I hail from the glorious country of Pakistan where recently a Christain boy was charged with blasphemy for liking a picture of the Ka’abah. Not so recently, a Chritsian couple were burned to death in a brick kiln for allegedly desecrating pages of the Quran. Three Ahmadis- a 7 month old baby, 8 year old girl and their grandmother-were burned to death in Gujranwala for no reason other than the fact that they were Ahmadis. Salman Taseer, a governor of Punjab was shot dead for calling Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws a ‘kala kanoon‘ (Black Law).
In Pakistan a person is liable to be charged with blasphemy for so much as hurting someones religious sentiments, and by someone, I mean Sunni Muslim sentiments.
Us, Pakistani Muslims, consider ourselves to be the defenders of a religion we know next to nothing about, we preach things we don’t understand and flare up at the slightest expression of an opinion that is contrary to ours.
A month or so back, someone accused me of hate speech on Facebook, on a status I uploaded about the inhumane killing of animals for Eid-ul-Azha. I expressed an opinion in said status and many people commented underneath denouncing it, or expressing their own opinion-which is just fine. Everyone has an opinion, and I don’t expect people to subscribe to mine; however, I do expect them to argue against it. Yet, what I don’t expect is for educated, well informed people to accuse me of hate speech for an opinion that is anything but.
Said person defined hate speech as, ‘your freedom of expression doesn’t give you the right to express hurtful beliefs which is basically hate speech.’
Lets deconstruct this statement, shall we? ‘Hurtful beliefs’, what exactly does hurtful beliefs mean? If I believe in one thing and someone believes in something quite contrary to that, does it automatically make their beliefs hurtful for me and vice versa? If my freedom of expression doesn’t give me the right to express my believes because some keyboard jihadi labelled them hurtful, what right does it give me? Then the definition of hate speech here is framed as being an expression of hurtful beliefs; On the other hand, the ICCPR-which Pakistan is a signatory to- defines hate speech as: Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.
What I wrote, never expressed religious hatred or incited violence ; all it did, was criticize a practice. Yet, someone with little to no knowledge of what they were saying decided to accuse me of hate speech.
I wouldn’t have really cared, except in a country where the criticism of a law can get you gunned down, where people can be whipped into a fanatic religious fervor through a baseless accusation, where the mere act of liking a picture on Facebook can get you arrested- someone decided to accuse me of hate speech for the expression of an opinion. Even then, I would have ignored said person’s comment if not for the fact that said person is very well informed and sadly, holds a lot of influence among numerous people. For such a person to so callously use a term that can get someone killed is extremely disturbing, and it also shows the extent of religious extremism that plagues Pakistan.
We live in a world with billions of other people. People who have different beliefs, different practices, different cultures, traditions etc. Of these billions of people there is always going to be someone who disagrees with our opinions-our beliefs, does this mean every time someone says something we don’t agree with, we condemn them? We get offended and accuse them of blasphemy? Of hate speech? Knowing full well the implications of our condemnations?
We have moved into 2016 and yet here we are getting offended and flaring up by the expression of opinions. Shouldn’t we be flaring up over more important things like honor killings, or the number of rapists that walk free? Shouldn’t we be flaring up over corruption and tax evasion? or maybe over people who try to propagate child marriages or those who film child pornography? Flare up and get offended by things that actually matter, instead of opinions that only hold value if you assign them value.