A reader from New Zealand just sent us an email referring to last night’s post about laws against giving offense and hurting the religious feelings of Muslims (“Skinless people in a sandpaper world” — Zenster).
“Aucklander” decided to get involved by writing to the Australian authorities. Here’s his email to us:
Dear Dymphna and Baron,
I think you’re doing a great job and I check on Gates of Vienna most days. Perhaps soon that will be an actionable offence… Anyway, at the risk of offending someone, here is my view, and you’re welcome to print it if it’s of interest.
I think your idea re using these laws is right — hit them right back, show them just how stupid their laws are. For example, English law on not offending religious feelings: atheists should definitely start some complaints about offensive religious texts that discriminate against non-believers. We should not be put off even if we don’t approve of speech-restrictive laws in the first place. It’s about setting an example.
In the case of the Australian law, they could just be talking about racism, not opposition to religious ideology, so I thought I’d check. Here’s my letter to Human Rights Australia, sent via their complaints webpage. If you’re interested, I’ll send the answer, if I get one.
And his email to the human rights people:
Dear HR Australia,
I am interested in how you deal with cyber-sexism. Since you are actively against cyber-racism, why are you not also be dealing with cyber-sexism and cyber-homophobia? As a feminist and supporter of homosexual friends I am deeply offended by many websites, including religious ideologies that downgrade women and threaten homosexuals.
While I am opposed to racism (in fact there is absolutely no scientific proof that different ‘races’ exist), there has been a tendency lately to claim that opposition to certain religious doctrines is ‘racist’. It is clearly not, as religion is a doctrine and not a genetic trait.
Please give me your definition of ‘race’ and of ‘racism’, and assure me that religious doctrines are absolutely not considered racial characteristics, so that if someone opposes a religious doctrine or practice online, they will not be committing ‘race crimes’ in your book.
If you are wondering why I am asking this question from New Zealand: I have gay friends in Australia and am concerned that under your laws, if they dared to comment online on anti-gay religious doctrines, they could be deemed offensive and ‘racist’! The same could apply to women opposing sexist religious doctrines publicly online.
As a secularist, I am also interested to know how you ensure that enforcing people’s human rights regarding religion does not interfere with others’ rights to secularism and atheism? If it is someone’s right to state that non-believers are somehow inferior (easily found in many religious texts and frequently stated publicly, online, by believers), would an atheist have the same right to call a believer inferior? If not, why not?
I’ll be interested to see if they respond, and if so, what they say.
One thing to remember is this: the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) considers “Islamophobia” a form of racism. The OIC carries an enormous amount of clout at the UN, and is pushing hard to pass a binding resolution which requires all member states to criminalize “defamation of religions” as a form of racism.
The OIC has been presenting this resolution every year since 1999, and is getting closer and closer to success. This year President Obama has indicated his support for it.
So watch out, Australia! Criticism of Islam may soon become a form of racism, and will thus be actionable.
You’ve been warned.