The title of this posting sounds like a B movie plot, but strangely enough it is wholly factual.
Up until this happened, Iceland has had a Blasphemy law …
Art. 125 Anyone officially ridiculing or insulting the dogmas or worship of a lawfully existing religious community in this Country shall be subject to fines or [imprisonment for up to 3 months.] 1) Lawsuits shall not be brought except upon the instructions of the Public Prosecutor.
… but no longer.
So Iceland has a pirate party, and here is what they stand for …
Critical thinking and well-informed policy – Pirates emphasize critical thinking and well-informed decisions.
Civil rights – Pirates exert themselves for the enhancement and protection of civil rights.
A right to privacy – A right to privacy is about protecting the powerless from the abuse and mistreatment of the powerful.
… and having managed to get three members of their party elected in the last election, the first thing they do is repeal the Blasphemy law. As reported in the New York Times …
While the vote was underway in the Althing on Thursday, The Iceland Monitor reported, all three of the party’s members took the floor to say, “I am Charlie Hebdo.” After the bill was made law, the party said in a statement, “The Icelandic Parliament has issued the important message that freedom will not bow to bloody attacks.”
So how did a tiny minority of 3 manage that? Well basically because they have tapped into the popular mood ..
but recent opinion polls have suggested that they could be the largest after the next election, with the support of about a third of Iceland’s voters.
The very idea itself is quite archaic and is perhaps also a natural fallout that results from the promotion of utterly absurd ideas that you are supposed to just believe and must never ever criticise.
People do indeed believe strange things and I do not simply refer to fringe beliefs, because the strange dwells within the mainstream as well. For example in Christianity we not only have talking snakes and a 600 year old guy placing every animal on the planet into a boat, but we also have god popping down to earth to sacrifice himself to himself, all because the talking snake tricked an ancestor of ours into eating some fruit. Then over in Islam we have the moon splitting in two, Mohammed setting off on a magical flying horse, and if you behave and are a good Muslim then you will get lots of free pussy in the next life …
… but apparently we must remain silent and never criticise such ideas because if we did then the feelings of those who believe would be hurt and they would become offended, so you have the concept of Blasphemy to insulate and protect the absurd from valid criticism.
The deeply ironic observation about all of this is that from every possible viewpoint, each and every single alternative form of belief is blasphemy. For example even in very general terms, Christians assert that Jesus is god, but that is Blasphemy from every Islamic viewpoint because Jesus is simply a prophet. Flip that coin and yes, the assertion that Jesus is not god and is just a prophet is of course blasphemy from almost any Christian viewpoint. The net effect is that when we encounter blasphemy laws, what we find is not some universal human right being enabled, but rather the prevailing dominant belief protecting itself from any competition and suppressing any and all possible competition. If ever you needed an example of exactly this, then you need look no further than Pakistan …
The Pakistan Penal Code prohibits blasphemy against any recognized religion, providing penalties ranging from a fine to death. From 1987 to 2014 over 1300 people have been accused of blasphemy, mostly non-Muslim religious minorities. The vast majority of the accusations were lodged for desecration of the Quran.
Over 50 people accused of blasphemy have been murdered before their respective trials were over, and prominent figures who opposed blasphemy laws (Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities) have been assassinated. Since 1990, 62 people have been murdered as a result of blasphemy allegations.
According to one religious minority source, an accusation of blasphemy commonly subjects the accused, police, lawyers, and judges to harassment, threats, attacks and rioting. Critics complain that Pakistan’s blasphemy law “is overwhelmingly being used to persecute religious minorities and settle personal vendettas,”
So yes, Iceland has indeed taken a step in the right direction by sweeping away such absurd nonsense, and no I’m not suggesting that they behaved as Pakistan did, or that they ever would, but the repeal of this Icelandic law still matters because when Pakistan faces criticism for having such laws, it simply pointed at states such as Iceland and said, “well there is a fine western democratic nation with similar laws, so why can’t we have and enforce the same?”, and so Iceland repealing this law gives Pakistan one less excuse to maintain and promote their rather deadly variation.
Now don’t misunderstand me here, I’m not suggesting we suppress the religious belief itself in any way, because a rather basic and very important human right is specifically Freedom Of Thought – people should always be free to believe whatever they wish to believe, even if it is clear to everybody else that it is nonsense. What I am however strongly advocating for is Freedom of Expression, or to be specific, people should be free to promote their strange beliefs, and the rest of us get to point out that what has been proposed is silly, has no evidence, and is not actually true at all, and that such a dialog can take place without anybody going to jail, being fined, or murdered.
Think of it as a free market for all human ideas with no special protection for any.