanity by denying human choice.
Kenan Malik is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster. He is a presenter of Analysis, BBC Radio 4′s flagship current affairs programme and a panelist on the Moral Maze. He used to present Nightwaves, BBC Radio 3′s arts and ideas programme. He has written and presented a number of radio and TV documentaries including Disunited Kingdom, Are Muslims Hated?, Islam, Mullahs and the Media, Skullduggery and Man, Beast and Politics. Kenan Malik’s latest book is From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy. The book was shortlisted for the 2010 George Orwell Book Prize.
12.00 Andrew Copson
Blasphemy laws by the back door
Andrew Copson has been chief executive of the British humanist association since 2010 before which he spent five years coordinating the association’s campaigns work including on blasphemy and free speech issues.
After decades of campaigning the criminal offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel have been abolished but censorship of blasphemous content and even threatened prosecution of blasphemes continues in the UK. Andrew explores how corporate interests, opaque advertising regulations and new criminal laws continue to stifle free expression and free criticism and mockery of gods and religions.
1.30 Austin Dacey
The Future of Blasphemy
Austin Dacey, Ph.D., is a representative to the United Nations for the International Humanist and Ethical Union and the author of The Future of Blasphemy. He writes: If blasphemy is an affront to values that are held sacred, then it is too important to be left to the traditionally religious. In the public contestation of the sacred, each of us—secular and religious alike—has equal right and authority to speak on its behalf and equal claim to redress for its violation. Laws against blasphemy and “religious hatred” are inherently discriminatory because they give traditional faith communities a legal remedy that is not available to religious minorities and secularists when their sense of the sacred is violated.
2.30 Jacob Mchangama
Between blasphemy and hate speech: How hate speech laws are being used to enforce blasphemy norms
Most European states have abolished or ceased enforcing blasphemy laws. Yet “controversial” criticism of religion still risk falling afoul of speech restrictions in the form of hate-speech laws prohibiting incitement to religious hatred. A term which is defined differently in many jurisdictions and may include anything from satirical religious cartoons to harsh criticism of religions. Rather than securing tolerance and social peace modern hate speech laws reinforce group identities and illiberal religious norms to the detriment of freedom of expression and conscience.
Jacob Mchangama is director of legal affairs at Danish think tank CEPOS and an external lecturer in International Human Rights law at the University of Copenhagen. Jacob has a special focus on freedom of expression and has published articles in international newspapers such as Wall Street Journal Europe, Jerusalem Post, Spiked, Globe and Mail, The Australian and Jyllands Posten. His work on human rights and free speech has been mentioned in The Economist, CBS.com and Courrier International.
3.30 Maryam Namazie
Blasphemy, Offence, and Islamophobia limiting Citizen Rights
Maryam will be speaking on how accusations of blasphemy, offensive speech and ‘Islamophobia’ censor and restrict free speech, limit citizen rights, and aid and abet Islamism.
Maryam Namazie is Spokesperson of the One Law for All Campaign against Sharia Law in Britain, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran. She is also National Secular Society Honorary Associate and the NSS’ 2005 Secularist of the Year award winner and was selected one of the top 45 women of the year 2007 by Elle magazine Quebec.
Here are more details of the event, which is jointly presented by Centre for Inquiry UK and South Place Ethical Society this Saturday 28th January 2012 at Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square Holborn WC2 4RL. Tickets: £10 (£8 student) are are available here.