Europe Should Be Eliminating Blasphemy Laws, Not Expanding Them

Jan. 14 2019

This month marks the fourth anniversary of the killing of the staff of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo—after which one of the perpetrators went on to attack a kosher supermarket—and the 30th anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s call for the murder of Salman Rushdie. Instead of strengthening their commitment to freedom of speech in light of these Islamist attempts to punish blasphemy in the West with murder, some European countries, and EU courts, have been moving in the opposite direction. Jacob Mchangama and Sarah Mclaughlin write:

[D]espite the unanimous rhetorical support for free speech after the Charlie Hebdo [killings], blasphemy bans have become more firmly anchored in some parts of the continent in recent years. In a recent case, the European Court of Human Rights even reaffirmed that European human-rights law recognizes a right not to have one’s religious feelings hurt. The court based its decision on the deeply flawed assumption that religious peace and tolerance may require the policing rather than the protection of “gratuitously offensive” speech. Accordingly, it found that Austria had not violated freedom of expression by convicting a woman for having called the prophet Mohammad a “pedophile.”

Some have argued that the court’s decision was a necessary defense of an embattled Muslim minority vulnerable to bigotry and religious hatred. But . . . . laws against blasphemy and religious insult frequently protect the majority against minorities and dissenters. In Spain, the actor and activist Willy Toledo was arrested and now faces prosecution for “offending religious feelings” after being reported to the police by an association of Catholic lawyers. . . .

By breaking with [the previous European] consensus and failing to crystallize the protection of blasphemy and religious insult into legally binding human-rights norms, the EU court has failed to offer an expansive protection of free speech for Europeans affected by such laws. But the court’s reasoning and the continuous enforcement of blasphemy bans in European democracies also help lend legitimacy to laws punishing blasphemy and religious offense in states, [such as Pakistan], where blasphemy is a matter of life and death. . . .

The intolerant mob violence [that took place in Pakistan following the acquittal of Asia Bibi on blasphemy charges] makes a mockery of the [EU] court’s argument that it may be necessary for democracies to punish religious offenses. The oppressive history and practice of blasphemy laws cannot be washed away by insisting that the protection of religious feelings pursues the interest of tolerance and religious peace. Having your innermost convictions questioned, criticized, or mocked does not threaten those crucial values—indeed, a tolerant society is one that allows such questioning. The main threat to social peace comes not from those who challenge religious dogma but from those willing to kill for it, whether on the streets of Islamabad or in Paris.

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More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Charlie Hebdo, European Union, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Islamism, Pakistan

 

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey