Anti-Blasphemy Laws Get Thumbs Down at UN

We’ve been following some of the violence in Pakistan incited by wrong-headed interpretations of religion and piety. While this recently-adopted resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council does not change Pakistan’s (or any other country’s) anti-blasphemy laws, it is a statement by the international body that the key principle here is individual conscience and freedom of belief.

While some on the lunatic left might cry “foul” because of the seeming cultural imperialism of such liberal Western ideas as individual conscience and religious freedom, this is a case where the best moral reasoning of our Western philosophical inheritance trumps any well-intentioned cultural sensitivity.

In our own nation, it remains helpful for us to stand for the beauty, richness, and rightness of religious plurality; and also for the right of believers (and non-believers) to live and practice in the light of discernment.

Here is Howard Friedman’s summary:

In a major policy shift, the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council [on March 24th] unanimously adopted a Resolution on Freedom of Religion or Belief which omits any reference to the concept of “defamation of religion” and instead focuses on the individual’s right to freedom of belief. [The] U.S.-based Human Rights First campaign called the resolution “a huge achievement because…it focuses on the protection of individuals rather than religions.”

For many years, the Organization of the Islamic Conference had pressed to create a concept of “defamation of religion” that has been widely criticized in the United States and by a number of other Western countries. Muslim countries set aside that 12-year campaign and joined in approving [March 24th’s] resolution.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a statement applauding the Human Rights Council’s action. USCIRF said in part that it welcomes the Council’s “significant step away from the pernicious ‘defamation of religions’ concept.” It explained: “The defamation concept undermines individual rights to freedom of religion and expression; exacerbates religious intolerance, discrimination, and violence; and provides international support for domestic blasphemy laws that often have led to gross human rights abuses.”

via Religion Clause: UN Human Rights Council Adopts Resolution on Freedom of Belief That Drops “Defamation of Religion” Concept.

Owning God: More Assassination in Pakistan

Christians Are Pakistan's Second Largest Religious Minority

We wrote about the assassination of Salman Taseer last January: about his call to reform Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law; and about the assassin (Taseer’s own bodyguard) who believed he was carrying out God’s will in killing Taseer. I characterized such misguided fundamentalism as “owning” God. When God is yours, you can justify doing anything– including murdering others.

This sad story continues with another assassination, earlier this month, of Pakistan’s only Christian cabinet minister, Shahbaz Bhatti. The BBC reports that Mr. Bhatti was killed in an ambush by Taliban gunmen as he drove away from his mother’s home on March 2nd. Mr. Bhatti, like Salman Taseer, had spoken out against Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law.

Bad theology– of any religious brand– will lead to bad consequences. While I write about events in Pakistan, the truth is that bad theology leading to bad consequences can– and does– happen anywhere. Destructive, life-denying ideas about who God is, and what God wants, can take root in people’s hearts. Assassination in God’s name is a dramatic enactment of bad theology; chronic guilt or debilitating shame in a person, that comes from a theology built on an imprinted Disapproving Parent, is a less dramatic– but still life-robbing– enactment of bad theology.

The answer to bad theology is good theology. Here’s some good theology articulated by Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Coutts. This good theology was spoken at Shahbaz Bhatti’s funeral:

Our grievance is against the wrong use of this [blasphemy] law. If murderers go to heaven, then what good is the heaven. Pardon me, but we cannot worship a god who rewards murderers.

Nobody is ready to listen to our argument, or accept our innocence. Shahbaz Bhatti’s message is, rid Pakistan of prejudice and hatred so that a culture of mutual respect and tolerance takes root.

And let the people say: it’s not just Pakistan. Amen.

Follow-up: US Envoy to Raise Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law for Discussion on Official Visit

This item is included here as a  follow-up to my earlier posts on the assassination of a provincial governor in Pakistan, Salman Taseer:

WASHINGTON: The United States is not asking Pakistan to change or repeal the blasphemy law but is encouraging the government to prevent possible discriminations and potentials for abuse, says Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights Michael H. Posner. “We are reluctant to prescribe changes and alternatives,” said Mr. Posner when asked what changes he believed Pakistan needed to make to prevent discriminatory applications of this law. “But we do believe that people should be free to practice their religion.”

via US seeks end to discriminatory applications for blasphemy | Pakistan | DAWN.COM.

Violence and Fear– Religion Unbalanced

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of slain former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, condemns the assassination of Salman Taseer. Unbalanced religion proudly claims to own the one right path to God; balanced and faithful Muslim (and Christian, and other) religious approaches embrace inter-religious co-existence.

First, here’s the story in a nutshell: Pakistan has an anti-blasphemy law, which makes it a crime to blaspheme God. Problematically, this law has been invoked in such a way as to target religious minorities: Christian belief in the Trinity, for example, is considered by many Muslims blasphemy against God, whom they understand as One. Narrowly interpreted, then, any Christian could be charged as a blasphemer. Aasia Bibi is a Christian woman who was charged, convicted, and sentenced to death under Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law. Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, defended Bibi and called for reform of the law; Salman Taseer was then assassinated by his bodyguard– who claimed to be doing a good thing by killing a blasphemer.

Condemnation of the assassination of Salman Taseer has come from Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (photo above), as well as Pope Benedict. Each leader is pushing back against a narrowly “religious,” life-denying  possessiveness of God:

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of slain former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has called those who celebrated the murder of a liberal politician who sought changes to the country’s blasphemy laws “the real blasphemers.” via Bhutto’s son: Pakistanis who praise Taseer assassination are ‘covert blasphemers’ –

For his part, Pope Benedict XVI called for repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy law this past Monday.

Zardari’s remarks may be intemperate, but they do point to the struggle in religion– Christianity not excluded– and within whole societies– between those who will accept the challenges of a plural modern world without fear, and those whose fear lead them to kill those identified as Other.

It’s Pakistan, but there are analogies to the US.

Moderate Muslim Voices

At a Christmas party last month, my neighbor asked me, Where are the moderate Muslim voices? My answer: they exist, but they don’t get much play in the mainstream, and even not-so-mainstream, media. So I was happy to have found this item in today’s Christian Science Monitor, and reprint it here. The author is an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Faheem Younus:

And the Jan. 3 assassination of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab – Pakistan’s largest province – is a message to every moderate Muslim in the country to dare not challenge the vitriolic blasphemy laws, or they could be next…. Repealing blasphemy laws is an idea whose time has come. These laws are at the symbolic heart of the battle over hardline intolerance and hypocrisy. This larger religious and cultural struggle is now destabilizing Pakistan. Not only are these laws a disgrace to Pakistan, but they also provide more harm than protection to the honor of Prophet Muhammad. Just look at what the Quran says about him, “And We have sent thee not but as a mercy for all peoples (21:108)”.

Faheem Younus is a former youth president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA and a clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

via Pakistani Muslims must honor prophet Muhammad – by protecting Christians –

The Pluralism of Modernity and the Pushback of Reactionary Fundamentalism

Taseer (right) supported the amendment of a blasphemy law under which Bibi, centre, was convicted

Two sad stories from the Middle East this past week: one, the assassination of Salman Taseer, in Islamabad; two, the bombing of the Coptic church in Alexandria.

Both stories underline societal tensions in Egypt and in Pakistan– tensions that manifest as conflict between religions but are, more fundamentally, between forces of tolerance and forces of fear; between forces of modern pluralism and forces of reaction. Both stories also– in their sensational violence– serve to deflect attention from the less dramatic, and rarely reported, efforts of people in positions of no formal authority, whose work is an affirmation of life.

Salman Taseer was critical of a blasphemy law in Pakistan, a law that was used to convict a Christian woman (Aasia Bibi) and sentence her to death:

Mumtaz Qadri, the member of the elite force of the police deputed to protect Taseer who shot and killed him in a market in Islamabad, boasted to officers that he was proud to have killed a “blasphemer,” according to security officials.

via Deadly warning to Pakistan liberals – Features – Al Jazeera English.

Such violence comes from fear.