The end for blasphemy?

Good morning, or afternoon or night, wherever and whenever you’re reading this. It’s Peter here back at World Have Your Say after six months working in the BBC Washington bureau. It was bad to leave there but it’s good to be back on WHYS and talking to you all again.

First up this morning is yesterday’s ruling in Britain that broadcasters and theatres staging live productions could not be prosecuted for blasphemy. The Daily Mail sums it up with this headline: We have a human right to blasphemy. And if broadcasters are exempt then how can anyone be convicted for blasphemy?

The case was brought by a Christian group against the BBC’s director general over the screening of Jerry Springer – The Opera in 2005. But is this ruling merely an example of Christianity’s weakness? Had it been another religion involved in the controversy would the screening have gone ahead? In 2004 protests by Sikhs in Birmingham led to a play being cancelled. Are different religions treated differently in society and under the law?

Also in Britain, a top policeman has been banned from driving for six weeks after admitting speeding – at 90mph in a 60mph zone. He was previously the chairman of traffic policing at the Association of Chief Police Officers. He admits “a significant breach of road traffic law” but what would he have had to have done to lose his job? Drive at 100mph? Someone told me years ago that if a BBC employee is found not to have a TV licence they face the sack. I’ve never checked on that (I have a licence) but should police officers who break the law be dismissed? A <a href=”http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7129440.stm”>New York cop is fighting to be reinstated after testing positive for marijuana</a>, which he says his wife secretly put in his food.

Later today in the United States, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney will give a speech to address some voters concerns over his Mormon faith. It’s a big issue for evangelical Christian voters in the Republican primary elections, but what do you think? Can he – as President Kennedy, a Catholic, did in 1960 – convince voters that the separation of church and state means they can put their religious differences aside and vote for him on other issues? Should it even be an issue?

16 Responses to “The end for blasphemy?”

  1. 1 VictorK
    December 6, 2007 at 10:53

    “Are different religions treated differently in society and under the law?”

    There should be a competition for the most self-evident question ever asked in the history of broadcast journalism: this one would win it by a mile.

    The broadcasters’ triumph is, as we all know, one that will lead them to air and present material that is offensive to two religions only: Christianity and Judaism, both of which are disliked, if not hated, by the kind of people one finds in the worlds of theatre and broadcast media.

    When has the BBC, ever, EVER, offended the sensibilities of muslims in the way it habitually insults Christians and Christianity? During the Danish cartoons controversy the BBC’s attitude to alleged blasphemy against Islam was indistinguishable from that of state broadcasters in Saudi Arabia and Iran. The BBC, in fact, has long adopted a posture of reverence towards Islam, which it sometimes treats as if it were the established religion of Britain. Remember the entry on the BBC website that gave a precis of the beliefs of the world’s major religions? With one exception, all religions were described as holding certain beliefs. Islam, though, was described as if its beliefs were undisputed fact. The BBC routinely describes muslim sacred places as ‘the holy city of X’, something that it does for the holy places of no other faith. Muhammed is rarely described by the BBC as ‘the muslim prophet’: he is either ‘the prophet Muhammed’ or just ‘the prophet.’ When did you last hear Christ described on the BBC as ‘the Saviour’ or ‘the Son of God’, or Moses as ‘the law-giver’? Every effort is made by the BBC to present Islam in a positive light, and much of Islam’s negative truth is ignored or re-packaged to make it less damaging. Ethno-religious riots by muslims in France and Australia have invariably had their true nature glossed over by the BBC, with the rioters being described as ‘youths’. The BBC originally reported that Sudan had, amongst other things, charged Ms Gibbons with ‘inciting racial hatred’. All subsequent BBC reports reported this as ‘inciting hatred’, a deliberate attempt to obscure the race-minded bigotry of the Sudanese fundamentalists. BBC reporters claimed that ordinary Sudanese ‘sympathised’ with Ms Gibbons: ordinary Sudanese then promptly demonstrated to call for her execution. Determined as ever, the BBC feebly claimed that the demonstration wasn’t sanctioned by the Sudanese government, a government that – like every totalitarian regime – controls all public demonstrations. Outrages by muslims, such as beheadings of civilians, are effectively downplayed by never being broadcast: the plea is decency, the reality is preserving Islam’s reputation by hiding the truth about it. If film ever came to light of a prisoner being tortured and murdered in Guantanamo by American soldiers does anyone doubt that the BBC, and all other Western broadcasters, would – as a matter of public service – air it with relish? While the BBC never tires of reporting on the plight of Palestinians, Iraqis and Afghans, with a sub-text of how the US and West are to blame for what’s happening, it does not give a fraction of the same air time to the plight of non-muslims in the muslim world, whether Serbs in Kossovo, Copts in Egypt, Papuans in ‘Irian Jaya’ etc. Everything, it seems, is done to create two impression: that muslims suffer injustice from non-muslims, but that there is no problem of injustice towards non-muslims in muslim countries. Guests who take a line that the BBC doesn’t like (and it’s clear to listeners that there is a BBC line on most major issues) are subjected to merciless questioning and are described in ways intended to undermine their credibility (e.g. calling Dershowitz of Harvard ‘pro-Israeli’ in a WHYS debate that included several pro-Arab contributors, none of whom were described as such). Muslim commentators are usually interviewed with kid gloves, sometimes making palpably false claims or talking perfect and obvious nonsense without the BBC interviewer seeming to notice. Whenever muslims are the victims of Islamophobia the BBC reports the facts in full. Where muslims are the aggressors the BBC has a whole repertory of euphemism to conceal the truth: ‘inter-communal conflict’, ‘religious rivalries,’ ‘tensions between the muslim and Christian communities’. Anyone who doubts this should look at the BBC’s archived reports of the regular violence in Northern Nigeria by muslims against Christians, or the Jihadist violence in southern Sudan. Muslim aggression is hardly ever reported as such by the BBC, even when its perpetrators are self-described Jihadis, while the fact of defensive violence by those attacked by muslims is often presented as aggression against muslims. The BBC will focus on stories of individual suffering or injustice that portray some Western country, but the US especially, in an unflattering light. Comparable stories that reflect badly on Islam and muslim societies seem never to be taken up: what became of the Afghan convert to Christianity who had to find asylum in Italy to avoid being murdered by the followers of the religion of peace? When has the BBC ever really delved into the cases of women subjected to flogging for being raped, including the recent Saudi case? Does anyone seriously expect the BBC to follow up into the consequences for the many individuals in Sudan who do not have the protection of white skins and Western passports of that country’s blasphemy laws?

    I’m sorry to have wandered from the original question, but the BBC is one of the leading practitioners when it comes to employing a double standard in the treatment of Islam and all other religions. Its position is on the record. That WHYS can even ask “Are different religions treated differently in society and under the law?” just adds insult to injury. And to think – I have the pleasure of paying for this!

  2. 2 Steve
    December 6, 2007 at 12:48

    Even as an athiest, I just see this as being open season on christians, and christians will have their beliefs mocked, while the BBC and others will walk on eggshells as to not offend muslims. Why? Because they know christians won’t violently protest or call for people’s heads like they did for the mohammed cartoonist, salman rushdie, and the teddy bear teacher. So yes, there are double standards.

  3. 3 George
    December 6, 2007 at 12:54

    Hypocrisy and pandering are two words that pop into my mind.

    The Muslims, who murder and riot demanding bizarre hyper-sensitive respect for a religion that preaches murder and suicide are treated with kid gloves, as if the extremism preached is even legal (inciting riots and murder)

    yet Christians who preach the Love of God and specifically the forgiveness of sins by faith in Christ, a strong positive tract record of peace and prosperity for those who embrace it are attacked.

    One man’s blasphemy is another man’s abomination.

    If you are going to toss out Western Civilization based on the Bible and Christ,

    you would be hard pressed to find a worse substitute for it than Muslims and the dark cult of the New World Order.

  4. 4 Xie_Ming
    December 6, 2007 at 13:02

    The blasphemy law in England has changed over the centuries: from guarding religion; to suppressing subversion; to avoiding a breach of the peace.

    Thus, the current interpretation should be based on whether a statement is indefensibly provacative of a breach of the peace.

    If there are those now within the British culture who are far more sensitive and easily provoked by statements that are acceptable to the great majority, then the sensitive should be encouraged to change their cultural milieu.

  5. 5 pendkar
    December 6, 2007 at 13:21

    End for blasphemy? It makes sense. After all, whatever damage the irreverant do to the reputation of any religion, those that believe and revere are always free to undo. Very few people, in any society, feel the need to make statements that are viewed as blasphemy and they have to be tolerated. If for no better reason, then atleast for the sake of tolerance itself. No community should be allowed to form pressure groups that get away with silencing anything they view as blasphemy.

  6. 6 Mark
    December 6, 2007 at 14:16

    How quaint little olde Britain is. Every now and then we hear America, that refuge of the world’s wretched refuse chided because it did not completely abolish slavery in all of its states until Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and by Constitutional Amendment a few years later while Britain abolished it some 30 or 40 years earlier (Britain continued however to engage in the slave trade, supported the slave holding Confederacy against the slave free Union, and some American states abolished slavery around the time Britain did) but Britain’s laws of blasphemy, slavery of the mind were not abolished until around 170 years after America did in the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

    So what about blasphemy in other religions? Rushdi was a blasphemer…to Moslems yet he received the sanctuary of asylum in Britain and was even regarded as some kind of hero. Wasn’t he recently knighted much to the anger of Moslems around the world? And what if the cartoons depicting Mohammed as some kind of devil, a clear blasphemy to Islam which appeared in a publication in Denmark had appeared in one in Britain instead? Would Britain have defended the right of free speech including religious ridicule as staunchly? How can there be equality of religions in Britain when there is not only a state religion but the titular head of state is also the titular head of the religion? (If this keeps up, could British censors find themselves on the dole? Nah, free speech will never go that far.)

  7. 7 Chernor Jalloh
    December 6, 2007 at 14:17

    For many times we have been talking about free speech and we will be talking about it again.In my own view, anything whether it is a play or books that can caurse harm to a particular group or nation and while some may see it as blasphemous to their religious beliefs that they belong-be it Islam,Christianity,Hindu and Jewish there shouldnot be any tangible reason given by anyone to let either the books, films or plays to go ahead or be performed on stage for people to laugh in this type of world that we are living today .But,if some people careless about their religions and they see it as non provocative that is another matter for them to decide.Religions are very important in our society,specifically for those that are practising it.And no-one would want to see his/her religion being made fun of.There is a proverb which says:Provocation is second to madness and when the person goes mad he/she will never know what to do next whether good or bad.So Iam once again appealing to everybody who strongly believes in free speech to have some responsibilities over their freedom of expression,let us let sleeping dogs lie.

  8. December 6, 2007 at 14:22

    Blasphemy is not a crime, nor should it ever be a concern of the government. If people want to end war, genocide, and other concepts not found in “the west” they must understand that the key to our success is separation of church and state. No laws are made to protect anybody from being religiously offended. No “honor killing”, no “insulting of religion”, and no “requirement of religious representation in our government”.

    In regards to the officer who got his license suspended. In the US police are allowed to blatantly display stickers, cards, and license brackets letting other officers know they are fellow officers or related. For “crimes” that really have “little impact”, they all agree to look the other way. this includes speeding, light drug use, and even domestic violence for example.

    Auto licenses in general are given out to people by age. I know 12 yr olds who might be competent enough to drive. I definitely know 30 yr olds who are not. There are many people who know when and how to handle a car at speeds outside the “legal limit.” Until we change the way we teach, license, and access people’s ability to operate a vehicle, traffic related accident rates will remain stagnant.

    Last, in the US we have way too many licenses. Way too much control of government in places where they need not be. If my barber gives me a bad cut, you know what, I don’t go back. the government doesn’t need to get involved in that transaction. If it is really bad, I can certainly sue in this country. But that is a whole other can of worms.

  9. 9 Chernor Jalloh
    December 6, 2007 at 14:35

    I think the police is there to protect its citizens from dangers like road accidents which is claiming more lives of young children due to excessive driving while they are drunk, and drug abuse.Those police officers who break the law should not be dismissed but they have to be set a good example for others to see.

  10. December 6, 2007 at 15:08

    The “world” was shocked when Gillian Gibbons was prosecuted for blasphemy in the Sudan. I can’t believe that here in Canada we have never heard that broadcasters in the UK were being subjected to the same kind of intolerance re the Jerry Springer Opera. Give me strength! How hypocritical can we, in the West, be?

  11. 11 Xie_Ming
    December 6, 2007 at 16:48

    The concept of heresy is said not exist in the East Indian religions, for they feel that there must be some basis of truth in every heretical view. By contrast, Aquinas urged death for heretics who could not be made to recant. “It is much worse to corrupt the faith than to counterfeit money”. Bonaventura helped to incorporate this idea of “convert or kill” into Cannon Law and the practices of the Inquisition. Orleans, in 1022, was first to smell the burning flesh of heretics.

    “Opposition to this government will be considered opposition to Islamic laws and regulations. Therefore, I am warning those that may take action against this government that the punishment for them will be very harsh according to Islamic jurisprudence. Any action against this government will be considered blasphemy” said the Ayatollah Khomeini.

    In his Constitutions of Melfi (1231), Frederick II said that, in a model state, “it was sacrilege to discuss the judgments, decisions and edicts of the Emperor.” Frederick II considered revolt against his reign to be heresy, because he was appointed by God’s will. Burning of heretics became law in the Papal territories in 1231. The Empire started burning heretics in 1233.

    Atwood’s Case held blasphemy to be sedition. Prior to 1382, English common law was not concerned with religious opinion. By the time of Atwood’s Case (1616), it was held indictable for a man to say “your religion is a new religion, preaching is but prattling- prayer once a day would be more edifying”. Such words as those uttered by Atwood were considered seditious as an attack upon the King as head of the established Church.

    Such an utterance was also seen as soliciting a breach of the peace. The Star Chamber, in Traske’s Case (1618) found the heretic guilty “not for his gross and superstitious opinions… but for making factions which tend to sedition and commotion and for open scandalizing of King and clergy.”

    Taylor’s Case (1676) provided: “to say that religion is a cheat is to dissolve all those obligations whereby civil societies are preserved… the Christian religion is part of the law itself.” Regina v. Woolston (1729) held ” to say that an attempt to subvert the established religion is not punishable by those laws upon which it is established is an absurdity.”

    As the power of the Church declined and the power of the state increased, there was a need to make blasphemy punishable by the state rather than the Church. Thus, the emphasis would shift from heresy to breach of the peace. By 1981, the applicable Canadian criminal statute provided that there would be no offense of blasphemy “if the publication were made “in good faith” and “with decent language”. In 1984, the operative statute dealt with “hate propaganda”, but the Blasphemous Libel section remained on the books.

  12. 12 j, sohohonyai
    December 6, 2007 at 20:46

    hello peter .

    Has a human right to blasphemy?

    What to do if you having a bad breath!? COmmon wisdom: do not breadth on me .

    The impression negligible. The attentive bird dogs I’m worrying about!

    Peter last but not least

    Good to know you, and we are glad, that you are back.

    Do not dare to bended these sailors of the radio land.

    You are-you guys shows are the beacon on the ‘topsy-torvy’ see.

    YE, although your editor will never say to you:

    ” dear is PLATO, but dearer is still the truth”. Plato will suffice!

    Bjay connotation with accent.

  13. 13 viola anderson
    December 6, 2007 at 23:58

    Blasphemy is a silly concept, designed to control other people. The main thing is for people to be willing to face the wrath of those arrayed against them in this age-old drama and stand up and out-shout the sillies out there wanting to kill anyone who doesn’t believe the same thing they do. VictorK is an example of someone who thinks coherently, writes beautifully and doesn’t ignore facts and logic. BBC may have a bias but still presents various views. Get your facts and your logic in order, folks, and you will at the very least make people think, once they get over their anger. What I find amazing is how many people are not interested in facts, only in what they believe to be true. Real suckers for propaganda. Peace to all.

  14. 14 pendkar
    December 7, 2007 at 13:02

    Victor is critical of the BBC for being soft on what he sees as Islamic fundamentalism.But VictorK, can you imagine the consequences if the BBC, or the British government, or any other organization with a face that is known and responsibilites to uphold were to speak out without restraint as we anonymous individuals do? It would escalate the situation out of hand. Plus, it is binding upon media and governments to stay neutral. All BBC (or counterparts)can do is to provide a platform for people to speak up.Any new trend can only emerge when people take the trouble to say these things over and over, and the parties involved pay attention to each other. You do it well, for your point of view.

  15. 15 Syed Hasan Turab
    December 7, 2007 at 18:56

    Division is human nature and Democracy always support this division & grouping. When a person, society & culture reach at the stagnant & stuckup sitution only religion help him out.
    No doubt religion is a blessing if you adopt it upto your absorbment capacity otherwise you will turn extreemest & goofy.

  16. 16 Leigh
    December 11, 2007 at 18:31

    What ever happened to the tough John Bull type? Britain is so soft against Muslims:

    UK: Prison toilets rebuilt to face away from Mecca in accord with Islamic law.

    “Jail loos turned from East,” by Jamie Pyatt in The Sun:

    “Jail bosses are rebuilding toilets so Muslim inmates don’t have to use them while facing Mecca.Thousands of pounds of taxpayers money are being spent to ensure lags are not offended.The Islamic religion prohibits Muslims from facing or turning their backs on the Kiblah — the direction of prayer — when they visit the lav. Muslim lags claimed they have had to sit sideways on prison WCs. But after pressure from faith leaders the Home Office has agreed to turn the existing toilets 90 degrees at HMP Brixton in London. The Home Office refused to reveal the cost of the new facilities — part of an “on-going refurbishment”. One Muslim former inmate said: “The least the Prison Service can do is make sure people can practise their religion correctly in prison.””

    Let’s not offend the poor poor Muslims……………

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