Friday, October 4, 2013

Arab leaders courageously tackle region's biggest problem: blasphemy

[Originally posted at NOW]

It’s no secret that the Middle East is a troubled region. What with the first use of chemical weapons since the 1980s adding to the apocalyptic carnage of Syria; full-throttle sectarian slaughter underway in Iraq; a murderous military coup in Egypt; and the unceasing Israeli colonization of the remains of Palestine, the Arab world certainly has no shortage of things to be worrying about.

But while the naïve observer might deem the expression of unorthodox hypotheses about the nature of the Universe to be a matter of rather less urgency than the above examples, a number of Arab governments have astutely identified that the reverse is the case, and are working as we speak on a draft law to tackle that most menacing of all Middle Eastern ills: blasphemy.

Encouragingly, the officials preparing the law will improve on prior efforts to tackle this fons et origo of Arab woes by expanding it to all of their nations’ blasphemers, wherever they are in the world.

“All penal laws in Arab countries criminalize defamation of religions but there are no specific sanctions when an abuser is outside the country,” explained Qatari Justice Ministry official Ebrahim Mousa Al Hitmi. The ingenious twist of this latest initiative – expected to generate incalculable improvements in security, education, and economic performance region-wide – is that “it gives every state the right to put on trial those who abuse and hold in contempt religions even if they are outside the country.” [Emphasis added.]

The forward-looking move has already inspired change beyond the GCC peninsula. Authorities here in Lebanon, which has now been without a government for over six months and has witnessed a spate of horrific car bombs in recent weeks, have taken it upon themselves to exclude from an upcoming film festival two works that might very easily have slipped through the net of less vigilant censors. Had the films – one dealing with homosexual love, the other with temporary marriage in Islam – been screened, God only knows what the consequences for infrastructure development, legal reform, and meeting the challenges of the Syrian refugee influx might have been.

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