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Criminalizing Religious Defamation is Impossible | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Recently in Switzerland, the Council of Religions has adopted a decisive stance by rejecting applications by Swiss citizens to prevent the building of minarets when allowing the building of mosques. The Council of Religions considered the minaret a part of the mosque, and gave the Islamic architect the right to build it.

In Germany, a court ruled to confirm the right of a father to name his son “Jihad.” The court has supported the father against the government’s birth registration authority, which is used to reject controversial names, such as “Hitler.” The court has considered that “Jihad” is a common name and does not have an inciting character.

In that same week, a group of Ulema and politicians met in Cairo to study the problem of slandering religions. The conferees at the “Forum of Islamic Thought” recommended the issuing of international legislations to criminalize and punish the slandering of religions.

Despite the fact that the idea of protecting the beliefs from slander is a beautiful proposal in these religiously inflammatory days, it is not at all practical. Anyone who calls for such a proposal should think twice before signing to it. We live in a world whose peoples are getting more mixed through the migration of millions of people, and at a time in which the ideas, opinions, and arguments are transferred without restrictions as a result of the technical developments.

Between the movements of the human beings and the increase of arguments an environment has been formed. This environment cannot shape the world into one ideology or put restrictions on it. This is because of two reasons; the first reason is that this is impossible, and the second reason is that the consequences of interference will be more dangerous than merely observing what is developing.

If we assume that the United Nations were to listen to the conferees in Cairo, and to ratify a law to punish blasphemy and the slander of religion, we would face the same problems and consequences. The Muslim-Christian dispute over interpretation is deep. The Muslims consider the divinity of Christ, peace be upon him, as infidelity, and the Christians consider it to be at the heart of their creed. Is it conceivable to prevent the Muslims from expressing their opinions in order to satisfy the new international law?

Also there is a dispute that has been present for 2,000 years between the Christians and the Jews about the crucifixion of Christ; should we stop that dispute now?

The disputes are even deeper within the same religion, as the case is between the Sunni and the Shiite schools of thinking. Is it possible to muzzle the Shiites in the name of the proposed international law, and to prevent them from talking about what was more worthy of becoming the Caliph, or to compel the Sunnis to accept the Shiite interpretation of the history of the Caliphate? If this were to happen, the Shiites would no longer be Shiites, and the Sunnis would no longer be Sunnis.

We ought to recognize that blasphemy is at the heart of almost all religions, and within their instructions, and it is not only rebellious journalistic work.

The solution is not in criminalizing blasphemy, and in banning the criticism of other religions. This is because the implementation of such a law through prosecution and punishing is impractical, and the disputes over it might ignite new wars. The solution is in spreading the awareness that the entire world has a common interest in avoiding the stirring up of religious disputes and in understanding the dangers of incitement.

Awareness is the only way out. [Anything else] is a tranquilizer that will not stop the slanderous books, films, articles, cartoons, speeches, or messages; these slanderous materials will exist as long as there are people who are full of hatred of the other. On the other hand, the spread of awareness – especially among those working in the fields of call, preaching, media, politics and law – will make them see the dangers of sedition to their societies, and that their cooperation by preventing or avoiding the promotion of these seditions will narrow the domains of clash.

If the major media institutions were to refrain from stirring up religious seditions, if the principal religious institutions were to adopt more tact in expression, and if the politicians and legislators were to avoid incitement, there still would be marginal people in society who express their opinions, but at least their harm would be lessened.

There is an international benefit in preventing religious tension, a benefit for the followers of all religions. Here lies the importance of the dialog of religions, whose doors Saudi Arabia has opened. The aim of the dialog is not to convince the other to abandon his religion, but it is to respect the creeds of others as they are, and to work to avoid clash whatever the differences might be. For this reason I started my article by telling two positive stories about coexistence that confirms that in the world there are people who are aware and good.