Blasphemy and India

Faheem Haider

The political turmoil caused by the anti-Islamic policies of India's ruling party does not seem to have abated. The statements of two officials belonging to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party BJP have hurt the feelings of Muslims around the world.

Countries from Iran to Saudi Arabia, which are considered India's strategic partners, have also demanded an apology from Modi himself. We saw how many large rallies were held not only in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh but also around the world against the heartbreaking statements of the BJP leaders. Indian security forces have cracked down on the situation.

In Jharkhand, police opened fire on Muslim protesters, including a 15-year-old student, Mudassar Alam. The results of the 10th class student's exams came out two weeks after his martyrdom. He passed in a grade. Authorities in India demolished the homes of Indian Muslims protesting against the blasphemous statements.

All this can be seen as the logical consequence of years of hate speech against Muslims. Even if Modi apologizes, it is not enough to protect the future of Muslims in India, and Islamophobia is not just a matter of India, it is a global issue.

The killing of 10 people by white extremists in a supermarket in Buffalo, USA, is full of anti-Islamic as well as anti-Semitic sentiments. Canadian Muslims are still mourning the deaths of four people in Ontario last year. Followers of Islam, from Australia to Brazil, face problems such as Islamophobia. I know many people in the West who would prefer to ignore this issue. But some say blasphemy is a sensitive issue. Blocking statements based on religious hatred would harm freedom of expression. But can we ignore it?

Gerrit Wilder, a Member of Parliament for the Netherlands, has openly supported BJP leader Nopur Sharma's insult to the Holy Prophet (PBUH). Wilder has been indicted in his home country in the past. His support for Nopur Sharma is being seen as an alliance of anti-Islamic elements in the West with Hindu nationalists in the East. I was on a visit to the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom when news of the blasphemous statements by BJP officials spread. I took part in the famous Oxford Union debate on how the laws made during the British imperialism era are still deciding the fate of South Asia.

By hurting the feelings of the Muslim world, the latest incident of blasphemy in India has strengthened the extremist forces which hold the West responsible for Islamophobia. If Western nations continue to ignore the issue, it will become a menace. I fear that if this trend is not stopped, a new wave of extremism could emerge. There is a way forward. Earlier this year, the UN General Assembly adopted a unanimous resolution on March 15 declaring "World Day to Combat Islamophobia". A logical decision was also made in the matter of choosing this date. On the same day in 2019, a right-wing extremist shot dead 50 Muslims in New Zealand.

Mechanisms developed with the cooperation of the United Nations may prove useful. Making blasphemy a hate crime on a global scale can clear up misunderstandings between different cultures and religions. The standards adopted by the United Nations can serve as a guideline for countries that are making laws on their own. A few days ago, on June 18, the International Day against Hate Speech (International Day to Counter Hat Speech) was observed. An action plan developed by the United Nations in this regard seeks to address the issue of hate speech without compromising freedom of expression. But the world needs to do more.

The international community will have to come up with new rules and regulations, a code of conduct that condemns all forms of violence and discrimination against every religion, including Islam and faith. This requires a global dialogue to promote a culture of tolerance and peace, based on human rights and diversity of religions and beliefs.

Muslim leaders should speak out against attacks on temples and churches. Muslim-majority countries should protect the rights of non-Muslims. They should emerge as role models in what is being called a country defending human rights under Islam. Honor cannot be earned by force, if honor is to be earned then it has to be earned by spreading the real message of Islam. Most importantly, a code of conduct against blasphemy should not be used against freedom of expression. The OIC should address concerns about the misuse of the blasphemy law.

This concern is not limited to Muslim countries. The Pew Research Center conducted a study in 2019 which found that one in four countries in the world has a blasphemy law. There is no doubt that there will be many challenges in achieving balance. But the basic problem must be solved.

Another problem is that Western countries are repealing the blasphemy law at a time when Muslim countries are calling on the United Nations to take action on blasphemy. Both are moving in opposite directions. This situation is very dangerous. We must try to avoid the clash of civilizations.