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Blasphemy, a Day late and a Dalai short.

October 1, 2012

Yesterday was International Blasphemy Rights Day, and whilst I lustily support the right to verbally and artistically lambast imaginary deities and ridicule superstitious nonsense, this year I was unable to really get into the jaunty mood that usually accompanies my new favorite holiday.  Because this year has seen an upsurge in calls for censorship of religious criticism.  The unfortunate events in Libya last month,  and the now predictable chaos on the streets of Muslim majority nations, egged on by political opportunists and terrorists, have brought the cowardly censors out of their holes again.

The head of the Arab League, an organization that is sadly lacking in superheroes,  has called for the international community to criminalize blasphemy.  In Nabil Elarab’s own words, from the Associated Press :

“While we fully reject such actions that are not justifiable in any way, we would like to ring the warning bell,” Elaraby said. “We are warning that offending religions, faiths and symbols is indeed a matter that threatens in international peace and security now.”

“If the international community has criminalized bodily harm, it must just as well criminalize psychological and spiritual harm,” he said. “The League of Arab States calls for the development of an international legal framework which is binding … in order to confront insulting religions and ensuring that religious faith and its symbols are respected.”

I’ll let go for the moment the rank hypocrisy of a leader in the Islamic community condemning bodily and psychological harm considering the living hell Islamic governments have made for women, gays, lesbians, the transgendered and other minorities.  I’m much more concerned with how exactly we are to measure “spiritual harm”.  Bodily harm is easy for the most part, we all have one and it is usually pretty evident when it has been harmed. There are ouchies involved, perhaps leading up to death, the ultimate ouchie.  And the governments of the Arab League are hardly strangers to the handing out of ouchies.  Psychological harm is a much more murky issue, and as I intimated above, adherents of the kind of theocratic Islam represented by the Arab League nations should walk carefully here, lest they fall Homer Simpson-like into a trap of their own making.  The psychological damage wrought on generations of Muslim’s raised in brutal theocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia would seem to dwarf the therapist bills that one could lay at the feet of hack filmakers from California.

But of course the Arab League isn’t really interested in the bodily or psychological  autonomy of it’s citizens. They would much rather work in the realm of the “spiritual” wherein there are no objective observers. There are no “spiritual” doctors to testify to the damage done to Allah (or Yahweh or Buddha etc.) We will have to take their word that our speech causes grievous “spiritual” harm to, well anyone.  It is the ultimate he said/she said, except one side is merely saying things and the other holds up the specter of mob violence to intimidate and shame its opponents while at the same time withholding any evidence of harm. Hell, they are laughing at the very idea of evidence, replacing it with anecdote and  superstition.

What the Arab League is asking for here is nothing less than the repudiation of secular government, replacing it with government by and for the pious, the gullible, and the inscrutable. We should pay them no heed.

h/t to Dispatches from the Culture Wars for good reading on this story


PS. And thus begins this years October Surprise, wherin I try and blog every day for the month of October, whereupon I will disappear into Nanoland for the month of November.  Last year was less than successful,  so I’m doubling down!  Two posts a day…minimum, until All Saints Eve!!!!


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