Two members of the United Nations, Pakistan and Algeria, have apparently introduced a measure to ban blasphemy. Actually they want an international treaty to protect religious symbols and beliefs from mockery. This comes on the heels, and may be partially motivated by, the Islamic backlash a few years ago against the publication of certain cartoons depicting Muhammad. As most readers know, it’s taboo to make fun of the Islamic prophet. Indeed, a simple graphic depicting him is a no-no. So it’s a bit worrisome to people who live in countries such as ours that these religious wing-nuts in foreign lands think we should not be allowed to mock their religion.
Freedom of expression has long been the bedrock of modern western civilization, on the theory that ideas can’t suffer injury, only people can. The remedy for bad ideas is exposure to the marketplace of ideas. Religion is, at its heart, a series of ideas, often embodied in religious dogma. If one questions the validity of an idea, it only makes people think about whether the idea is acceptable. If one uses mockery to cause people to think about those ideas, there is no harm to anyone. A good idea can withstand mockery. Bad ones cannot, and shouldn’t.
So if one’s religious ideas, religious beliefs, or religious dogma are protected from scrutiny by formal treaties like the one being proposed here, or even by the informal threat of violence as happened with the Danish cartoons, those religious ideas are not really being protected, as much as being coddled, pampered and indulged. If the ideas are good, if they have value to society, then they should be able to withstand even the most virulent forms of mockery one can throw at them. If not, then they should be discarded. Let’s hope the US is successful in leading the way to seeing this proposal shot down.
Artificial protection of stupid ideas just preserves stupid ideas.