The things I write on this blog can get me imprisoned, executed and murdered in many other countries. Being an American in the United States, I forget sometimes that the rest of the world doesn't care much for freedom of speech. Blasphemy laws and laws penalizing the defamation of religion exist in many countries, especially in the Islamic world.
Of the 51 Muslim majority countries in the world, 7 are officially Islamic states, 18 have Islam as its official state religion, and about 25 are officially secular states where the government is neutral on religion or where there is official recognition of multiple religions. One country, Western Sahara is a disputed territory with no current official government. The term "secular" also varies from country to country, with some countries having state support for certain religions while still considering themselves secular states. Here are some interesting statistics on religion from a 2011 Pew Forum report:
- Of the 51 majority Muslim countries, 22 had laws against blasphemy (43%)
- 32 had laws penalizing defamation of religion (62%), and
- 20 had laws penalizing apostasy (39%)
Many of these countries overlap and contain one or more of these laws. In total, 36 majority Muslim countries or 70% had one or more of these laws in 2011.
And it's not just in Muslim majority countries. A recent Pew study has found that 47% of the world's countries have laws against blasphemy, apostasy, or defamation of religion including hate speech against religious groups.
These statistics make me very happy and proud to be an American. Our sacred Constitution guarantees our freedom of speech, and it's pretty obvious that this is still a radical idea in most parts of the world today. Many conservatives say atheists hate America, I totally disagree. No one cares more about the principles this country was founded on than atheists. We constantly cite our First Amendment rights separating church and state, freedom of and from religion, and freedom of speech.
People continue to debate whether freedom of speech is a universal right. I think that many places in the world have a way to go before they embrace such a right, the Islamic world especially. Until then, we should continue to preserve our values, and oppose those wishing to take away our rights. We should also help spread our values by arguing their importance.
When dealing with Islam, it is also important to help set a distinction between those against freedom of speech when it comes to religion and those that aren't. If a Muslim says they're offended by a depiction of Muhammad, or a criticism of Islam, they must be told that their own religion says very hateful things about Christians, Jews and all non-Muslims. In fact, in the Qur'an it says non-believers are worse than animals. But you won't hear atheists complain about the hate speech in the Qur'an. We may be offended, but we respect a Muslim's right to say what ever they want. Many Muslims just don't understand this. They want to be able to criticize and espouse very demeaning and hateful things towards non-Muslims that's written in their faith, but the moment you criticize them and their faith - it's hate speech. Give me a break.