The International Humanist and Ethical Union, a group that represents and seeks to protect non-religious people, has presented a report to the United Nations that details laws and practices around the world that punish or restrict atheism. You can see the map below, it is all the obvious candidates and quite clearly illustrates that the big problem here can be summed up with one single word “Islam”.
It sounds quite frankly insane that in the 21st century there are nations out there that go way beyond simply forbidding non-religiousness and will actually impose a death sentence against those who dare to simply doubt the prevailing superstition.
The seven that do that all establish Islam as the official belief of that state, and that tells you a great deal about the strands of Islam that prevail in these places. Are these all dictorships (theocratic ones runs by clerics)? Mostly yes, but not all, one is in fact a democracy – Pakistan. The others are Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan, the West African state of Mauritania, and the Maldives (marked Red in the map above).
Beyond the truly bad nations other countries, colored yellow on the map, restrict rights for atheists, for example by limiting marriage rights or public service.
These are all nations that claim to adhere to a religion of peace, but apparently these rather stark facts reveal that claim to not be factual. Atheists and humanists living in these nations are forced to lie to obtain their official documents without which it is impossible to go to university, receive medical treatment, travel abroad or drive. This explains a recent poll that revealed that as many as 25% of Muslims don’t actually believe and are simply cultural Muslims; officially they present a religious face in order to not suffer discrimination.
The IHEU press release identifies the emphases within this 2012 report …
The report highlights a sharp increase in arrests for “blasphemy” on social media this year. The previous three years saw just three such cases, but in 2012 more than a dozen people in ten countries have been prosecuted for “blasphemy” on Facebook or Twitter, including:
- In Indonesia, Alexander Aan was jailed for two-and-a-half years for Facebook posts on atheism.
- In Tunisia, two young atheists, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji, were sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for Facebook postings that were judged blasphemous.
- In Turkey, pianist and atheist Fazil Say faces jail for “blasphemous” tweets.
- In Greece, Phillipos Loizos created a Facebook page that poked fun at Greeks’ belief in miracles and is now charged with insulting religion.
- In Egypt, 17-year-old Gamal Abdou Massoud was sentenced to three years in jail, and Bishoy Kamel was imprisoned for six years, both for posting “blasphemous” cartoons on Facebook.
- The founder of Egypt’s Facebook Atheists, Alber Saber, faces jail time (he will be sentenced on 12 December). [Tomorrow]
“When 21st century technology collides with medieval blasphemy laws, it seems to be atheists who are getting hurt, as more of them go to prison for sharing their personal beliefs via social media,” said Matt Cherry, the report’s editor. “Across the world the reactionary impulse to punish new ideas, or in some cases the merest expression of disbelief, recurs again and again. We even have a case in Tunisia of a journalist arrested for daring to criticize a proposed blasphemy law!”
- The IHEU press release can be found here
- The actual PDF of the Global report is here. (It is 1.85 Mb, is entitled [quite rightly] Freedom of Thought 2012, and is 72 pages)
- IHEU paper – Speaking Freely About Religion: Religious Freedom, Defamation and Blasphemy
- Washington Post story on the report here.
- Reuters story here
The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, welcomed the research. In a foreword to the report Bielefeldt notes that there is often “little awareness” that international human rights treaties mean freedom of conscience applies equally to “atheists, humanists and freethinkers and their convictions, practices and organizations. I am therefore delighted that for the first time the Humanist community has produced a global report on discrimination against atheists. I hope it will be given careful consideration by everyone concerned with freedom of religion or belief.”
The Core Problem
The elephant in the room here is that many strands of one specific belief system, Islam, is proving itself to be grossly intolerant of basic human rights and so factually based criticism needs to be deployed. Only human beings have rights, and where this belief system gets it very wrong is that it grants rights to a belief, then denies humans the very basic right of freedom of thought.
Reform is possible, we need to remember that many religions have at one time or another, gone through periods of similar intolerance, but have now been reformed and have become a lot more tolerant. Islam is now in dire need of a similar period of reform. It may indeed be tempting to generalize, but Islam, like most belief systems, contains a vastly diverse degree of thoughts and beliefs, and rather tragically it is the more violent and intolerant variations that currently prevail, that however can change, there is a minority out that who renounce such intolerance, they need to be nurtured and encouraged.
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought,conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
– Article 18, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
I also lifted the following extract from the introduction within the IHEU UN Report … its nails it …
It is natural that freedom of conscience should emerge as the touchstone for peace and human rights:
the conscience, and its freedom to reason, is at the foundation of our global human rights order. The
Universal Declaration of Human Rights was issued in the aftermath of World War II in recognition that,
“disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the
conscience of mankind.” And we need look no further than Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights to see the centrality of freedom of conscience: “All human beings are born free and equal
in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood.”