Friday, June 18, 2010

On blasphemy and international might

As you may or may not have heard, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, is under investigation in Pakistan for contributing to blasphemy against the Islamic prophet Muhammad because Facebook allowed the event Draw Muhammad Day to occur. If found guilty, he could be facing a death sentence in Pakistan.

I found the news and link above at Jason's place, and one of the comments there caught my eye: "This is insane. The reach of Pakistani Law extends only to the borders of Pakistan."

This may be a very true statement, but what if it wasn't that way? I know that Jason's original point to the post was the disturbing barbarity of execution for the expression of a point of view contrary to religion, but I want to focus on what could be possible if Pakistan was a world power, on the level of China or the United States.

Currently, individuals or groups that are considered enemies of China or the USA (plus some other nations) can, according to the laws of those countries, can be captured on foreign soil, moved across international borders, held indefinitely without charge, tortured, and even murdered. The only reason that this is possible is due to the military power and well-funded and connected intelligence agencies that such governments have access to. International law and the laws of sovereign nations are of limited value against the interests of an aggressive, powerful country. Just look at recent WTO or United Nations rulings and votes that have gone against the United States for examples; the USA government essentially ignores such rulings and proceeds to act in whatever manner pleases it.

Now, it is not very likely that Pakistan is likely to reach the superpower status of China or the USA. However, we need to remember that there are religious extremists in America (and, to a lesser extent, Canada) that have similar view to the violent Islamists in Pakistan. A number of Christian Reconstructionists, extremist Christians, and various other Christian militants feel that the USA needs to become (or was originally intended to become) a Christian theocracy, where non-Christians (and even the wrong types of Christians) would be, at best, second-class citizens, gays could be either imprisoned or killed, abortion would be a crime punishable by death, and military power should be available to serve the desires of violent, end-times theology.

Once again, it's not very likely that these Christian extremists will seize control of the United States government any time soon. At least, certainly not to the degree the Pakistani government has been taken over by militant Islam. That said, you don't have to search hard to find examples of extremist ideology (Tea Baggers, anyone?) represented among US government senators (especially Republicans). Militant religion has been chipping away at the secular societies of the West for decades now, and have gathered support in certain parts of the most powerful government(s) in the world. What happens if they grow enough influence to drastically affect public policy?

Those who value freedom of religion and speech, need to fight for secularism, transparency, and limits to the power of their governments, or we could find that there may eventually be no safe place in the world to express views contrary to extremist ideology.

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