Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Victimless crime

You have to wonder what kind of strange logic lead the Irish government to introduce a new blasphemy law in the 21st century (the only European country to do so), a law which is frankly illogical from top to bottom.

Predictably there are now Islamic apologists over there getting all hot under the collar to test this new law over the publishing of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons claiming that the depiction of Muhammad meets the condition necessary for a prosecution in that a) "its grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion" and b) "thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion".

Let's take a minute to pick this apart;

- Firstly, not all Muslim sects feel that the depiction of their prophet is insulting; in Iran for example the Shia population actually make art depicting the prophet that they hang in mosques and in their homes; so whose version of Islam are the Irish government going to take as correct, and won't that (by definition) be insulting to the other versions?

- This law would appear to encourage people who wish to prosecute for blasphemy to behave in an "outraged" manner in order to meet the laws conditions; "outrage" is what people with no reasonable argument hide behind and also very easy to fake - I wonder how "outrage" will be objectively measured; number of burnt flags perhaps?

- Countries that are run by tyrants who use blasphemy laws to silence opposition and crush free-speech (Saudi/Pakistan) are pointing to Ireland as a benchmark with which to justify their own human rights abuses under the banner of blasphemy; is this really the most admirable example to set?

- Why does the Irish government deem that religion is somehow different from any other deeply held belief or idea that human beings might sincerely hold (or none)? Why would they not prosecute someone for being grossly offensive about a football team or a political party or style of music; would a fine of 25,000 Euro be appropriate for scribbling a dick on a poster of Roy Keane at the bus stop?

- What if one person expresses a belief in a God that is grossly insulting to a different persons belief in a different God?; who would trump who? Wouldn't the banning of one expression of sacredly held beliefs against another set of sacredly held beliefs end up in an infinite regress?

- What about freedom of expression?

- What's the definition of sacred and what legal test can be applied to distinguish it from any other deeply held, unfalsifiable or supernatural belief? Could a belief in fairies be "sacred" if the believer held it strongly enough?

I don't envy a legal system that aims to administer such a law fairly and justly; it just seems far too riddled with holes to me. Fortunately there are many voices in Ireland (religious and otherwise) who share this unease; Eoin O'Dell a senior lecturer in law at Trinity College labelled it "literally medieval" and polls conducted in 2014 showed less than a fifth of the population supported it. There is growing pressure to hold a referendum on the matter, for the sake of European solidarity against the forces of anti-free speech and intolerant religions let's hope it happens soon.

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