Yesterday, I tweeted about the importance of blasphemy as a strategic deployment for #NormalizingDissent and I was asked this question by someone I respect and admire.
And so rather than tweeting back a reply at him, I have decided to take the time to try and answer this rather complicated question. So let’s get on with it, shall we? Read on.
The Problem with Religion
First of all, you and many others recognize such a thing as the “concept of blasphemy” like it is based on something real and tangible. It is clearly not. It’s a label used by highly organized cults who brands themselves religions – constructed around unsubstantiated narratives grounded in delusion and magical thinking – towards people who don’t believe in them or critique those beliefs. Its entire purpose for existing is to stifle dissent of these cults/religion.
A question that arises then is why there is a need for such a critique (leaving unbelief entirely out of this equation – people should be allowed to believe or not believe anything they want – this is a given, if not, it should be)? I would then argue as follows; because these same religious cults use their sets of beliefs to enact legislation that affects all people’s lives in that jurisdiction. This legislation is then enforced using that state’s entire machinery, from the military to the police, the courts and prisons, all the way up to the executioner. This causes great harm to people and causes innumerable human suffering. Letting this go on in not humanist. Not in good conscience.
Furthermore, failing this or sometimes combined with, you then have vigilante mob enforcement of said rules, resulting in bodily harm, loss of physical integrity, and even death. Jihadi groups (any of the iterations will suffice – Al Qaida, ISIS, Taliban, or Boko Haram, to name a few and countless others that is yet to be formed – but sure will), or Hinduvita’s, and like come to mind. It is not humanist to say nothing against this and let it go on. Not in good conscience.
This still doesn’t end here. Then you have families and close nit groups that enforce these rules under the guise of “social norms” and “culture.” Failure to comply ends with acid on your face, honor killings, and ostracization from their families and communities. This causes grave harm, mental health problems, suicide, and many other problems if their fates don’t already end up in an honor killing. It’s not very humanist to not speak up against these atrocities in this day and age of connectivity and our highly evolved understanding of human rights through our lived experiences over many centuries. We have an obligation to maintain progress and gains made on the human rights front all over the world and pass that on to the next generations without letting it regress back with religious encroachment on our civil liberties and freedoms. Humanists in good conscience must play a role to make this possible so that future generations can build on top of the new baseline they inherit from us.
Why Blasphemy Matters
To explain why blasphemy matters we must first understand that what is considered blasphemous to one individual or group may just be an expression of curiosity to someone else. There is a lot of gray areas here. Other times any criticism of any of the above human rights violations or engagement in political discourse around these issues could also be considered as blasphemous based on which religious cult we are dealing with at any given time. The outcome is almost always human rights violations in the name of religious freedom and protection of religion hegemony. Having blasphemy law allows for abuse in implementation by those who control power. In its very essence, blasphemy laws are an attack on human rights, humanism and the values it aspires to uphold.
Islam (and other religions) is an Aggression on Humanity
Then you may ask, but why overtly aggress on the deeply held beliefs of so many people? In that case, I would say, why is this obligated to us only and not to the religionists?
Before you ask what I am going on about, I will elaborate on this too. I will talk about this in the context of Islam – as this is the religion that we are subjected to in the Maldives – its more pertinent that way. This image below distills some of the name-callings that Islam has institutionalized into the religion itself towards those who don’t believe in Islam’s teachings.
Ever wonder what percentage of people actually believe in Islam and how that compares to those that don’t? At 1.8 billion adherents, Islam makes up 24% of all humans on the planet (with all its fractures and subdivisions into sects). This then gives us 76% as those that don’t believe in Islam – made up of many different sets of beliefs, including other major world religions and people who don’t believe such nonsense. You may ask, why does this take matter? It matters because Islam doesn’t distinguish other people into little boxes with different labels, either. They use a catch-all phrase called “unbelievers” when describing everyone else – thats why. Why give them a distinction they don’t use in their theology? When they teach their children as part of their upbringing at madrasas and schools, “unbelievers” will be damned to hellfire for eternity – they have systematically dismissed the entire humanity of 76% of all humans. These kids then in turn grow up believing the hate and violence in those islamic source materials as truth, and some of them go on to become the new enforcers. It’s a vicious cycle of unending hate and violence.
Coming from a minority of 24% of people, how do you find this acceptable? While I don’t believe in their imaginary hellfire, I can process intention in the teaching – if you are not an adherent of Islam, your lives don’t matter! What good faith are we expecting from someone who wouldn’t recognize our humanity? Anything to the contrary is just lip-service for political expediency contextual to the political climate of the place and time. Nothing more and nothing less.
This is where all human rights violations originate in Islam. Islam doesn’t have to explicitly teach something like “put your captive in a cage and burn them” for it to be realized in practice by the popular jihadi group of the time; it is the inevitable result of such dehumanization of the other. Are you telling me this interpretation is wrong? If you are, please elaborate on how I am wrong.
I am not saying all believers of the Islamic cult will go on to commit violence, but enough – in the millions – who act like self appointed enforcers of the Islamic doctrine go on to do so. This is all there is to it. And we must address this problem that humanity is facing.
Blasphemy as Strategy Moving Forward
All of this collectively amounts to an existential threat to a lot of us. So I ask you, are you implying or asking me to be a pacifist in the face of this understanding? In that case, my answer would be no. I will not roll over, be abused and die. I value my one life above all else, and I value the lives of others. In this life that we all find ourselves put upon, none of it truly means anything in the grander scheme. Meaning and purpose are human constructs and not something existing independently onto itself. But we humans as a species can feel happiness, wellbeing, and suffering. And we are able to maximize that happiness, wellbeing and reduce suffering.
That we must use an undefined and somewhat mythical gradual path towards change is unacceptable for me now – given all that I have been through and witnessed. Change has to begin by challenging the ideas that determined a need for change in the first place. Change happens when people change. The Overton Window doesn’t shift without people changing. And people change through introspection. And difficult conversations about their beliefs is the only way to drive that introspection ultimately. And we have to take this challenge head-on, if we are safe from violence and harm. This is how difficult conversations can begin and will arrive at a resolution at a future date.
Blasphemy is necessary to dissent! The change we seek is secularism in the affairs of the state.. The purpose is to remove religion from influencing the lives of people through the machinery of the state. It’s as simple as that.
About the featured image of this post: Afghan artists reenact the mob killing of Farkhunda Malikzada, 27, an Afghan woman who was beaten to death on March 19, 2015, after being falsely accused of burning a copy of the Koran in Kabul.
Source: LA Times