JISPIL Vol 8 Issue 1 2012 - A2

‘THERE IS NO COMPULSION IN RELIGION’
FREEDOM OF RELIGION, RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT (R2P) AND
CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY AT THE EXAMPLE OF THE ISLAMIC
BLASPHEMY LAWS OF PAKISTAN

Michael Bohlander


1. Introduction
Freedom of religion is one of the fundamental liberties and human rights for the recognition of which many people had to suffer and die over the millennia. It is one of the cornerstones of the secular society: No-one must be forced to adhere to or to abjure a certain set of beliefs. Coupled with the freedom of religion and in a certain manner its counterpart is the other cornerstone, the freedom of expression: Everyone can think and say anything about anything unless by so doing they violate the rights of the others or create an unacceptable disturbance of the public peace. Open and public discourse about topics that are vital to the body politic is indispensible in a pluralist, secular society. For this model of society to work, this implies by necessity that no-one has the right not to have his views challenged, even critically challenged, in any event as long as the criticism is one of substance and not purely intended todebase. A challenge to one’s own view can thus by definition not be a violation of one’s own legally protected position. I have tried to show in an earlier article focussing on the fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini against the writer Salman Rushdie that in a modern, secular society which respects all faiths and ideologies equally, the only legitimate aim of blasphemy laws can be the prevention of a breach of the public peace2. Neither an offence to the deity nor to the feelings of the believers is sufficient to warrant criminalisation. The previous blasphemy laws of England and Wales, which only protected Christian beliefs and did not require such a breach of the peace, were hardly ever prosecuted in practice; they were also problematic from the point of view of equal treatment of religions in a secular state. They were consequently abolished in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. Moderate Muslims will show similar attitudes and more tolerance to the views of non-Muslims even if they oppose their own deeply held religious convictions. Indeed, the author has had sufficient experience of such tolerance in personal encounters with Muslim friends and colleagues to refrain from undue generalisations.


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