The week in “blasphemy” news #30

  • Mauritania: Ensaf Haidar champions cause of Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir
  • Malta’s debate on how to implement the end of blasphemy laws continues
  • Canada’s debate on the best way to end blasphemy laws continues
  • Tough crowd? Stand-up comics in Pakistan risk “blasphemy” accusations to make people laugh

This is the thirtieth weekly round-up of “blasphemy” news and views from the End Blasphemy Laws campaign. It’s a round number, number 30, the big three zero. That makes it special, if you’re into that sort of thing.


Mauritania: Ensaf Haidar champions cause of Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir

Cheikh-Ould-Mkhaitir

Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir was sentenced to death in December 2014

Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir was sentenced to death in December last year, reportedly for the crime of “apostasy”, after being accused of “blasphemy” for writing about what, in his view, are the hypocrisies and inconsistencies in how Islam – and by extension modern day Mauritania – handles slavery. Ensaf Haidar, the wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, has taken up his cause:

During December 2013, a young Mauritanian blogger called Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir wrote a blog where he defended the rights of his people in Mauritania, who are used and exploited based on their history when they were slaves.

In the article he referred to the double standards used by the prophet Muhammad himself when he dealt with the Jews and the Arabs. He said that the prophet killed the Jews but forgave the Arabs because they are his blood. In his blog, he tried to show how religion plays a role in the social hierarchy and discrimination between social classes.

Some people in Mauritania took to the streets demonstrating against the article, shouting “death to the blogger”. It was considered a blasphemy towards the prophet, because it showed the prophet as an unjust person who preferred his tribe over others.

The authorities arrested Mohamed Cheikh on 2 January 2014 and he appeared in court in December, which sentenced him to death on the same day.

Our partner the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) covered the case in January, shortly after the death sentence was announced. IHEU’s then-President called for his release and said, “When doubting religion, or calling for social justice, are branded crimes — let alone capital crimes — the state’s contempt for human rights is starkly exposed.”

Malta’s debate on how to implement the end of blasphemy laws continues

In a letter to the Times of Malta, one John Guillaumier of St Julian’s notes reports that the Church is saying the Malta’s blasphemy law “must not be axed”. He comments:

…surprise, surprise!

Justice Minister Own Bonnici should go ahead and ditch the Catholic self-styled and self-serving ‘vilification’ law harking back to the Inquisition.

… Man-made ‘blasphemy’ laws are enacted to defend the subjective beliefs and the particular interests of those who make them rather than in defence of the honour of God himself, who is far removed from such petty human concerns.

Just like faith itself, blasphemy is relative. What is blasphemous to Catholics is not blasphemous to others. Throughout the centuries, Christians vilified the Jews and insulted the prophet Muhammad. They never considered their insults to be blasphemous.

It’s absurd to think that God would be offended by the puny ‘blasphemies’ hurled at Him by insignificant men living on a small planet in a universe containing billions of stars and galaxies.

And in Malta Today, Raphael Vassallo of the Malta Humanist Association (a partner in the End Blasphemy Laws campaign), draws attention  to recent statements by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna, who has dropped what Vassallo calls “various ominous hints” about how the church will “do what we want” if the proposed decriminalisation of ‘religious vilification’ goes ahead. Vassallo asks, “Just what is it that you want to do?“:

“Parliament can do what it wants,” he [the Archbishop] said recently, “and we, too, will do what we want when the time comes.”

The Archbishop was reacting to a proposal which would (among other things) amend Article 163 of the Criminal Code to remove a possible six-month prison term for anyone who ‘vilifies the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Religion’.

The above quote was lifted from a sermon delivered on August 15, during which he also said that “if the Blessed Virgin is not protected by the law, we will protect her.”

And in another sermon last Saturday, he added: “No one should expect Christians not to react when the Virgin Mary is insulted…”

At every point, he seems to be implying that some form of collective ‘action’ will be taken by Christians (a rather large denomination in Malta, by the way) if his warnings are not heeded. But he never specifies exactly what form this ‘action’ might take.

How does he propose to ‘protect’ the Blessed Virgin from blasphemy, once this is no longer a punishable offence? And how are we to expect Christians to ‘react’ to such insults (apart from what I would have thought the most obvious reaction: i.e., by ‘turning the other cheek’)?

Sorry to be insistent, but in a world currently threatened at all angles by violent religious extremism, I think the questions deserve an answer.

Canada’s debate on the best way to end blasphemy laws continues

As previously anticipated, the Canada’s “Non-Conference” heard a panel on “blasphemy” last week, featuring various speakers from partner organizations in the End Blasphemy Laws Campaign. CanadianAtheist.com reports:

David Rand…from Atheist Freethinkers was one of the participants in the Panel of Blasphemy at the Non-Conference in Kitchener on August 22. He was joined by Doug Thomas from Secular Connexion Séculaire, Eric Thomas from Humanist Canada and Christine Shellska from Atheist Alliance International.

And there’s the full text of Rand’s contribution at the link.

Tough crowd? Stand-up comics in Pakistan risk “blasphemy” accusations to make people laugh

With jokes like “I don’t want an app to find me random girls to sleep with! … I want my mother to find me random girls to sleep with!” poking fun at both Tinder, and moreover the culture of marital matchmaking, being a stand-up comic in Karachi sounds like a really tough gig:

standup-comedy-pakistanShaikh, 26, has just returned from New York and is trying to reinvigorate live comedy in Pakistan.

It’s a difficult, sometimes dangerous quest. Aside from the usual financial struggles and small audiences, Pakistani comedians face harsh blasphemy laws and a barrage of death threats if their jokes offend the wrong person.

One of Shaikh’s close friends, Sabeen Mahmud, a rights activist and the founder of The Second Floor venue he played this week, was gunned down in April. A man arrested for her murder has said she was targeted for championing liberal, secular values.

… “I’m not telling them what to think, but how,” he said after Sunday’s show. “My job is to pose questions … we don’t have a tradition of critical thinking.”

… Pakistani law stipulates blasphemers be put to death. No one’s been executed so far, but those accused are often lynched or imprisoned on flimsy evidence.

… Blasphemy accusations against Christians are so common that The Khabaristan Times [Pakistan’s answer to The Onion] reported “Newborn Pakistani Christians to be vaccinated with mild blasphemy accusations.”

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Title: The week in “blasphemy” news #30
Date Posted: August 28, 2015
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Category: Round-ups

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