This article from the Jakarta Post is very short and concise, but it has an M Night Shayamalan-ish twist. Here’s the lede:
Violence broke out on Tuesday at a blasphemy trial in Temanggung, Central Java, immediately after prosecutors read out a five-year prison sentence demand for defendant Antonius Richmond Bawengan.
I was kind of hoping that this would mean the people watching the trial started attacking the prosecutors for suggesting such an absurd sentence for this “crime.” But here’s the twist:
Trial spectators suddenly attacked the defendant, prosecutors and judges, while a group of people outside the courtroom broke windows and set parked cars on fire, kompas.com reported Tuesday.
The fact that they attacked everyone instead of just one or the other side leads me to believe that they probably thought that five years in prison was too lenient of a sentence. Which is just so crazy that it makes me want to lie down for a while to let this headache pass.
Of course, it could just as easily be that the spectators weren’t a uniform group all sharing the same opinion. It was probably just a heated environment, which tends to happen when the government panders to idiots by keeping and enforcing ridiculous laws.
Salman Taseer was the governor of Pakistan’s most populous state from 2008 until he was shot and killed today. The main suspect is Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, an elite security guard who police say was angry at Taseer over his opposition to Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy legislation. Here is the law in question from Pakistan’s criminal code:
Whoever, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of that person or makes any gesture in the sight of that person or places any object in the sight of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.
§ 298 then elaborates into some of the details, and there’s also more in § 295. The punishments vary from a fine up to death. It’s strange that there’s such a wide range since none of the specifics seem like they should be crimes at all: drawing Mohammed or defaming him, proselytizing for the wrong version of Islam, defiling the Qu’ran, stuff like that.
The death penalty associated with blasphemy in Pakistan has never actually been carried out. So when ignorant people like Qadri get worked up over efforts to reform these kinds of backwoods laws, they’re not necessarily looking for the government to actually execute people accused blasphemers because, after all, they never did. What they get out of it is a society where vigilantism and witch hunts are within social norms. You won’t automatically attract ridicule by making an offhand comment about how the Ahmadiyya should be persecuted because the law and the government are on your side, after all. But if they’re not, then it’s just that much more difficult to popularize an intolerant point of view.
Naushad Valiyani, a doctor in Pakistan, is being held on blasphemy charges. Usually these kinds of charges are used for some nonreligious reason, similar to how sex and drug charges can be used to target political dissidennts in the West, and this case is not an exception to that rule. From The Independent:
The case began when Muhammad Faizan, a pharmaceutical representative, gave Mr Valiyani his business card. When the doctor threw it away, Mr Faizan filed a complaint, noting that his name was the same as the Prophet’s.
Wow, and we thought “Big Pharma” in America was bad. At least they’re not trying to get doctors killed for ignoring their sales pitches.
OK so there’s this Christian woman in Pakistan named Asia Bibi. She is a Christian and a mother of five.
You can probably already see where this is going. She’s been sentenced to death by hanging for the “crime” of blaspheming the alleged prophet of Islam.
Based on the article, it’s not entirely clear how she was supposed to have blasphemed Mohammed. Bibi is denying it. But everyone seems to agree on a few facts. Bibi worked as a farmhand with other women who happened to be Muslim. She was sent to get some water. But when she returned, some of the women decided that they didn’t want to drink the water since it was brought to them by a non-Muslim and was therefore “unclean.”
The funny thing about that is that I can’t seem to find any basis for this way of defining unclean water according to Islam. Apparently water is clean according to Islam as long as there is at least 191.24 litres of it even when it’s contaminated by blood, shit, piss, dog saliva, and most dead animals – as long as those impurities don’t change the taste or color of the “water.”
Another weird part of this is how none Bibi’s co-workers seemed to object to the impure water until after she brought it back from wherever she got it. Anyway, everyone forgot about the incident for a few days, and then a mob started yelling about how Bibi spoke ill of Mohammed. This all happened about a year ago. Bibi’s reportedly been held in isolation since then. The courts convicted her yesterday, and now she’s sentenced to death by hanging.
If executed, Bibi will be the first death penalty case carried out under Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws.
Earlier this year I mentioned that Ireland’s anti-blasphemy law went into effect on January 1. After being made fun of on the internet and in other media for the past few months, the guy who proposed the law is now trying to get rid of it. Here is the justice minister Dermot Ahern from the report:
“There was a lot of nonsense about that blasphemy issue and people making me out to be a complete right-winger at the time,” he said. “There was an incredibly sophisticated campaign [against me], mainly on the internet. I was only doing my duty in relation to it, because clearly it is in the constitution. The attorney general said ‘there is this absolute, mandatory thing… it is an offence, punishable by law.”
I don’t remember anyone saying anything about the right wing. In fact, most of what I heard when it came to the politics of this was that was a part of a European trend of letting Muslims use existing, mostly secular government institutions in order to codify some of their religious beliefs into law, and that that was taking advantage of what might be too much political correctness in those countries. If anything, that itself is more of a right wing position.
And the whole reason we have elected officials in democratic countries is in order to interpret these laws and constitutional mandates. Obviously blasphemy laws are outdated. Anyone working in the government of a country like Ireland should be aware of that.
But it is nice that he called us sophisticated.
This is pretty funny. It’s not very surprising that Richard Dawkins gets a lot of hate mail. Whatever you might think of him, he’s easily the most prominent atheist in the world and as such is an easy target for the religious nuts’ frustration with the popularization of freethought over the past few years. And even knowing that, it’s still funny to hear how worked up people get over this (let’s face it) nerd.
There is a good lesson to be learned here, for both Richard and the rest of us: Make sure to look both ways before crossing the street. You never know when a church van filled with atheist-hunting theocrats might be speeding around your neighborhood.
There are a couple of updates in ongoing fits of religious craziness today.
Ireland’s anti-blasphemy law goes into effect today, and Atheist Ireland has responded by publishing 25 blasphemous quotes. There are a lot of quotes from people you might expect – Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, George Carlin, Mark Twain – and then a few surprises, like Jesus, Mohammed, Bjork, the current Pope, and Dermot Ahern, the Irish Minister for Justice who actually introduced the anti-blasphemy legislation.
It could be that it will actually take riots like the ones over the Jyllands-Posten comics in order for this law to be used. That way the extremists who freak out over being criticized take no responsibility for their actions, and the critics alone are responsible for how someone else reacts to their criticism. That would be a bit like charging a woman who left her husband for another man with murder if her husband were to kill her new lover.
On the other hand, it could simply be that Atheist Ireland and anyone else who blasphemes at all in Ireland will be charged a $25,000 fine. And remember, that’s $25,000 per offense. Maybe some rich guy in the area can bail out PZ when he gets there next month.
On a lighter note, Taner Edis at the Secular Outpost points out that the fanatical cartoonist Jack Chick (the subject of a recent documentary) has released two new and hilarious “Chick Tracts” today. I like this one best, it’s about how them thar Injuns use their devil-magic on good Christians:
You see, Crazy Wolf the Pagan uses witchcraft on Mary the Christian in an attempt to kill her for trying to spread Christianity because that totally still happens nowadays. And in retaliation, Mary the Christian uses witchcraft on Crazy Wolf the Pagan to convert him to Christianity. One kind of witchcraft just works better, apparently. It’s like the “Chick Tract” of laundry detergent commercials. In other words, Chick seems to really believe that magic actually works – it’s just that the pagan magic is really a deception by Satan or something.
Here is the other one, which is not quite as amusing:
This is just another one of those “OMG THE POEP IS TEH ANTIKRIST111” ones. It’s pretty funny because Chick’s brand of Christianity only goes back just over a century, while the Catholics can trace their history back to Peter. And yet it’s the Catholics who have ‘fallen away,’ as they say.
The winner is Ken Peters of California who won for his entry, “Faith is no reason.” Here’s the new CFI President Ron Lindsey on the decision:
“This entry, using only four words, summarizes nicely one of the key principles of post-Enlightenment thought. Beliefs should be based on evidence and reason. Faith is not a basis for logically sound belief.”
Considering some of the infighting (and possibly worse) within the CFI involving claims of “atheist fundamentalists,” you would think the winning entry would be something like “Mohammed Sucked 39 Dicks” or something like that. But this one is nice – something even those who might lean more towards accommodationism would appreciate.
Four years ago today, some Danish newspaper printed some drawings of Mohammed and yada yada yada, a bunch of people burned shit down and then yada yada yada, now it’s Blasphemy Day.
The Center for Inquiry is having a Blasphemy Contest. The deadline is midnight tonight for verbal submissions (< 20 words), and the cartoon version is yet to be fully described.
There have been a lot of issues regarding blasphemy still, which is just completely fucking insane. This isn’t just about remembering some cruel past where people were severely punished or even killed because of what they said.
In the “liberated” Afghanistan, 24 year old journalist Parwiz Kambakhsh was given a 20 year sentence for blasphemy. His “crime” was in downloading an article which was critical of Islam’s treatment of women. Although, to be fair, he was recently pardoned by Karzai.
In India, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has been involved in attacks on women in pubs. They were said to be acting “obscenely.” By drinking with men to whom they were not married. That’s “obscene.” This is where you end up when you start allowing people to think they have a right to not be offended by anything ever.
The BJP then started a War On Valentine’s Day by trying to intimidate non-married couples from going out in public and maybe doing something OBSCENE like kissing or holding hands or something AWFUL like that. So some opponents of the BJP and their supporters started a campaign to send BJP leaders pairs of old ladies’ pink underwear.
And this past July, Ireland passed an anti-blasphemy law which made it a crime to cause “outrage among a substantial number of the adherents” of the religion so blasphemed. Since this is the nice, civilized western world, instead of decades in some of the worst prisons in the world, “offenders” are to be charged with a €100,000 €25,000 fine. There is now a campaign to repeal this legislation.
So celebrate Blasphemy Day today by offending someone. Not just anyone. Try to find someone who thinks they have a right to not hear about any ideas that might offend them and show them that they have no such right. Because if they did, nobody could ever say anything ever, since what we consider to be offensive is subjective. I might find the idea of another “National Treasure” movie offensive and nauseating, but that doesn’t mean I should be able to have Jerry Bruckheimer arrested.
Or should I? Does he ever travel to Ireland? Maybe these blasphemy laws have an upside after all.
Follow-up: “Faith is no reason”