The shared concern about the need to limit rights to maintain public order and public morals is interpreted differently from one country to another, with resulting disagreements on what constitutes a legitimate limit on speech and religion, writes Asma Uddin, guest editor of the most recent issue of The Review of Faith and International Affairs (Spring). Fifty-seven nations are reported to have blasphemy laws. For instance, in the case of both Saudi Arabia and Finland, the attitudes of those two countries toward religious beliefs and practices widely differ, writes Neil Hicks (Human Rights First).
In several European States, blasphemy laws are rarely used and retained for protecting the feelings of members of religious communities rather than religion or its symbols. But they are inconsistent with international human rights standards when used for protecting abstract ideas or religions. “They permit governments to determine which ideas are acceptable” and can create problems for those with views different from the majority or for minority religions, especially those deemed to be heretical, such as cases affecting Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, Indonesia and other similar countries have made clear.
Extremists for polarizing society and fomenting public disorder exploit allegations of blasphemy; they can also be used for settling private disputes. In Muslim countries, those accused of blasphemy can be at risk even after trials, as killings of people cleared of blasphemy charges have shown. Actually, the most serious instances of abuse take place in relatively few countries: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Afghanistan and Indonesia. In all cases, those are countries where particular political developments have led to the prevalence of blasphemy cases and human rights issues linked to them, with an interaction between authoritarian rulers and extremist religious movements.
(The Review of Faith and International Affairs, P.O. Box 12205, Arlington, VA 22219-2205, www.tandfonline.com/rfia)