Blasphemy Must Be An Untouchable Human Right


Blasphemy is an indispensable human right. Without the right to engage in blasphemy, there can be no freedom of inquiry, expression, conscience or religion.

As I predicted last week, the Organization of Islamic Conference has seized on the controversies regarding an anti-Islam video clip on YouTube and satirical cartoons about Mohammed in a French magazine to renew its call for a global ban on “blasphemy.” The OIC is, in effect, not only announcing that Muslim states in general have no intention of allowing real freedom of conscience and speech, but they want to bully the West into eliminating those freedoms as well.

OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu called on countries that respect free speech to “come out of hiding from behind the excuse of freedom of expression.” OIC governments apparently cannot resist the populist appeal of perversely posing as “defenders of Islam” by attacking free thought and free speech.

Who, after all, will be authorized to define “blasphemy”? Does anything that offends any religious sensibilities qualify as “blasphemy”? Will a critical mass of objections be seen as legitimate grounds for silencing critics of religious doctrine, scholarly inquiry into their origins, skeptical analysis of superstition and faith, iconoclasm, or mockery of religious claims, symbols, assertions, and shibboleths?

Iran is a member state of the OIC. It has just raised the bounty, issued decades ago, against Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses. The novel, which is a fine one, is not, in fact, blasphemous by any reasonable definition. It probably would’ve been an even more interesting book if it had been. But it offended people, most of whom had not read it, was declared and widely considered “blasphemous,” and therefore presumably would be banned under the OIC’s proposals.

Written By: Hussein Ibish
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  1. Reason and skepticism, for good or ill, are not poised to overthrow faith. Islam is thriving in the modern world, both in its traditional lands and in its new adopted homes. Its politicized devotees are acquiring increasing power in post-dictatorship Arab societies. And on top of all of this, the OIC wants to globally shut down freedom of thought, conscience and speech to further “protect” Islam from perceived slights.There is only one appropriate response to this, in language the devout should be able to easily understand: to hell with you.


  2. “OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu called on countries that
    respect free speech to ‘come out of hiding from behind the excuse of
    freedom of expression’.”

    To many in the West this will seem an incoherent comment, at best.  It reveals the mountain we have to climb, as it shows us how ingrained is the belief in Islamic countries that media in the West is the same as media in Islamic countries.

    Thus, General İhsanoğlu is actually saying: Western Governments, stop pretending you have no control over this.  We know you are using a fig leaf, the pretence that free speech exists, as a smokescreen for your anti-Islamic propaganda.

    In Islamic countries nothing is published that does not meet the needs of three establishment groups; the Government, the Publisher and the imams.  They just don’t get that free speech can exist.

    Free expression is severely limited in some Western countries, is under constant attack, and many are also threatened by an oligarchy of media and politicians.  But the ability to question those in power, so far, remains – and that includes priesthoods and their dogmas.

    Hussein Ibish is scrambling here for an antidote to this ingrained attitude.  Concentrating on the word blasphemy misses the point.

    Eventually … after inflicting much grievous bruising on the timber around it … he hits the nail squarely on the head:

    “What this idea really bespeaks is a terror that most faiths contain at
    their core: that serious, sceptical, dispassionate evaluations of their
    specific claims will reveal them to be indefensible, hollow and easily
    debunked. “

    Open dialogue – free expression, and the possibility to be heard – are vital components for social advance and accomplishment.  People simply talking freely is poison to all religions.

    This is why I bang on endlessly about free expression.  It is the lynchpin.  While we have free speech we hold the commanding heights, and the advantage.  Lose it and, as Chritopher Hitchens said:

    “Religion now comes to us in this smiley-face ingratiating way, because
    it’s had to give so much ground and because we know so much more. But
    you’ve no right to forget the way it behaved when it was strong, and
    when it really did believe that it had God on its side.”


  3.   “come out of hiding from behind the excuse of freedom of expression.”

    Talk about unclear on the concept. Freedom of expression is not an excuse but cuts through excuses given by those who would alter expression in the name of cultural relativism and certainly does not hide behind what it does not need; an excuse.

  4. Its politicized devotees are acquiring increasing power in post-dictatorship Arab societies.

    I’m rooting for the many Egyptians working hard to oppose Morsi’s Islamic constitution.  That some claim to be against it on the grounds that it will allow Morsi’s government to enforce a strict Sharia is encouraging.  Let’s hope they succeed.

  5. When religions secure the right to silence all criticism we are lost.

    In some respect General Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu has a point.  Here in the UK where we enjoy certain freedoms like not having to pray 5 times a day or observe silly religious profociations, we can satirize any politician we like, lampoon the royals and use caricatures of them for target practice.  However, the religihooligans already have a foothold in the ‘religious hate crime’ laws which have been interpreted rather poorly by law enforcement to belay legitimate criticism.  Our government is interfering in education more than it has ever done and now is slowly edging toward regulation of the press.  Where will this stop?  When we can only think what we are told to think?

    We have to be free to discuss however provocatively, epistemologies which affect our existence and expose to scrutiny all of their ideas especially the absurd.   Muslims know that even a cursory examination of their book reveals it to be a seriously flawed and dangerous text.  They would love to be able to say you can no longer interepret it much less criticise it. 

  6.  Vorlund, I think you are flattering these people. They do NOT know their book is seriously flawed, any more than Christian fundamentalists know the same thing about their Bible. As Sam Harris has said, these folk really believe what they say they believe, and that is why they are so dangerous.

  7. Any attempt to introduce a worldwide blasphemy law will be the biggest threat to freedom there is, this must be fought at all costs.

  8. There is only one appropriate response to this, in language the devout should be able to easily understand: to hell with you.

    Amen, brother!

    And I’ll add, “grow up”.

  9. Most holy text are a form of blasphemy. They each talk shit about the other and profess things that are contrary to the other. If religions are given a free ride because they are religion would not atheists be able to fall back on the Supreme Court ruling that atheism is a religion? We can talk shit so long as it is in the name of atheism, in other words.

  10. A law banning the defamation of something that doesn’t exist? It’s beyond absurd and I will disobey at every opportunity. 

  11. If they are not aware how come they resort to Taqqiya when confronted with the abrogated surah?  Whenever you hear a muslim saying islam is peaceful and refers only to the ‘dare I say nice bits’ he is resorting to Taqqiya to pervert the truth to throw others off the scent.  They must be aware of the flaws in order to seek to conceal them.

    On the other hand I know we see muslims who have values so distorted that they don’t see the perversity in beating women who refuse to hide under a burka, or the inhumaity of killing a daughter for having slighted their ‘code of honour’ by being raped.

  12. Vorlund,

    Yes, the nice bits, like…

    ‘To kill one man is as bad as killing all humanity’

    koran 5:32

    In which case it’s as though Muhammed killed all humanity several thousand times over!

    Actually, if we look into this it becomes apparent that this verse applies only to Jews or other non-muslims; but does not apply to muslims who might wish to kill non-muslims. That hardly counts as an offence in Islam. Or, as we should know, to a parent who wishes to (honour?)-kill a child .

    See ‘Reliance of the Traveller’ (Sunni law book; Shafi school)

  13. When people present religious doctrines, which they themselves wrote, as something that was bestowed upon them by God, these writings have an amazingly strong power over people, especially, if these type of writers employ threats as in sending people to hell for eternity, other types of manipulative strategies such as punishment for refusing to believe, and even threatening to kill. People respond really well to authority and grand power.

    Psychology of religion explains it all really well. People come up with new theories, hypothesis and speculations pretty much on a daily basis. Some of these people get lucked out and have success in undermining a religious foundation that has already been established through questioning, and institute new religious doctrines.

    People are usually extremely tenacious to their views, especially to the religious kind because they were literally manipulated and coerced into them through fear. They sit very deeply in their psyche.Supposedly, even Jesus, even if you look at him as if he is just a fictional character, questioned the established and, therefore, got killed for blasphemy. 

    At this point in time though, Christians are brainwashed to perceive Jesus as a savior, though if these Christians lived at the time of Jesus and witnessed him, they would most likely be the ones, who would want to kill him for blasphemy. Ironically.

  14. Who is the victim of blasphemy? Is it Jesus Allah, Jaweh, Thor, Krishna, Bacchus, Zeus, John Frum…….?

    Would it be safe to mock the FSM?

    Jeez these religios are so bloody small minded, they can’t see beyond their own prejudices.  Poor old Allah is so weak he has to rely on militant humans to carry out his work!

  15. I can’t imagine that a blasphemy law could be enforcable in the USA.  I wont say ‘never’ but it would require a change in culture.  Particularly here in New Jersey where being rude and insensitive is considered a birthright. 

    I suspect there would be wide spread disobedience here if anyone tried to have a blasphemy law in the USA.  People would go out of their way to insult religion if you told them they couldn’t. 

  16. … where being rude and insensitive is considered a birthright… People would go out of their way to insult religion if you told them they couldn’t.

    Among the things I love most about (many inhabitants of) the USA, that’s gotta be way up near the top of the list.

  17. It must be the second time I make a reply to a comment of yours where you mention “cultural relativism”. That said, it made me wanting to post a remark about the expression which I have learned when I was 17 and  learned cultural anthropology at school, as far as I know it was Claude Lévi-Strauss who coined the expression , and he seems to have had some love for physics that made him creating such analogy,

    «We know, of course, that it is possible to accumulate far more
    information about a train moving parallel to our own at
    approximately the same speed (by looking at the faces of the
    travellers, counting them, etc.) than about a train which we
    are passing or which is passing us at a high speed, or which
    is gone in a flash because it is travelling in a different
    direction. In the extreme case, it passes so quickly that we
    have only a confused impression of it, from which even the
    indications of speed are lacking; it is reduced to a momentary
    obscuration of the field of vision; it is no longer a train; it
    no longer has any meaning. There would thus seem to be
    some relationship between the physical concept of apparent
    movement and another concept involving alike physics, psy-
    chology and sociology — the concept of the amount of infor-
    mation capable of passing from one individual to another or
    from one group to another, which will be determined by the
    relative diversity of their respective cultures.

    Whenever we are inclined to describe a human culture as
    stagnant or stationary, we should therefore ask ourselves
    whether its apparent immobility may not result from our
    ignorance of its true interests, whether conscious or
    unconscious, and whether, as its criteria are different from
    our own, the culture in question may not suffer from the
    same illusion with respect to us. In other words, we may well
    seem to one another to be quite uninteresting, simply because
    we are dissimilar.»

    “Race and History”, page 25 full text

     As he did it again when he compared the “linguistic revolution”  with the revolution in physics (he used modern linguistics to try to figure out the meaning that was hidden behind myths, as far as Freud that he critised).

    Let´s say that not only muslims would ban free speech as blasphemy, as some christians would equally be in favour of banning free speech  for the sake of their right to be offended, I can assure you for having read some comments written by some christian in the site of an atheist. 

    The main difference between Western world and islamic culture is that politically is it never passed through  the same historical revolutions that would allow them to be secular and released from “middle age”, someone would wisely have argued- something like this.

    The headline is hilarious and at the same time tragically indicative of confused ideas, as far as those boards that mention Jesus as a prophet and not as god.The the same old confused ideas about celebrating seasons like Christmas instead of celebrating pagan traditions, because some are religiously blasphemy or better than others ?

    Claude Lévi-Strauss once have made a remark about how easily victims of oppression change their role to become the oppressor in a cyclic way.

    Christianity and islam are generated from blasphemy, shall they kill each others as blasphemous ?

  18. thebaldgit
    Any attempt to introduce a worldwide blasphemy law will be the biggest
    threat to freedom there is, this must be fought at all costs.

    That would depend on if it was simply an ink-blot interpretation of some local culture.

    If the various religions tried to define a world-wide substance of what blasphemy is, it could start a set of major wars between religious factions which could go on for years!

    (It’s disagreeing with me !!!! ….   No it’s not!  It’s disagreeing with me!!!  …..  No it’s not!!  It’s disagreeing with us!!!  Our views are deity endorsed etc.-  Kill the blasphemous heathens who won’t respect MY preacher’s idiot rantings about MY /OUR god(s) / prophets!!) 

    {Shia – Sunni, Catholic – Protestant – fundamentalist, literalist,  Buddhist-Muslim, Voodo – Catholic etc}

  19. Mr DArcy –  Who is the victim of blasphemy? Is it Jesus Allah, Jaweh, Thor, Krishna, Bacchus, Zeus, John Frum…….?

    Would it be safe to mock the FSM? 

      – OHooligan – Mock not the FSM, lest all your pasta turn soggy.

    Some people have the sauce for anything!

  20. The article is nicely written, although confusing to me to see blasphemy as a human right (I thought it almost as from another planet and didn´t realize it was serious).
    I would think blasphemy not on the ground of human, but as a clear line that would make a separation between human and divine (like all religious ideas), and even at some ethnocentric grounds where someone would even be excluded from it´s human category, and if we would have such line, there couldn´t be equality between humans and human dignity itself would be at risk.

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