Wednesday, February 22, 2006

To blaspheme or not to blaspheme?

Is this cartoon blasphemous and offensive to some? Without a doubt. Is it funny? I think so.

The Strand, a student newspaper at the University of Toronto, published this cartoon of Jesus and a faceless Muhammed kissing. The Student Administrative Council wrote to the paper and stated that the cartoon is an "act of hate" and an "offensive and appalling attack on all Muslims". Managing Editor Nick Ragaz maintains that "The cartoon is a sort of Canadian statement on religious can not, under any circumstances, be understood to promote violence or hate". The President of U of T's Victoria University and the Student Union are standing by the publication.

The Western Standard
and the Jewish Free Press both published those other cartoons last week and were met with a call to the police by some Muslim groups. Calgary's crown prosecuter said today that there would be no charges against these magazines, as
the Criminal Code requires there be an intent to incite hatred against a specific group, and his office had determined there was no intent in this case.

The response of Syed Souharmardy, president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, caught my eye though, as he stated that his organization will begin lobbying for legislative changes so that offensive remarks or depictions of any religious figure are considered a crime.

I'm confident that their lobbying efforts to criminalize blasphemy will prove unsuccessful, but his intentions deserve more scrutiny. Such legislative changes would affect everything from The Family Guy to art galleries and would be an enforcement nightmare. Who would be the barometer of what's offensive and who would determine which religious sects make the legal cut? Free speech and religious freedom mean that people can publish things that are in bad taste, offensive and that no one religion can use the force of the State to ensure all citizens observe its traditions or taboos. The Strand can publish blasphemous cartoons, Southpark can feature an animated Prophet Muhammed fighting the Lincoln Memorial and free speech can be used to try and convert others to observant Christians, Muslims... or Scientologists. Atheists can say fuck all religious figures.

Most Canadian Muslims respect these rights and have exercised them over the past few weeks, speaking out against the cartoons, protesting and boycotting. The Muslim Canadian Congress has expressed its offense, but does not support making offensive speech illegal. Some retailers exercised their right to pull The Western Standard from their newstands. Those who are offended by Air Canada or Indigo's decision not to sell the magazine can take their business elsewhere.

It should stay this way and Souharmardy's ideas deserve to go the way of Sharia Law in Ontario.


At 8:38 PM, Blogger Crayon Crew said...

Very well written, what a slippery slope this whole issue takes us down. I was thinking the same thing when I posted yesterdays entry.

Fellow East Coaster


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