Thursday, March 27, 2014


The Istanbul Process - A series of meetings, inaugurated under former madame secretary of state HRC, the Istanbul Process aims to bridge the gap between the West’s approach to fighting religious intolerance and the approach of the OIC. If the participants are serious about countering religious intolerance, their choice of venue is curious.  

Like Arab Guideline Law for the Prevention of Defamation of Religions, a model blasphemy law drafted by none other than the ministry of justice of Qatar. The text includes a broad prohibition against “defamation of religions.” According to an English translation, practices include, inter alia:

1. Blasphemy against the divine essence or questioning it or infringing on it.
2. Contempt or disrespect [for] or [offense to] any of the religions or by defaming them or insulting them or ridiculing them or infringing on them.

 3. Any infringement on the heavenly books, through abuse or alteration or desecration or prejudice.

4. Making fun of one of the prophets or the messengers or sacred symbols of these religions or their wives or their families or their companions or insulting or ridiculing them or infringing on them.

This sweeping definition would likely entail a ban on atheism and even agnosticism, which clearly questions “divine essence.” Moreover, the concepts “contempt,” “prejudice,” “ridicule,” “insult,” and “infringement” are not defined and would seem to encompass anything from mild satire to serious criticism to outright hostility toward protected religions. Proscribed offenses may take the form of “audio or visual [content] or written [content], or [content delivered through] electronic [media] or via the Internet or communications networks, or industrial materials, whether through [spoken] words or [in] writing, or [through] expressionist [illustration] or cartoon or symbolic drawing, or [through] photography or singing or acting or mime or electronic data or other forms [of communication,] and in any language.”

Accordingly, any expression, however vague or symbolic, may violate the law, which explicitly bars invoking “freedom of expression and opinion” as a defense. The law includes a sweeping definition of complicity and criminalizes the mere possession of “blasphemous” material for the purpose of “informing others.” But the most drastic measure is found in article 16, which states that the law covers acts “perpetrated wholly or partly within or outside the territory of the State and even if the perpetrator is a non-national.”

In other words, if you share the supposedly “blasphemous” Katy Perry video “Dark Horse” on Facebook in Illinois, organize an atheist conference in Geneva, or mime The Satanic Verses on the streets of London, you may be prosecuted in any of the Arab member states that choose to enact this law. The Qatari draft and its endorsement by the Arab League members of the OIC raises the question of how serious these states’ commitment to tolerance really is.

Pic - "Collision! Free Speech and Religion"