As of November 2018, multiple European nations have blasphemy laws that have remained on the books for centuries while modern blasphemy laws described as so-called “hate speech” legislation continue to become ever more stifling to pre-existing free speech laws that are largely left without genuine defenders. Furthermore, those who self-identify with liberal politics in Europe today tend to be in favour of laws which censor the criticism of religion under the guise of “hate speech”. This would be one of many valid opinions on the matter were it not for the fact that the same liberals rushing to pass “hate speech” legislation in the west did not also heap scorn on Islamic countries in Asian that on the whole have much more straightforward blasphemy laws that avoid the legal pitfalls of European “hate speech” legislation.
Recently, Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted one Asia Bibi of guilt resulting from charges of committing blasphemy being levelled against her dating back to 2009 when Bib, a Christian become embroiled in a row with a Muslim co-worker.
The case has long taken on a life of its own as Pakistan’s religious parties have demanded that Bibi should be executed over her behaviour while others have said that the charges against Bibi have been politicised and that her 2009 argument did not involve language which blasphemed the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Likewise, some ultra-secularists who in the context of Pakistan constitute an equal and opposite extreme to the ultra-religious parties, used the Bibi case to proffer arguments in favour of repealing the nation’s blasphemy laws.
European coverage of the Bibi case has tended to ignore the diverse elements of Pakistan party politics and civil society that have been exorcised by the matter. Likewise, most European observers have failed to point out that the decision to free Bibi was made by an independent judiciary and defended by the government. Likewise, such reports also fail to reflect that the government has not allowed Bibi to flee Pakistan as this would clearly provoke unneeded anger and cause embarrassment to the nation. While citizens of The Republic of Ireland recently voted to repeal its blasphemy laws, other European and North American nations retain traditional blasphemy laws and other statues that are effectively identical to blasphemy laws. Such nations include:
–Scotland (which retained blasphemy laws when abolished in England and Wales)
Beyond this, contemporary so-called “hate speech” legislation exists at a pan-EU level while individual nations including France, Germany and Britain to name but three have rules in place which prohibit certain criticisms of religion in ways that go far beyond that of the European Union as a whole. Even in the United States where such speech is typically protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, private companies have taken it upon themselves to enforce European style “hate speech” protocols in ways that many believe are legally dubious.
None of these facts irrespective of how they are interpreted are intended to be either an endorsement nor a criticism of blasphemy laws. “Hate speech” laws on the other hand are indeed repugnant because they elevate passionate secular rhetoric involving the temporal environment with the feelings of those who do not want their faith in the metaphysical realm to be insulted. There is a big difference between forcing someone to obey the tenants of a faith they do not subscribe to and simply protecting the faith of a major social group. Here, Europe has the balance completely backwards.
In this sense, blasphemy laws in countries like Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Iran and Egypt are actually more progressive than European and Canadian blasphemy and/or “hate speech” laws. The reason for this is that in the aforementioned Muslim majority Asian nations, laws are used to protect beliefs which have long been established as sacred for the majority of the population. By contrast, modern European laws tend to go out of their way to protect the feelings of people that relate to the temporal world which in anything but a backwards society can be and should be constantly criticised. There is a big difference between insulting someone’s earthly characteristics and insulting an established faith of millions. To say otherwise is to elevate the profane to the level of the sacred which ironically is itself blasphemous in the eyes of most religious people.
Because of this, while Pakistan’s laws protect Muslims from having their religion blasphemed, in Europe, individuals, political movements, foreign regimes, temporal cultural phenomena and secular movements are protected from being insulted (as opposed to being threatened), something which amounts to the imposition under the penalty of law of an ill-defined pseudo-religious belief system upon those who elect to live their life according to different principles.
By contrast, the rights of non-Muslims are legally protected in Pakistan while it is becoming ever more clear that the rights of non-liberals (a secular belief rather than a religion) in Europe are being trampled on more and more. No system is perfect and of course those arguing for a moderation in the blasphemy laws in Asian Muslim majority countries have an opinion that should be respectfully heard just as moderate religious voices in favour of blasphemy laws also deserve their arguments to be heard.
The difference is that while the imperfect systems in several aforementioned Asian countries allow for respectful and lawful criticism of the temporal status quo, in Europe, such criticisms are being silenced through laws that were always overly broad and those which always conflated the temporal and public with the spiritual and personal.
Because of this, until liberal Europe gets its own censorious house in order, European liberals have no credible argument to make when criticising countries like Pakistan.