Blasphemy, the ‘crime’ that cannot be spoken

Imagine being hung upside down by your feet. Electric wires are tied around your ankles and you’re threatened repeatedly with … Continued

Imagine being hung upside down by your feet. Electric wires are tied around your ankles and you’re threatened repeatedly with electrocution. In addition, you are frequently pulled from your cell so that the police can beat you viciously.

Why?

Because someone accused you of making inflammatory statements about God. And even though your accuser later recanted his allegation, you were still “tried” for the crime of blasphemy, convicted and then sentenced to life imprisonment. Think about that: spending the rest of your life in prison for the “crime” of speaking your mind.

It’s absolutely incomprehensible. Especially for those of us privileged to live in America where we too often take our First Amendment-guaranteed rights to free speech and freedom of religion for granted. As an American, you can be excused for asking how someone could be imprisoned or worse — just for something he or she has said or written.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with the term, blasphemy essentially means showing disrespect or contempt for a deity. While you’d likely offend a number of people by engaging in blasphemy, your right to do so in the U.S. is nevertheless protected by the previously mentioned First Amendment.

Yet in far too many countries (even one would be too many), blasphemy is illegal and the consequences are often severe. In many of those countries, being hauled off to jail for expressing a minority view about religion is a shockingly common occurrence. And the level of “proof” for such a crime can be astonishingly low.

In the United States, there’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In too many other countries, when it comes to blasphemy there’s guilt based on nothing but doubt if you happen to be a member of a religious minority like a Christian in Pakistan.

Recently the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released a report detailing Pakistan’s history of violence against religious freedom. The findings are deeply troubling in just the last 18 months, the commission documented 203 incidents of violence in the name of religion, resulting in some 1,800 casualties and more than 700 deaths.

One of those cases involves a Seventh-day Adventist whose situation is recounted above to us from his lawyer (although the alleged insults involved the Prophet Muhammad). Accused of blasphemy by authorities in Pakistan despite the accuser both recanting his testimony and stating that the police forced him to level the allegation in the first place, Sajjad Masih was convicted of blasphemy and this month was sentenced to life in prison. There remains zero evidence supporting the charges.

Sad to say, a conviction based on no evidence is not rare in a case like this, not in a country like Pakistan where torture of Christians and other religious minorities is all too common. And while Masih’s sentence of lifetime incarceration is deeply disturbing, it’s not the most pressing problem.

Blasphemy laws themselves are the key issue. No matter what god the majority population in a country chooses to worship, making dissent by minority faiths a criminal offense is a terrible idea, for all kinds of reasons. To suggest that your god is happy to rule by coercion, happy to attempt to force people to follow through any means necessary — even torture or death — is beyond folly.

While Sajjid Masih is a deeply troubling current example of abusive enforcement of blasphemy laws and I would encourage all people of faith to pray that his sentence is reversed and that Masih be released there is a bigger picture to keep in focus. Laws restricting religious freedom are a scourge anywhere they exist, and on that point, the world’s citizens (even those who profess no faith at all) must make their voices heard, and increase the pressure on governments that seek to restrict religious liberty around the world.

Dwayne Leslie is Director of Legislative Affairs, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

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  • Rongoklunk

    In a world without gods people have to swear belief just to survive. Christianity was just as violent when it had the power to torture and burn alive nonbelievers. But those days are long gone. But Islam still does it when they can. God is such a childish concept. It just says how insecure we are, and how afraid we are of dying – that we need someone watching over us who’ll save us from death. It may have made sense hundreds of years ago when humans didn’t know anything. But we have science and commonsense now, and we know that gods don’t exist.

  • Joe Painter

    This article is proof positive as to why get very riled-up when someone in this country says we should not interfere with other countries culture .I am often invited to be a “straw man. Questions often follow of the culture type. I have about a dozen examples and gently walk them my way.

  • tianxiang69

    The OIC is trying to make the UN pass a resolution making blasphemy a crime everywhere. The problem with the concept of blasphemy, besides the fact it is ridiculous, is that the mere practicing of a minority religion can often be taken as an insult to the majority religion (eg denying the prophethood of Mohammad) and is prone to abuse. And what if there is no “majority” religion? What this move to criminalize blasphemy is really about is the movement of Muslim countries to criminalize criticism of Islam, although most of the media is too shackled by political correctness to come out and say it.

  • Secular1

    That’s why I do not wish to go to any of these worthless OIC countries. Once I went to Malaysia and had unwittingly carried Ibn Warraq’s book titled “Why, I am not a Muslim” After getting into the hotel I noticed that I was carrying that book. So I put it away in the locker in the room, along with my passport, so I wont forget it when i left. I could imagine if someone had discovered it. If I can help it I would never step into any of these scat holes.

  • f0rTyLeGz

    This is about how many people are ACCIDENTALLY killed by guns in the U.S. 85 a day are killed by guns every day.

  • Secular1

    WHAT!!!!! Are you F’n out of your mind. Gun violence madness is just madness. This blasohemy nonsense insane and downright EVIL.

  • Secular1

    Me too i also get riled up about that. Trust me the so called other countiries’ judge us and our culture incessantly. Not only that there isn’t many amongst them who would say do not judge. We in the west self-flagellate too much. Seeing the others perspective is one thing, but to condone this type of EVIL is evil in of itself.

    I am pleased to see that none of the apologists have protested this article here on this forum. That means teh apologists are realizing that defending Islam is an intellectually dishonest and they will not be dishonest to others and themselves. Hope this is an harbinger of good news – all apologists will see the light and abandon Islam altogether.

  • persiflage

    ‘For anyone who is unfamiliar with the term, blasphemy essentially means showing disrespect or contempt for a deity.”

    As Stephen Hawking says, humans would be wise to fear advanced alien life forms. Maybe we should stop sending signals – we could attract some unwelcome extra-planetary settlers.

    How could we possibly appear to be anything other than an evolutionary deadend with our obsessive, murderous pre-occupation with primitive figments of our own imagination? And for thousands of years on end…….

    We should be wary of death rays from afar, rather than deities from above ………. ;^)

  • 602893

    I will agree with you in this: A “god” who inspires this evil does not exist. The “god” who inspired the violence during the Dark Ages, or any time period, is a lie. But there is a true God…. who is nothing like the picture we have painted over the centuries. Finally, it is laughable that we humans think we know so much. The more we discover, the more ignorant we understand ourselves to be. That is what science has taught us.

  • Tender Hooligan

    The ‘crime’ of blasphemy is not confined to Muslim countries. In Greece, a playwright was recently imprisoned for putting on a play that suggested that Christ was homosexual. People can get right touchy about these things.
    Whilst I try not to mock people’s beliefs that I do not share, I can’t help but think that if you believe in something ridiculous, you are going to have to learn to deal with ridicule.

  • leibowde84

    Do you think that blasephy against Christ should be legal?