Friday, January 28, 2011

"Prophets, Cartoons, and Legal Norms: Rethinking the United Nations Defamation of Religion Provisions"

Joshua Foster, Prophets, Cartoons, and Legal Norms: Rethinking the United Nations Defamation of Religion Provisions, 48 J. Cath. Leg. Stud. 19 (2009)

Foster's article offers an analysis the several U.N. resolutions condemning the "defamation of religions" as well a nice background of the events leading up to and following the Danish Cartoon Controversy. The article argues that the defamation of religion resolutions fail to protect freedom of speech and are "an overly paternalistic response" to the problem of religiously offensive communications. (p. 24) After an over-long summary of the U.N.'s general approach to human rights, the article discusses domestic American constitutional law around the First Amendment and concludes that it provides a far better model for the international community to adopt as it "is far more receptive to free speech than Europe and other countries around the world" (p. 47) and is more consonant with notions of human dignity.

Witches & Fortune Tellers Face New Taxes in Romania

Romania has added the occupation "witch" to the tax code and plans to levy a 16 percent income tax on activities performed for commercial gain such as tarot readings, curses, and blessings. See Religion Dispatches and Religion Clause Blog for more.

Friday, January 21, 2011

"Apostasy and Blasphemy in Pakistan"

David F. Forte, Apostasy and Blasphemy in Pakistan, 10 Conn. J. Int'l L. 27 (1994).

Forte's article begins with an excellent background into the political and constitutional history of Pakistan in the twentieth century which makes it clear just how integral Islam is to the legal apparatus of the government. Forte then moves on to explain the relationship between apostasy and blasphemy in Pakistan, noting that "blasphemy serves as a surrogate [for the crime of apostasy] in suppressing those who dissent from Islam by word or deed." (p. 49) Finally, the article discusses at length the problem of private violence and vigilante "justice" against alleged blasphemers, the results of which are often sudden, shocking, and cruel. Although this article is now over fifteen years old, it doesn't seem at all dated, as the problems of blasphemy law in Pakistan remain very real.

Quebec Legislature Excludes Kirpans

During a hearing by a committee of Quebec's legislature on reasonable accommodations for religious minorities, members of the Sikh faith wearing kirpans were excluded from entering the building. Kirpans are ceremonial daggers worn by orthodox Sikhs and have been the cause of controversy in Canada in recent years. However, an increasing number of public spaces (schools, trains, and Federal buildings) have accommodated the religious practice. See Religion Clause Blog for more.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Malawi Releases Three Convicted of Witchcraft

According to the Toronto Star, a human rights group in Malawi has raised enough money to pay the fines and win the release of three women who had been convicted and sentenced to twelve months hard labor for practicing witchcraft. The group is working to earn enough to secure the release of 50 other women in similar circumstances.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pakistani Lawyers Support Strict Blasphemy Laws

Tuesday's New York Times carries an interesting article on how the "Zia generation" of lawyers in Pakistan strongly support a robust application of the country's blasphemy laws. Despite being relatively well-educated "elites", the lawyers are allied with Pakistan's religious conservatives on the issue.

Monday, January 10, 2011

"Les fees on soif: Feminist, Iconoclastic or Blasphemous?"

Maria-Suzette Fernandes-Dias, Les fees ont soif: Feminist, Iconoclastic or Blasphemous?, Chapter Six of Negotiating the Sacred II: Blasphemy and Sacrilege in the Arts (Canberra, ANU E Press 2008) (available here)

This article discuss the controversy over the short-lived ban of the printed version of the play Les fees ont soif ("The Fairies Are Thirsty") in Quebec in 1978 on the grounds that it was blasphemous. The play, a feminist critique of patriarchy and its mythmaking, features "the Virgin Mary, the Mother and the Whore as a satirical counterpart to the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, to depict how patriarchal tradition has incarcerated women in stereotypical roles of submission." (para. 7) According to Fernandes-Dias, the play "engages in vulgarising discussion about sexuality, incest and rape, [and] even involves the Holy Virgin in doing so." (para. 17) The article states that a private prosecution was brought against the play by four Christian organizations, and the groups succeeded in gaining an injunction against the sale of printed copies for a brief time before the injunction was overturned (the exact procedural history of the injunction and subsequent appeals is not clear in the article).

Fernades-Dias' article is a non-legal exploration of the play's themes and its role in the history of late 1970s Quebec feminism. She states that the play "is considered as a prominent marker of the post-Quiet Revolution assertion of the feminine identity and the social rupture from religious dogmatism in Quebec." (para. 6) Apparently the play remains popular and has been staged at least as recently as 2005 and is reprinted in several anthologies. Fernandes-Dias concludes with an interesting exploration as to why the play is no longer controversial: "a community that was already divided and in a state of transition gradually lost the importance it accorded to religion as a factor of social cohesiveness. Therefore, an artistic creation that was once considered as morally and spiritually objectionable . . . did not shock the Quebecois society anymore." (para. 36).

* Paragraph numbering is approximate; the online version is not paginated or numbered by paragraph.

** The article cites a source I have not previously seen reference to elsewhere: Nancy Huston, 1981, "Blasphemy in 'Nouvelle France' Yesterday and Today", Maledicta vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 163-169.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Blasphemy Reforms in Pakistan Stall, Supporter Assassinated

Political pressure and threatened labor strikes have succeeded in preventing planned reforms to Pakistan's blasphemy law from being introduced. The country's Federal Minister for Labor and Religious Affairs stated that the government would not press for any amendments. See Religion Clause Blog for more.

In related news, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province was assassinated by one of his own bodyguards on Tuesday. The motive for the murder was the governor's support for reforming the blasphemy law and pardoning a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who faces the death penalty for allegedly insulting Muhammed. See USA Today for more.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"Legal Guardians: Islamic Law, International Law, Human Rights Law, and the Salman Rushdie Affair"

Anthony Chase, Legal Guardians: Islamic Law, International Law, Human Rights Law, and the Salman Rushdie Affair, 11 Am. U. J. Int'l L. & Pol'y 375 (1996)

Chase's article is a thorough analysis of the legitimacy of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie from two perspectives: (1) under international human rights law and (2) under traditional principles of Islamic religious/legal thought. The article and the precise issues discussed are dated, of course, but as the Danish Cartoon Controversy demonstrated, the relationship between freedom of speech and Islamic law remains a relevant concern.

On the first issue, Chase presents a long discussion of freedom of speech under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (to which Iran is a signatory), along with contrasting concerns that Rusdie's book could constitute hate speech or "communal libel." Chase's analysis seems to make clear that the fatwa violates international human rights norms, though he ties his analysis into a discussion of cultural relativism and whether/how non-Muslims can "really understand the anger a book such as The Satanic Verses can cause". (p. 430) I'm not qualified to speak about the legal analysis in this section, but I will note that Chase makes no real attempt to discuss why the international law issue matters from a practical perspective--is/was Iran likely to change its policies to better cohere with international human rights norms?

On the second issue, Chase writes that "[i]t is both condescending and counterproductive to condemn Khomeini's fatwa without even a nod toward understanding its basis in Islamic law and political context and the rage of those who feel they are the whipping post of Western military, political, and cultural power." (p. 393) Chase argues that "Khomeini's position is somewhat novel in the history of the Islamic world and can be criticized from within the Islamic legal tradition." (p. 395) According to Chase, the fatwa is equivocal on exactly what crime it is that Rushdie is alleged to have committed, should not have been issued against someone outside Iran's territorial sovereignty, and represents a break from traditional Islamic understandings of what warrants capital offenses because blasphemy by itself is not punishable by the death penalty. "[I]n order to make Rushdie's death sentence coherent within the constructs of the Islamic legal system, one must proceed in the convoluted manner of first construing Khomeini's fatwa as implicitly accusing Rushdie of blasphemy, which in turn serves as proof of apostasy, for which a sentence of death is admissible." (p. 399) Chase concludes that the fatwa "can now be viewed as somewhat reckless, justifiable only in a rather tortured fashion . . . Khomeini stretched the bounds of the Islamic legal order, making it a mere servant to his political projects". (p. 405)