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Meditation 1366
A Call For An End To Blasphemy Laws

by: Jason Frye

Reprinted from the Secular Policy Weekly newsletter of 9 January. 2020

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Five years ago the world rallied to the cry of "Je suis Charlie!" On that fateful day twelve fell to terrorist bullets, eleven others were also injured. Saïd and Chérif Kouachi carried out these attacks on the publication Charlie Hebdo in perverse retribution for what they saw as the slighting of Mohammed through satirical cartooning (7 January, 2015). This variety of violent Islamist-heckler's veto was by far not the first reprisal against a European publication on this subject. Ten years earlier one of the cartoonists whose work appeared in the 12-image Jyllands-Posten (Denmark)spread was attacked. Kurt Westergaard was attacked in his home by an axe-wielding man, luckily he and his granddaughter who was with him at the time both survived. Political science professor at Brandeis University, Jytte Klaussen, discusses the broader themes and events of the 2005 free speech conflict in her book The Cartoons the Shook the World. The outpouring of sympathy for the 2015 attacks came more as empathizing for the survivors of the attack and their families more than the reification of free speech as many of those crying 'je suis' had yet to hear of the rag, nor for that matter, thought of it since.

Always arbitrary, claims of blasphemy violations are too frequently a political or social targeting mechanism to harm another. Blasphemy is the great tool not against a god, but against the hold that a repressive state has upon an individual. Ultimate truth, were it so, would easily weather the critique or scrutiny of a lone person. The presence of blasphemy laws is a grand indictment to this effect. The act of iconoclasm is not for everyone directly, but it is an integrally important facet of human agency, progress, and individual freedom. It is the power of a single human being to challenge what is seen as absolute truth. It is convenient in the West, hazardous elsewhere. For example a professor, Junaid Hafeez, was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in Pakistan. We need secular policy and an end to blasphemy laws. We need a greater cosmopolitanism in which people are not murdered for either having a little fun with or scrutinizing a cherished topic with academic rigor.


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