September 30 2012 was the fourth annual Blasphemy Rights Day International, and we needed it this year as much as any other.
To the chagrin of anyone in favour of freedom of speech, such as Barack Obama, there are new calls at the United Nations to introduce an international law restricting blasphemy.
I had thought we had dispensed with this nonsense, but it would seem that as long as we condemn a video before we condemn a violent reaction to it, we'll always be bestowing power upon those who wish to pass this kind of law.
But what kind of law, precisely? If an anti-blasphemy vote is passed at the UN, what will the definition of "blasphemy" be? In a world where owning an iPhone is blasphemy in the eyes of some; in a world where Alber Saber is arrested without a warrant and beaten by interrogators, merely for questioning religion; in a world where Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was assasinated by his own bodyguard, not for blasphemy, but merely for suggesting that a death-sentence for blasphemy might be too harsh; what actions will constitute blasphemy and what penalties will be prescribed under this new international resolution?
More than that, what sanctions will be imposed upon a country who fails to stamp out blasphemous speech, print and behaviour to the satisfaction of the OIC?
No, a Blasphemy Rights Day is crucial, given today's religio-political climate. I did not have time to create a new video, so my silly contribution to Draw Muhammad Day shall have to suffice.
Semi-astute viewers will note the slideshow in my video. It is a series of images of Muhammad that were drawn, painted or etched by Muslims between the 11th and 20th Centuries. Only in the last decade or two does this seem to have become "offensive" to Muslims.
As a case-in-point, the image below depicts Muhammad being instructed by the Archangel Gabriel. It was drawn in the early 14th Century by Rashid-al-Din Hamadani, a Jewish-born Muslim, revered by Islam to this day. Where is the outrage that this image has existed for over seven hundred years?
Nevertheless, Egypt's Islamist president Mohammed Morsi rebutted Obama's recent call for free speech, saying, "Egypt respects freedom of expression, freedom of expression that is not used to incite hatred against anyone."
But let's take a quick look at this film. The really, really badly made movie Innocence of Muslims portrays Muhammed in a bad light, to be sure. For the sake of argument, let's say it was an affront to all things Islam. But this is not the same as inciting hatred.
Being provocative does not remotely resemble incitement. No, calling upon people to hunt down an individual and execute him is incitement. There is a material difference between making an "offensive" film about a long-dead religious figure and calling upon crowds to commit acts of violence.
The Organisation for Islamic Cooperation condemns the film and violence in roughly equal measure, insisting on a blasphemy-ban but stopping short of calling for an end to the protests. Whilst claiming, "we never insult Christians," IOC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu simultaneously refused to discuss the repeated acts of persecution of Christians and other non-Muslims in Muslim-majority member countries.
Blasphemy Rights Day International is the work of the Center for Inquiry, a non-profit based in Amherst, New York. The organisation's stated purpose is to "foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values."
"From many governments, there has been a stronger push to prohibit "offensive" speech about religion than we have witnessed in years," says Ronald Lindsay, CFI's president and CEO. "Multiple incidents over the last twelve months have underscored the appalling lack of freedom in many countries to express even the blandest criticism of either religion in general or the dominant religion in a particular country."
It's worth noting that these violent protests aren't targeted retribution: They're almost random. The filmmaker is known to be an Egyptian national, yet attacks have been focused on the USA. In addition, a United Nations peacekeeping base has been attacked in this latest dummy-spit, along with the violations of diplomatic immunity committed when mobs stormed the embassies of the UK and Germany.
Nor is this new information. Several UN workers were murdered last year when an obscure fool burned a quran on the other side of the world.
Given the sheer magnitude of "blasphemous" material that's already in circulation, passage of a blasphemy ban could well result in more protests and violence, not less. If there is already this much rioting over something that's legal, how much will this escalate when it becomes illegal to print or broadcast anything the OIC deems blasphemous? How many book-stores will be raided for continuing to stock Satanic Verses? How many protests and riots will spark up if Facebook drags its feet in shutting down offending pages? How many videos will YouTube need to delete quickly enough so they don't get noticed by an islamist looking for an excuse to get angry?
No, we have to face this down, not succumb to it. Blasphemy Day is about doing something that's not blasphemous to you, but might be to someone else ... and that's almost anything. Staying indoors can be blasphemous if it means you miss church on Sunday, or you use the TV on Friday night, or you're playing a computer game during one of the five prayer times each day. It's blasphemous to some if you go to Chick-Fil-A, others if you don't.
Thanks to Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, which groups are gaining in volume and influence with every "blasphemous" event they protest, your very existence is an affront to someone, somewhere.
The only way we can recover true freedom of speech from its present status of, "You're free to say what you want, so long as you agree with us," is to be very, very rude until they give up. The alternative, dear reader, is to acquiesce and live in a world of filtered content on the Web, in book-stores, on blogs, controlled by the OIC.
Happy Blasphemy Day.