In my previous post, I argued that Steve Edwards’ argument (that being a non-Muslim entailed holding certain beliefs the expression of which a proposed law against “gratuitous insults” against a religion would necessarily proscribe) falls down because it relied on believing that Muhammad was evil when this was not entailed by disbelieving that Muhammad received instruction and revelation directly from God and not entailed by believing Muhammad lied when he claimed to have received such word from God.
However, it seems to me that a version of the argument can be constructed that does hold water.
I, as an atheistically/agnostically inclined non-Muslim, hold the belief that Muhammad did not receive instruction/revelation from God. Logically speaking, I thereby believe that, unless he’s been misrepresented, Muhammad was a false prophet who was, at best, mistaken.
To someone who believes that Muhammad was God’s Prophet on earth and that his revelations are the unerring word of God, my belief is blasphemous and an insult to their religion. Ergo a law against blasphemy directed at Islam (or at religion in general) would proscribe my expression of this view.
However one could argue that the proposed law was actually against gratuitous insults against a religion and thus my ability to express my beliefs was not threatened. For example, if I state that belief as part of a defence of my position of being a non-Muslim, surely that is not gratuitous, because my purpose is to explain/defend myself, not to insult Muslims?
One problem here is who is to judge whether my statement is a “gratuitous” insult or not? If a law against gratuitous insults is in place, then my mere expression of a belief that a particular Muslim regards as insulting to his religion would be grounds for suspicion that I may have committed the offence. I.e. the police might arrest me, even if they later drop charges or I’m able to persuade the court it wasn’t gratuitous. The point is that the existence of such a law will deter expression of any views that some vocal Muslims find insulting, because of the risk of arrest and prosecution.
Whether you’ve broken the law or not depends on whether the court decides you’ve been gratuitous or not. The police may therefore decide that it is better to arrest you (and thereby appease an angry mob?) and let the court decide (so the police can say to the mob it wasn’t their decision?), lest they let you get away with an insult that would have been found to be gratuitous by the court.
Also, surely, we should be allowed to express our sincerely held views without them needing to pass a test of “gratuitousness”?
The only restriction on this right is that I do so using only those resources I have legitimate access to (e.g. my blog or a newspaper where the editor has agreed to publish) and only to people willing to listen (anyone who reads my blog or the newspaper, all of whom have a choice not to read either the blog or the newspaper and to ignore the article concerned even if they read other things).
I do not have a right to harass/intrude upon Muslims (or anyone else) going about their daily lives by e.g. walking up to them in the street and telling them what I think, or worse, bursting into their mosques or homes to do the same.
But I do, and should, have the right to express such a view in privacy to friends, in debates about the issue where I’m invited to speak, or in any medium where readers can choose whether they read/listen and what they read/listen to and where the owners of the medium give me permission.
Otherwise, we allow people to silence those they do not like via giving them a veto over what people are allowed to say. All they need to do to exercise the veto is raise hell and act “outraged” at the offence/insult they claim is caused to them. Such an approach is unlikely to be beneficial to social harmony, unless people give up on the idea of being able to freely express sincerely held views!