Generally, I subscribe to the Eddie Izzard principle of "blasphe-me, blasphe-you, and blasph-for-everybody," but I do my dead-level best to respect the faithful who are genuine in their practice of a faith that is based on compassion.
In other words, I enjoy the occasional poke at organized religion and its official and unofficial leaders, but I do have a definite respect for the tenets of compassionate faiths and those who live their lives with them in mind.
However, I reserve the right to blaspheme every now and then.
Enter the Saudis, representatives of a country where one religion definitely takes precedent over all others (to say the least). According to the Christian Science Monitor -- and you can trust them, because they're Christians as well as scientists -- the Saudis are making some strange requestsat a UN interfaith dialogue.
Saudi King Abdullah, who initiated this week's special session, is quietly enlisting the leaders' support for a global law to punish blasphemy – a campaign championed by the 56-member Organization of Islamic Conference that puts the rights of religions ahead of individual liberties.
I don't know how legally binding the results of a UN interfaith dialogu are, or what the real-world results of this might be, but it appears that this could lead to some kind of endorsement of theocratic states to crack down on adherents of minority religions.
The UN session is designed to endorse a meeting of religious leaders in Spain last summer that was the brainchild of King Abdullah and organized by the Muslim World League. That meeting resulted in a final statement counseling promotion of "respect for religions, their places of worship, and their symbols ... therefore preventing the derision of what people consider sacred."
The lofty-sounding principle is, in fact, a cleverly coded way of granting religious leaders the right to criminalize speech and activities that they deem to insult religion. Instead of promoting harmony, however, this effort will exacerbate divisions and intensify religious repression.
I guess there's really no limit to where a theocrat might see blasphemy. In a newspaper, at a political rally, in a certain political candidate for office, in a particular place of worship. So there's really no telling how far this line of thought could be taken.
Anyway, the whole thing seems to fly right in the face of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which holds:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
I have heard mixed reports on human rights in Saudi Arabia. Some people I know who have lived there say it's not that bad, but then I hear that non-Muslim places of worship are not permitted -- and furthermore that this prohibition extends even to private worship in the home.
Even fellow Muslims living in Saudi Arabia are sometime persecuted because they don't practice the exact same interpretation of the faith that is deemed the correct one by the clerics who hold so much political influence in the country.
The crime of apostasy -- which is, correct me if I'm wrong -- interchangable with blasphemy, is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. A teenager named Hadi Al-Mutaif is serving life in jail for making a comment that was deemed blasphemous.
Anyway, I enjoy talking about matters of faith and belief with people, and the one thing that makes all those conversations possible is the understanding that I respect the beliefs of other people. I'm not going to accuse anyone of blasphemy and I certainly hope they would extend me the same courtesy -- I've been having these conversations for years and I have yet to be struck with a single rock.
So here's to religious tolerance, and the freedom of a life lived without the intrusion of arbitrary and cruel laws against one person's idea of blasphemy.