The BBC have just broken the news that a man has broken into the home of Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist who, out of the 12 involved, caused the most controversy across the Islamic world when his cartoon was published in 2005. The man was carrying a knife and an axe, and apparently told the police that he intended to kill Mr Westergaard, who has a $1 million price on his head.
This is the cartoon here. It was published in Jyllands-Posten in 2005 (the beeb have been saying it was 2006 for about half an hour now, I know better), and you may remember that it went unnoticed by pretty much everyone until a group of radical muslims took it to the Middle East and showed it to everyone, along with some other cartoons that hadn’t even been published. This sparked outrage across the Middle East including violent attacks on Danish embassies and calls for the deaths of the cartoonists and anyone else who insults Islam, ironically kind of proving the point of the cartoon, really.
It was fitting that this happened on the first day of the new year, the same day that the anti-blasphemy law came into effect in Ireland. This law will bring a 25,000 euro fine down on anyone found guilty of blasphemy, defined as “publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences permitted“, according to Atheist Ireland. It’s an affront to freedom of expression and it’s received widespread criticism.
So how have Atheist Ireland responded? Today they published a list of 25 blasphemous comments, originally uttered by such people as Jesus H Christ, Mohammed the alleged prophet (yes, I liked that touch too), Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Frank Zappa, Salman Rushdie, Bjork, Christopher Hitchens and Ian Paisley. They also included the comment by alleged paedophile-harborer Cormac Murphy O’Connor where he said that atheists were not fully human, to illustrate that atheists will not receive any protection from similar insulting attacks, and that therefore the law is discriminatory as well as contrary to freedom of speech.
I wonder exactly what will count. If a Christian expresses the fairly commonly-held opinion that anyone who doesn’t accept Jesus of Nazareth as their personal Lord and Saviour will be tortured for eternity after they die, will they be arrested under this law? It’s certainly very offensive to a lot of people, religious and non-religious. Perhaps the almost-polytheism of Catholicism will be deemed too offensive to the strict monotheism of Judaism, and every time the creed is repeated there’ll be a flurry of arrests? Of course what’s very dangerous about this law is that it encourages religious groups to be easily outraged. This is detrimental to community cohesion and may lead to more situations like the violent attacks on the Danish embassies, and more fatwah’s being issued. It’s irresponsible.
Once again when people get offended when people insult their religious beliefs, I was reminded of this passage from Judges 6: “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” It applies equally well to any god. Why do offended religious types think their gods can’t stand up for themselves? If your god has a problem with what I have to say, he can strike me down himself. But of course, although the world’s gods differ greatly in many respects, one way in which they’re all the same is that they all prefer the non-interventionist approach. They prefer to let the known universe behave exactly as it would if there were no gods.
So in the interests of good healthy not-illegal-anymore-in-the-UK blasphemy, here’s my favourite George Carlin clip. There is something quite funny about this though. If you click on the window below, read the information box on the right hand side. The person who posted this video didn’t see the irony in referring to the dead George Carlin in the second person (“thank you George Carlin, your insight was of huge importance etc”) for a video in which he declares that religion is bullshit.