28 September 2011

Weekly Recap: Censorship, Banned Books, and Blasphemy Rights!

What's this, a dissenting idea?  KILL IT WITH FIRE.
This is a big week for the defense of free speech.  Banned Books Week has begun!  It's time to celebrate those subversive works of the written word that have escaped the eternal memory hole despite a history of censorship.

I still find it amazing that some people are so deathly afraid of words on a page that they feel the need to quarantine (or even incinerate) them like biohazard waste.  Novels, erotica, scientific publications, religious texts, you name it - someone out there is so angry that it exists that they don't want you to be allowed to read it either.

But wait, there's more!

This Friday also happens to be International Blasphemy Rights Day!

For those who might feel a bit put off by the promotion of blasphemy: this is not a campaign for people to insult anyone's deeply held religious beliefs for the purpose of offending them.  The reason this campaign exists is to ask everyone to recognize our right to express ourselves regardless of who feels it is an affront to their beliefs.

I'll admit that as an atheist, I may have trouble relating to the feeling of offensiveness religious people get from hearing their faith blasphemed.  I imagine that it goes much deeper than the frustration I feel, for example, about creationists mocking their strawman version of evolution.  I can at least dismiss it as irrelevant to a universe that doesn't give a damn that we exist, let alone what we say about it; someone who believes in a personal god, on the other hand, might feel stronger emotions than annoyance when someone mocks said god.

The tactful thing to do would be to leave beliefs alone if they're what gets a person through their day, though I would contend that some beliefs are too crazy to not be mocked.  How tactful you want to be in your free speech is your choice, but lack of tact should never be considered a crime.

Blasphemy is distinct from real crime in that its only "victim" is a belief, and that anyone can make up a religious belief (or even reinterpret an existing one) and define as blasphemy any dismissal, mockery, or even contradictory statement toward that belief.  Anti-blasphemy laws, on the other hand, are a true crime - against every human being under their jurisdiction.

Godless Quote of the Week

"I am a believer in liberty. That is my religion — to give to every other human being every right that I claim for myself, and I grant to every other human being, not the right — because it is his right — but instead of granting I declare that it is his right, to attack every doctrine that I maintain, to answer every argument that I may urge — in other words, he must have absolute freedom of speech."

Wednesday Weblink: Index on Censorship

Keeping with this week's theme of fighting for free speech, I'm spotlighting UK-based watchdog group Index on Censorship.

These journalists diligently track and report cases of governments (and other entities such as corporations, crime syndicates, or powerful individuals) around the world suppressing dissent, silencing critics, and stifling art and literature.  It's troubling to read how far some people are willing to go to stamp out ideas they don't like.

Weekly Absurdity: God Hates Spelling Mistakes

The story of the young schoolgirl in Pakistan being beaten and expelled for "blasphemy" due to an errant laam on a homework assignment is making its way around the web this week.  Pretty harsh for a spelling error, right?

To say she was being punished for her spelling mistake is actually dishonest - it obscures what's really going on.  Sure, the reason that was ultimately cited was that the misspelled word made whatever sentence she was writing about Muhammad take on a whole new meaning.  I don't buy it.  I highly doubt that they dole out beatings and expulsions every time a student makes an embarrassing typo.

Based on the news I've seen coming out of Pakistan regarding its blasphemy laws, I'm going to make this accusation: she was being punished for the fact that she's not a Muslim.

Unable to directly penalize her for being raised in a Christian household, her school's officials resort to what amounts to bullying, nitpicking her work and looking for a reason to go after her for her faith - or, more accurately, lack of the right faith.  The concept of blasphemy is quite useful for turning people you don't like into outcasts or even criminals and then punishing them for being honest with themselves.

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Creative Commons License