Getting Real About Blasphemy and Free Speech

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On January 7, gunmen did not just commit the heinous murder of 12 people at theCharlie Hebdo office in Paris; they also unleashed a barrage of extremism on both ends of the ideological spectrum.

On one end are some Muslim leaders, replaying the broken record of “We-condemn-this-and-please-don’t-blame-the-Muslims.”

On the other, media zealots are making this tragedy all about their right to publish anything.

Both sides know that they are selling a facile narrative. It’s time we get real with them.

Muslim leaders should declare Blasphemy Laws as un-Islamic

Don’t give me soft condemnations; say you want to abolish Blasphemy laws. This is at the heart of the debate. From Algeria to Indonesia, many Muslim majority countries have laws to punish any spoken, written, or visible representation that sullies the name of Prophet Muhammad. Offenders face a three-year imprisonment, death penalty or street execution, shaping an intolerant society where personal vendettas are settled under this religious and legal cover.

Pakistan is the poster child of such intolerance. In a country where blasphemy used to be unheard of, Pakistan seems to have become a place of wanton profanity ever since the Blasphemy laws were enacted in 1984. More than 1,000 cases have been filed.

The issue came to a head in 2011 when a 45-year-old Christian woman named Asia Bibi was accused of blasphemy. She denied it. When the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, called for reforming the law, his own bodyguard killed him. Pakistanreacted, but not like France: 50,000 protestors hailed Taseer’s killer as a hero, lawyers showered rose petals at him in the court, politicians refused to touch the Blasphemy laws, and clerics threatened the remaining dissenters. Within months, Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, another vocal opponent of the laws, was also assassinated. The debate ended on gunpoint. Literally.

This ominous mindset is now infiltrating the…

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