188.8.131.52 Defamation of a Religion
Defamation of a religion and its adherents can instantly stir up ethnic tensions, and it has the potential to lead to violence.
Divisive and abusive language can cause violent reactions, as in examples quoted earlier (4.4.5). Criticism of a belief, as distinct from criticising the behaviour of a person, can be made illegal – as in the blasphemy laws of many countries – but if this is heavy-handed it runs the risk of suppressing all criticism and making it difficult to openly discuss problems. A BBC article, What are Pakistan’s blasphemy laws?, for example, explained that:
“Pakistan’s blasphemy laws carry a potential death sentence for anyone who insults Islam. Critics say they have been used to persecute minority faiths and unfairly target minorities.”
It might also be argued that there is a difference between criticism and defamation, but defamation is very hard to prove. Individual misdeeds can be cited in such a way as to imply that the group as a whole is at fault, though, despite the absurdity of such an implication. The existence of some Christian terrorists, such as those in Northern Ireland, does not imply that all Christians are terrorists (and the same applies to Islamic terrorism).
Moral influence offers a less problematic mechanism for discouraging defamation of a religion (184.108.40.206), but that depends on religious leaders speaking out. That doesn’t always happen, so it is not surprising that a society might choose to use the law.
This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books. An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/5461a.htm.