Friday, November 30, 2012

The Dutch Ditch 1930s Blasphemy Law

It's hard to believe that there are still a slew of Western countries that still have blasphemy laws in their penal codes. Those laws don't belong in modern, free societies. It's not up to the court systems to punish people who blaspheme, that's up to the individual and his/her God, if they are believers. The West is not Pakistan (or any other Shariah compliant nation) with draconian, backward laws. This is the 21st century, and we need to start acting as if we live in a modern world.

At least the Dutch are on the right track. After a decade of trying, they've finally trashed their blasphemy law which was still on the books since the 1930s, though it had not used for fifty some odd years. Ironically, it was the conservative and far right parties in the Netherlands that wanted the law to remain intact. Their loss in the general elections this past September is credited for facilitating the lifting of the ban, along with Geert Wilders trial last year. According to Marc Veldt, of the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht, says:

... the move to lift the ban on blasphemy was also an indirect result of the legal case involving anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders. In June 2011, a Dutch court ruled that Wilders had the right to criticize Islam, even though his opinions insulted many Muslims.

Wilders, who leads the Freedom Party, had described Islam as "fascist" and compared Islam's holy book, the Koran, to Adolf Hitler's autobiography and political manifesto "Mein Kampf." Amsterdam judge Marcel van Oosten said Wilders' statements were directed at Islam and not at Muslims. Van Oosten said the statements were "gross and denigrating" but still "acceptable within the context of public debate."

Wilders said at the time that the verdict was "not only an acquittal for me, but a victory for freedom of expression in the Netherlands."

The Netherlands still retains hate speech laws, however, and some Western countries have replaced old (Christian) blasphemy laws with revamped versions, like England with its law "against incitement to religious hatred."  Ireland took it one step further:

Ireland introduced a new law in 2010 that makes blasphemy a crime punishable by a fine of up to 25,000 euros ($32,485). The Irish law defines blasphemy as "publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defenses permitted."
That's a hefty fine, and if Ireland has any similar organization to the U.S. Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), anyone critical of Islam better watch out.

Many are advocating getting rid of all blasphemy laws, with good reason.  Padraig Reidy of London-based "Index on Censorship" says:

... blasphemy laws are no longer relevant in the 21st century. He says there is no place for a law defending religion, which he calls an "ideal." He says it should be people who have rights, not ideals.
"There's no question that blasphemy laws are a severe restriction on free speech. Any push back against blasphemy laws -- [against the notion that ideas] should be protected -- is a good thing. It's very important that blasphemy laws should be repealed," Reidy says.

On the other hand you have the Organization of Islamic  Cooperation (OIC) pushing for a global blasphemy law, because they have no clue about the notion of free speech.

If we want to ensure that those of us who are critical of radical Islam, or any religion for that matter, continue to have the freedom to do so, then we need to make sure that every Western country that still has blasphemy laws on the books throws them out.  And we must fight any organizations or special interest groups that try to make criticism of a religion a crime. There is a difference between criticism and inciting to religious hatred.  Blasphemy laws belong in another century, not this one.

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