Well-reasoned editorial in the New York Times from the policy director of Freedom House. Here’s a good bit:
Support for blasphemy laws is high among the general public in the Islamic world. Even the staunchest advocates of human rights in the Middle East, individuals who are openly critical of their corrupt and authoritarian leaders, balk at the idea that the publication of the Danish cartoons or the burning of a Koran should be protected forms of freedom of expression. In a part of the world where one’s religion is as key to one’s identity as nationality and race, most people simply view such forms of expression as a bigoted attack on their very existence.
Such views are bolstered by the need to better address the real issues of discrimination and violence against individuals because of their religious beliefs, even in established democracies. It is a fact that political parties espousing xenophobic and anti-Islamic views in Europe have gained in both popularity and representation, and that legal policies have been enacted that most human rights organizations rightly see as restricting the fundamental rights of Muslims to practice their religious beliefs. It is also a fact that many of the same people who defended the Danish cartoons as an important form of free expression somehow feel perfectly justified in criticizing the plans to build an Islamic Center near the site of the World Trade Center because it offends them.
Yet hypocrisy in Europe and the United States does not justify attempts to bring governmental oversight into what constitutes offensive expression. Even with the best intentions, which are often lacking, governments should never be in the business of policing speech. The tools of defeating intolerance, including religious intolerance, start with a legislative environment that protects people’s fundamental political rights and civil liberties, including freedom of expression. Blasphemy laws don’t work in any context and U.N. member states should reject them unconditionally.
Good point. Particularly about the likely hypocrisy of some of those offended by that proposed Islamic center.
Rather than laws against blasphemy we should focus on educating people about different cultures and explaining the best ways to avoid offense.