Here, in the West, we like to have our opinions. Some of us even go to the extreme and express those opinions in, of all things, a blog! (Ahem) Now, we may argue and berate from time to time. And we’ve all called our opponent an idiot – well, okay, I’ll admit to it even if you won’t. There have, I know, even been occasions when a difference of opinion leads to a difference in a right and left cross. But in the end, when it’s all done and dusted, we know it’s just a difference of opinion. We may wish our opponent would shut the %$&! up, but it’s not the end of the world if we let him hang onto his stupid beliefs.
Yes, that’s right, blasphemy. Off the top of your head, can you give me the dictionary definition of the word? No? That’s because it’s an ancient ‘crime’ that many countries have rightfully removed from their statutes. They removed it because they realised that a healthy democracy requires freedom of opinion, and freedom to express those opinions, even if some of them are stupid. Alas.
Asia Bibi committed no real crime. As a christian farm hand, the mother of five was asked to fetch water for her co-workers. The muslim women in her group wouldn’t drink the water, saying it was ‘unclean’ because a christian had fetched it.
Religion – don’t you just love it?
An argument ensued and Asia had to be rescued by the local police. Later she was set upon by a group of locals and beaten up. They then came at her with a charge of blasphemy.
Basically, they couldn’t get rid of her any other way, so they resorted to one of the oldest tricks in the book – bullying.
That’s what the ‘crime’ of blasphemy actually is. The dictionary says: A contemptuous or profane act, utterance, or writing concerning God or a sacred entity. So, by this definition, anything you say about any god can be considered as blasphemous. In short, it’s a claim that can be made to silence anything you say. Like I said, bullying.
Blasphemy isn’t about offence, although that’s what people claim – because offence is in the ears of the beholder. As a human being, I can effectively be offended about pretty much anything (well, anything except Hugh Jackman, who is genetically designed to be totally inoffensive on every level!). But that doesn’t mean everything around me is offensive. It just means I’m taking it to be offensive.
Using offensiveness as a reason to silence opinion in the law is offensive in itself. But blasphemy goes way beyond simple offence. Accusing somebody of blasphemy is the same as saying, “My opinions are more important than yours, my beliefs more important than yours. It’s more important that I not be offended than you.”
It’s a statement of superiority. A claim to power. A tool of oppression. And it’s a tool that’s only ever used by religious people to silence those who disagree with them. That’s actually where it began, in early christian times, when the crime of heresy was designed to protect the fledgling religion from dissenting voices. As nations grew, religion flourished and blasphemy became necessary to control a population too willing to think for itself. The controlling of public opinion about religion was important if your power stemmed from your divine right to rule. Millions of people over the centuries have been martyrs to blasphemy, belonging to the wrong religion – or worse still, believing in none.
But there are still countries in this world today that execute people for blasphemy. And even in the west, high profile and narrow-minded priests still use the word when they get riled. Although they can no longer burn people at the stake for having different opinions, the legacy of having that kind of power can sometimes be seen in the way they continue to exercise it. As though silencing opinion changes the facts.
Asia Bibi is the wrong faith in a country that openly persecutes any religion that isn’t Islam. Blasphemy is simply an excuse, as it always is. If their belief and their god are so powerful, why would anything she – a heathen – could say matter? The problem is not Pakistan. It’s the routine use of religion as a weapon. Which has always been so very easy to do.